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Monday, December 7, 2020

Decemystery (2020) 7: Mokèlé-mbèmbé

This story is dedicated to my friend Marcus. Sorry it took so long to get around to covering this.

Howdy, this is RMS Vertigo and we’re sailing down a river. Mud and dirt is being torn up because we’re about thirty-five times the legal size for a small river and there are a ton of really pissed off hippos chewing at the steel hull of this bad boy. We’re committing illegal acts of sailing the likes of which we haven’t seen since the era of the pirates and I feel perfectly fine.

You see, dear reader, in this world: I can be whatever I want. I can be an astronaut dancing on Venus as the immense heat makes my flesh melt off. I can be the King of Arcadia and on my way to Atlantis. I can also be an author who doesn’t sit on his bed typing out write-ups that about five people read on the daily.

Lucky for me, I am none of those things and am instead sitting here eagerly awaiting to tell you this story. It’s one that I’ve had on my to-do list for almost as long as the Somerton Man, though I never got around to it more out of pure laziness rather than time constraints or anything of that sort. I feel a great sense of disappointment not having tried to slot it into the last two days of that failed May series I did, but alas, emotional distress overtakes all—even the determination to make something out of the Cookie Monster.

Anyways, what is this fiendish cryptid? Well, It’s a relatively famous cryptid that’s been featured in films like 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters and on shows such as Destination Truth. Its legacy is up there with the likes of the J’ba Fofi in the way of local legend, but its real selling point is that it’s a living dinosaur. Yes, Jurassic Park is real and if we all go to Africa and bless the rains, we too can have the RMS Vertigo crash into a living fossil. Woo-hoo!

Okay, well, let’s finally get to it. This cryptid is known as Mokèlé-mbèmbé and its reputation is as long as its neck. So come, let’s continue on down river and get trampled on like a Wal-Mart employee on Black Friday. Awooooooooogaaaaah.

The Story

With a name that means “one who stops the flow of rivers”, Mokèlé-mbèmbé is up there with Sasquatch, Nessie, and El Chupacabra as one of the world’s most famous cryptids. Or, well, one variant of it is. The name Mokèlé-mbèmbé has been applied to a few different creatures, but the one we’ll be looking at is the sauropod-like dinosaur creature located in the Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon. However, most say that it’s primarily located in the rivers of the Congo.

As stated earlier, the creature is said to resemble a sauropod dinosaur. Those were the herbivorous, long-necked ones (like Brontosaurus, Diplodocus, and Brachiosaurus) which were abso-freakin-lutely gargantuan. However, in the case of Mokèlé-mbèmbé, the monstrous sizes of those three examples aren’t a part of the memo, for the living dinosaur itself is said to only be between 16 and 32 feet (or about 5 and 10 meters). Its neck is said to be between 5 and 10 feet (or 1.6 and 3.3 meters), with its tail being around the same length.

Strangely though, the Cameroon Mokèlé-mbèmbé (which some say has a frill on the back of its head) is said to be far closer to the actual length of the aforementioned three sauropods at 75 feet (or 22.8 meters). This is still nowhere near the 175 feet (53.3 meters) that a fully grown Diplodocus could reach, but hey, you can take what you get when you’re supposed to be like the monsters of yore, right?

Color wise, Mokèlé-mbèmbé is said to come in a few colors, but most say it’s either grey, brown, or reddish-brown. Its feet are also said to have three claws and, when locals were shown images of a sauropod dinosaur, they stated that that was what they’d come to know as Mokèlé-mbèmbé.

In the way of sightings, most sightings come from locals who speak of the creature in a way that could be mistaken for Satan himself. Mokèlé-mbèmbé is said to be a very powerful beast, with some saying it’s also highly aggressive. However, it doesn’t seem to consider humans to be prey (though I doubt it’d have a problem with killing you if you were to anger it).

For more information though, I want to echo a report from a German Captain by the name of Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz (which in and of itself comes from Willy Ley’s 1959 book Exotic Zoology):

The animal is said to be of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size is approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck and only one tooth but a very long one; some say it is a horn. A few spoke about a long, muscular tail like that of an alligator. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed; the animal is said to attack the vessels at once and to kill the crews but without eating the bodies. The creature is said to live in the caves that have been washed out by the river in the clay of its shores at sharp bends. It is said to climb the shores even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. This feature disagrees with a possible explanation as a myth. The preferred plant was shown to me, it is a kind of liana with large white blossoms, with a milky sap and applelike fruits. At the Ssombo River I was shown a path said to have been made by this animal in order to get at its food. The path was fresh and there were plants of the described type nearby. But since there were too many tracks of elephants, hippos, and other large mammals it was impossible to make out a particular spoor with any amount of certainty.

Despite these numerous reports, sightings of Mokèlé-mbèmbé—and by that, I mean actual, credible sightings and not the supposed aerial shots of it that are as realistic as me putting a plastic toy in a tub and saying it’s Nessie—are rather few and far between. As I said earlier, most are from locals and there are some nowadays who believe that the creature may actually be extinct, having been either hunted to extinction or maybe it became food for J’ba Fofi.

So where does that really leave us today? Well, despite expeditions to try and find it throughout the years, nothing has ever come of it. Unlike the numerous images of Sasquatch, Nessie, and even some supposed pictures of pterodactyls, Mokèlé-mbèmbé has remained as elusive as my dignity. Now yes, there are some supposed images of tracks, but I cannot verify if these are legitimate or if they’re faked. I remain extremely hesitant to try and present anything as proof given that we’re talking about something that may be a living dinosaur. This isn’t like, say, an alien corpse or Nessie—which at least has the precedent of the Coelacanth to back it up. This is a dinosaur.

Because of this, I want to head into the theories section. Mokèlé-mbèmbé's story is extremely sketchy at best and because of that, I don’t think it should come as a surprise when I say that nowadays, it’s become something of a quasi-deity (at least, from what I can tell). I digress though, let us move onward down the river and sail into the realm of theories. Wee!


1. Misidentification

The first theory is one that I seriously have no idea as to how it works. It posits that Mokèlé-mbèmbé is, somehow, a case of misidentification. Never mind how on God’s green Earth anyone can mistake, say, a crocodile or hippopotamus for a behemoth that was able to reach upwards of 175 feet, with a neck that was 21 feet on its own. Can someone please tell me why on Earth a plant-eating dinosaur suddenly stopped eating leaves and instead looked at a puny 6-foot-tall human and thought, “Yum, I wanna eat that”?

I digress. The idea is that Mokèlé-mbèmbé isn’t the 175-foot-long monstrosity from millennia upon millennia upon oh-dear-god-this-is-a-long-time-ago-nnia ago and has instead shrunk to where I still cannot wrap my head around people mistaking hippos for it.

As for elephants, their fancy noses are plausible, but the rest of an elephant compared to a sauropod is extremely distinct. Their necks are massive and they lack the big, endearing, silly ears of an elephant. The body of an elephant is also nowhere near the same to that of a sauropod. It’s really hard to mistake a fat elephant for a creature that was able to perform a slam dunk on both sides of a basketball court (not to mention, large enough to turn you into human paste).

So exactly what could people be mistaking Mokèlé-mbèmbé for? I honestly don’t know. Some say people are seeing crocodiles, hippos, or elephants. Some say the ripples could be hippos that are moving underwater or something else, but any and all explanations make me—an ardent skeptic of the creature’s mere existence—shake my head. So I’m going to leave this entirely up to you because the more I type, the more my head hurts.

Though, I want to say: hippos are just mean creatures. Don’t mess with them. Seriously. Just throwing that out there. Don’t screw with hippos.

2. A legend

Theory number two: Mokèlé-mbèmbé is but a legend. Yeah, everyone and their great grandmother saw this one coming—if you didn’t, I recommend you read more about cryptids because it’s tied to everyone that isn’t named Indrid Cold. Wait, I think it may be tied to him too. I don’t know, but we’ll check on him sometime in the future!

Anyways, the idea here is that the legends of fantastical creatures (see: J’ba Fofi, whose legacy is also prominent in the same area as Mokèlé-mbèmbé) eventually spread across the world. That, coupled with the curiosity and desire to somehow find a living dinosaur, led to Mokèlé-mbèmbé becoming one of the world’s most iconic and recognizable cryptids.

This theory is, naturally, a favorite among skeptics and is arguably the most widely accepted theory. There are also cryptozoologists who happily subscribe to it on account of a dinosaur living for so long without a stable breeding population is extremely slim.

3. A living dinosaur

The second most popular theory is our third one; two for three? Two for three. The idea is that Mokèlé-mbèmbé is real and it’s an actual dinosaur. Exactly how it would have gone undetected for so long, I don’t know, but it’s a fairly popular theory among both folks who subscribe to the creationist theory and who are simply hopeful that a dinosaur has survived into the modern era. There are also some who think that the evidence that has been presented is believable. Hey, to each their own, right? Right—though some may say “no” and that’s okay too.

4. It spawned from a conspiracy theory

The fourth and final theory is one that I’ve only seen listed on Wikipedia. It posits that Mokèlé-mbèmbé came to be thanks to the reptilian alien conspiracy. If you don’t know that that is, you likely know it as the “lizard people” claim. You know, the one that says that former United States President Barack Obama is a lizard. That one.

Anyways, somehow, in some way, that conspiracy somehow gave birth to Mokèlé-mbèmbé and now, we have this living Diplodocus creature that resides in the rivers of the Congo. Strange, no? It’s one of the oddest theories I’ve ever heard regarding any cryptid—more so than the one that Bigfoot-type cryptids are aliens. I have no idea how this thing could possibly have spawned from that, but it’s apparently a thing.

My Take

I think that Mokèlé-mbèmbé is likely something that did exist, but the odds of it being a real dinosaur are slim. While I think that there are some living fossils out there (I believe that it’s possible a saber-tooth tiger could exist in a remote part of the world), I’m extremely skeptical of, say, a Tyrannosaurus Rex or Diplodocus waltzing around happily, nomming on trees or big creatures. That, to me, is exceedingly slim—and that’s being kind about it.

So what do I think it is? I believe it’s a legend and I think that people are fabricating stories to keep it alive. I’m serious, I don’t think anyone has really seen it. I believe they’re regurgitating old stories and instead believe what they want to believe. For those who say they see ripples, I think they’re seeing hippos or something else move and immediately attributing it to Mokèlé-mbèmbé. For those who claim they’ve seen it? I concede that I cannot explain that—unless I say that they’re making it up.

Though in some cases, I cannot explain it because I don’t think anyone can mistake a living dinosaur for a hippo. The two don’t look anything alike, especially a sauropod. It’s nonsense to say the two can be mistaken for one another. Even elephants are different enough. At the same time, I cannot believe something like Mokèlé-mbèmbé surviving in the Congo without it trampling an entire village out of existence.

Now, at the same time, if we were to discover a dinosaur trotting around, I’d be ecstatic. Just… please, for the love of God, don’t go hunting them for sport. They would’ve almost died once, we don’t need them to die again. I mean, come on, just imagine how awesome it’d be if we throw them into zoos until they break loose and wreak havoc. I wanna be able to experience the good parts of Jurassic World in person!

Good Lord, I’m ending up on a watchlist.


Well, we’ve sailed our way through the rivers. The local hippo population is now a fraction of what it once was. There was sadly no dinosaur to be seen, but that’s okay. We’ll now sail to tomorrow’s story! Where is that you may wonder? I’m not telling; you’re just gonna have to wait and see. So until then, toodles!

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