In the north-east of the Republic of Congo lies a fresh water lake surrounded by swamps since the Pliocene era. Measuring just over three miles across, the lake is allegedly home to a relic from the dinosaur period, the Mokele-Mbembe, a large, long-necked animal with rounded, three-clawed feet measuring from 15ft to 75ft in length; a description remarkably like a sauropod dinosaur from the Jurassic age. Could it be possible that the dark heart of Africa could remain home to dinosaurs? Given that the jungles of Africa are vast and are still largely unexplored, it remains a possibility with intriguing evidence such as this footprint (below) and photographs of a creature traversing the lake (bottom image). Many dismiss the idea as folklore akin to the Loch Ness Monster however many local tribesmen have reported sightings of the creature and Willy Ley, the noted American-German science historian concluded there is "sufficient anecdotal accounts to suggest "that there is a large and dangerous animal hiding in the shallow waters and rivers of Central Africa".
The first reports of the creature now called the Mokele Mbembe came in notes from a French missionary to the Congo, Lievin Bonaventure Proyart, Maximilien de Robespierre's biographer, who reported in his 1776 published book entitled "History of Loango, Kakonga, and other Kingdoms in Africa" seeing footprints prints from a creature that "must be monstrous, the prints of its claws are seen upon the earth, and formed an impression on it of about three feet in circumference. In observing the posture and disposition of the footprints, they concluded that it did not run this part of the way, and that it carried its claws at a distance of seven or eight feet one from the other." Proyart was certainly no adventurer known for making wild claims. He was the author of a number of academic books, deputy principal of Louis-le-Grand College, one of the most prestigious institutions of France, and later Principal of Puy-en-Velay College.
It should be noted however that this was not a first hand account of observations by the author who never travelled to Africa, rather reports from missionaries who had been walking along a forest path when they saw the footprints. No big deal is made of the observations which take up just six lines in a wider chapter about the wildlife in the Kingdoms of Loango, Kakonga and N'Goyo. There were no further reports of any such creature until early in the twentieth century however these and other reports only included evidence of footprints and broken bushs where the alleged dinosaur had forced its way through the undergrowth. No actual sightings to provide evidence of the reports from local tribesmen were recorded.
The latter part of the twentieth century say a flurry of other expeditions to the area in search of the Mokele Mbembe, but none were successful. Whilst the existence of the supposed dinosaur cannot be ruled out, given that there has never been any irrefutable proof of the existence of the creature, it is more likely to be a reality of folklore, a spirit of the forest, rather than a physical entity.
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