IN 1997, a group of Dolgan nomads in Siberia stumbled upon a huge tusk projecting from the frozen tundra. This chance discovery led to the recovery in October, 1999 of the body of a frozen, nearly intact woolly mammoth that died some 20,000 years ago, when pre-civilized man scavenged the land in packs like animals. The most astounding part of this story, however, is that some scientists believe there may be enough DNA in the carcass to actually clone the ancient ancestor of the elephant. If the scientists are successful, woolly mammoths may once again walk the Earth.
Think of it. Humans may once again stand in the presence of a magnificent creature that has been extinct for tens of thousands of years. According to some cryptozoologists, however, some modern humans have set eyes on even more incredible animals with a far more ancient lineage – dinosaurs.
Ever since dinosaur fossils have been recognized for what they are (this has been so for only about 150 years), fantasy writers have enjoyed the possibility that humans could meet these incredible monsters face to face. In The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle envisioned adventurers finding surviving species of dinosaurs in unexplored areas of jungle. And more recently in Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton detailed how dinosaurs could be recreated through cloning, with strands of their DNA extracted from dino-blood-filled mosquitoes encased in amber.
Crichton’s vision may take a step toward reality when and if the cloning experiment with the mammoth begins. And some say Doyle’s story might not be entirely fantasy. Living dinosaurs, they claim, have recently been seen, heard and possibly even killed in nearly inaccessible parts of the African Congo.
Tales from the Jungle
The evidence for living dinosaurs is almost exclusively anecdotal. In fact, few people other than natives have claimed to have actually seen the animals:
- In 1776, Abbe Proyhart wrote of the discovery of clawed footprints in West Africa that were as large as three feet in diameter.
- The first recognized reports of what were described as dinosaur-like creatures emerged from central Africa in the late 1800s. Native tribe members told explorers of a large animal they called jago-nini, which translates to “giant diver.” Footprints said to be of this creature were about the size of a Frisbee. Other tribes who said they were familiar with this creature had other names for it, including dingonek, ol-umaina, and chipekwe.
- In 1913, a German explorer named Captain Freiheer von Stein zu Lausnitz was told stories of an animal that was “brownish gray with a smooth skin, its size approximately that of an elephant, at least that of a hippopotamus.” The native Pygmies called it mok’ele-mbembe (meaning “stopper of rivers”) and described it as having a long, flexible neck and a vegetarian diet, but would kill humans if they came too close.
- In 1932, cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson was told by tribesmen of a strange creature that left oversized hippo-like footprints, and which they called mgbulu-em’bembe.
- Cryptozoologist Roy Mackel and herpetologist James Powell set off on their own expedition for mok’ele-mbembe in 1980. They returned only with interviews with natives who had heard of the long-necked, 30-foot-long creature. They said that around 1959 one had even been killed by natives along Lake Tele to stop it from interfering with their fishing. Their legend stated that whoever ate meat from the animal, died. When Powell showed pictures of various local animals to the natives, they correctly identified them. When he showed them a drawing of a sauropod dinosaur, they said that was mok’ele-mbembe.
Apart from these stories, there is no direct evidence for living dinosaurs. Some expeditions claimed to have photos of some large, unidentified creature, but the images are quite fuzzy and the results inconclusive, at best. In 1992, a Japanese expedition to the area returned with 15 seconds of film taken from an airplane flying over Lake Tele. The footage showed a large object moving across the surface of the water, leaving a V-shaped wake behind it. But the object could not be positively identified.
Aside from the apatosaurus-like creatures of Africa’s jungle swamps, sightings of other long-extinct monsters have been claimed – in the skies above the Dark Continent, and even in the United States!
- A. H. Melland, a Native Commissioner in Northern Rhodesia, was told by local natives of a flying lizard with membranous wings that stretched up to seven feet across. They called the creature kongamato, and unhesitatingly identified it when shown a picture of a pterodactyl.
- Natives of the Gold Coast knew of an animal they called susabonsam that was about the size of a man with large, bat-like wings. At first it was thought that they were merely exaggerating the size of a large bat, but the natives have names for each kind of bat they know.
- While driving to work one morning in 1976, several school teachers reported a large flying creature with a 12-foot wingspan that swooped down on their cars. Some research at the school library turned up an impossible identification: a pterosaur.
- In the early-morning hours of one day in 1976, police officer Arturo Padilla of San Benito, Texas was surprised by a the sight of a huge “bird” caught in his headlights. Minutes later, fellow officer Homer Galvan saw its huge, black silhouette crossing the sky without flapping its wings. A few hours later, Alverico Guajardo, a resident of Brownsville, Texas, claimed to see the monstrous animal outside his mobile home, describing it as bird-like, but “not of this world.”
- In 1982, James Thompson was driving near Fresno, Texas when he saw a dark gray, featherless, hide-covered creature with a 5- to 6-foot wingspan gliding close to the ground. (Also read: “Did Pterosaurs Survive Extinction?”)
What are to make of these sightings? Humans are notoriously bad witnesses, and many could have misidentified known animals with which they were not familiar. And what of the native tribespeople who surely knew well the many animals of their region? It’s been suggested that they simply could have been pulling the legs of the eager and gullible white explorers.
The anecdotal evidence leaves the question open, however. And the search for living dinosaurs is continuing.
On January 3, 2000, the British-led Congo Millennium Expedition – or DINO2000 – set off for the Likoula region of the Congo for four weeks to search for mok’ele-mbembe. The adventure into Likoula took the expedition into the heart of the area where natives claim to have seen mok’ele-mbembe. “The existence of dinosaurs in central Africa is unlikely, but not a total scientific impossibility,” said Dr. Karl Shuker, an internationally recognized cyrptozoologist and author of Mysteries of Planet Earth. “If dinosaurs could exist unknown to science anywhere in the world, the Likouala is where they would be.” No dinosaurs were discovered.
Most recently, on January 10, 2005, The Milt Marcy Expedition is heading into a river system in Cameroon on the border of the Congo Republic to search for the living dinosaur. According to Loren Coleman’s Cryptomundo, explorers Milt Marcy, Peter Beach, Rob Mullin and Pierre Sima have some advantages over previous expeditions in that they are using high-resolution satellite photographs to find where the living animals might be.