THE CONGO BASIN
Evolution is a response; a response to outside forces that exerts pressure upon an organism. But what happens when for million of years there is very little environmental pressure? How much of a need is there to adapt and change? The crocodile and the lungfish, with its ability to breath in and out of the water, are prime example of primitive species thriving in central Africa.
The Lungfish belongs to a primitive group called Crossopterygii, from which terrestrial animals evolved. The crocodile along with pterosaurs and dinosaurs are in actuality offshoots from archosaurs (ruling lizards) of the Triassic period. Crocodiles as we know them today have virtually remained unchanged since the cretaceous. The two preceding species live in an area bigger than Alaska with the second biggest rain-forest in the world; the Congo Basin, home of Mokele-Mbembe.
Everybody knows that every single dinosaur specie died out 65 million years ago at the end of the cretaceous; except that it isn’t entirely true. Fossils have been found post cretaceous. In the American southwest fossils were found in 2009 that date half a million years past the extinction point, and it is now well established that birds descend from theropod dinosaurs. With all of this in mind, could another dinosaur sub-order evolve and survive in an environment like the Congo basin, or the Amazon for that matter, in pockets of still unexplored jungles?
Since the 1700’s, as missionaries established more of a foothold in the Congo, tales of an animal about the size of a hippo, four legs, a powerful tail, a grey-brown body with a long neck and a small reptilian head enshroud the imagination. Endowed with several regional names, but generally known as Mokele-Mbembe, this animal has its highest concentration of sightings near the Cameroon and Republic of the Congo border; and into the deeper unexplored swamps both side of the border. The majority of the sightings occur in early morning by fishermen when the animal is said to feed on vines and the malombo fruit that borders many of the rivers and tributary of the region.
The majority of research and expedition have focused their search in the Lake Tele area, east of Cameroon in the Republic of the Congo. I’ve personally received sightings from this region, but I was also informed that the animal spends much of its time west of the lake in remote pools during the rainy season.
That been said, reported sightings have certainly diminished in the Congo region in recent years. In my opinion the specie is retreating westward, or/and perhaps shrinking? Once abundant in the Lake Tele area and in nearby rivers, the animal is now reported a couple times a year or so.
The other possibility is that the animal as it matures heads west towards the Cameroon border. Aside from rare sightings of juveniles, specimen sighted around the Lake Tele area are about the size of a hippo or small elephant with a smooth body. A frill is at times seen on the top of the head which may be do to sexual dimorphism.
Animals seen towards Cameroon and Gabon are much larger and endowed with dermal spikes on their backs. Now, granted that we are dealing with a relatively small pool of reports, but in my opinion this could be a case where the animal in Cameroon and Gabon is of older age, ergo larger. It may also be true that the animal doesn’t develop dermal spikes until it attains a certain age.
South of Cameroon lies Gabon which has a fairly long history of these animals as well. Alfred Aloysius Smith, better known as trader horn, had seen and written about strange tracks he had seen. Upon inquiring as to what animals the tracks belonged to, he was given a physical description of the animal responsible and presented with cave drawings of animals identical to modern day descriptions of Mokele-Mbembe.
Now comes the uncomfortable part, the identity of these animals; and there is no way around it, it resembles a small sauropod dinosaur. The combination of size, long tail, thick body, long neck with a small reptilian head reminds one of apatosaurus, as one example. Using what some may call a perverted version of Ockham’s razor, the sauropod connection does make a certain amount of morphological sense.
There has been various attempts at assigning a more conservative reptilian or mammalian identity for Mokele-Mbembe, with little success. No mammal or reptile currently living or known from the fossil record resembles Mokele-Mbembe.
OTHER LOCATIONS ?
Taking an environmental approach to the possibility of prehistoric survival, South America would be the next logical location. From the Amazon to Patagonia there are plenty of unexplored forest and swamps with a similar environment to the Congo Basin. The evidence however is slim, at least when it comes to a Mokele-Mbembe like animal.
Famous explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett mentioned “large primeval monsters” in Bolivia in the early 1900’s. Wether he saw the animals himself or heard stories is unclear. We do know that he mentioned seeing unusually large tracks of an animal he could not identify. Swedish explorer Harald Westin claim to have seen a dinosaur like animal in 1931 from Brazil’s Mato Grosso. A guide by the name of Sebastian Bastos claimed to have seen animals identical to Mokele-Mbembe deep inside the Amazon in the 1970’s.
Another possible location is Tasek Bera in Malaysia. Their version of Mokele-Mbembe is called the Ular Tedong. Back in South America , both Patagonia and Venezuela have had sightings of a long necked water animal in remote rivers and lagoons. Called the Patagonian plesiosaur and Lagoon serpent respectively, are intriguing, but bare little resemblance to Mokele-Mbembe; and so are a story for another time as they say.