There aren’t life sauropod dinosaurs in the Congo. Yet why did world ever think there were?


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Regular readers of Tet Zoo will know that I’ve created – on a an excellent many occasions – around cryptozoology (the hunt because that creatures known only indigenous anecdotal evidence and not thought by the bulk of scientists to truly await exploration as valid zoological entities). And I’ve written about various details cryptids – the mystery beasts that space the alleged targets of cryptozoological investigations – top top some variety of occasions too.

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Front cover of the hardcopy variation of Hunting Monsters (Naish 2017).

But for all this, I’m surprised to find – even after an ext than 12 years of blogging – the there space a huge variety of cryptozoological subjects that ns haven’t ever before covered in ~ Tet Zoo in ~ all. Purely because I’ve never actually claimed much about it before, I want to talk here about mokele-mbembe, the alleged ‘living sauropod’ that the Congo. This message is culled from the ideal section of my 2017 book Hunting Monsters (a 2016 ebook version likewise exists) but is slightly modified and includesthe references that couldn’t be cited in the publication itself (Naish 2017). This brief post is not a definitive background of the mokele-mbembe and also everything around it, but merely a component of the story.


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The classic idea the the mokele-mbembe: one aquatic, swamp-dwelling sauropod, as shown here by David Miller for Roy Mackal’s 1987 book on the subject. Mackal’s book likewise includes a version of mokele-mbembe rebuilded as a giant monitor lizard – an amazing speculation that I’ll have to cover in future. Credit: Mackal 1987

By much the finest known of the alleged an enig beasts the tropical Africa is the mokele-mbembe that the Congo, one elephant-sized water beast, claimed to be a long-necked, long-tailed, herbivorous biology that lurks in deep forested swamps and forest-fringed lakes. The sounds an extremely much favor a sauropod dinosaur – or, much more specifically, a mid 20th century, amphibious, fat-bodied, thick-limbed sauropod that the kind so prevalent in old, inaccurate artwork – and also the id that this is precisely what that is has actually been endorsed and discussed in countless cryptozoological books and articles.

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Front covering of one of the couple of non-creationist publications written ~ above mokele-mbembe (Mackal 1987). Credit: E. J. Brill

The idea that the Likouala-aux-Herbes region of the Republic of the Congo might be residence to together a beast has actually been a popular, persistent one ever since the early 1900s. The good animal dealer and also showman Carl Hagenbeck was among the very first to encourage the concept of life dinosaur-like reptiles in Africa, and his claim (made in his 1909 book Beasts and also Men) automatically received global interest. It ended up being a tendency idea, publicised and advocated by ‘father that cryptozoology’ young name Heuvelmans and also his pendant from the 1950s onwards. Heuvelmans wrote a publication on this creatures, released in French in 1978 as Les Derniers dragon d’Afrique – and as yet not translated into English (though republished in 2003). Roy Mackal likewise wrote around them and also his 1987 volume A life Dinosaur? searching for Mokele-Mbembe (which has actually a foreword by Heuvelmans) is a cryptozoological standard (Mackal 1987).

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The covering of the republished execution of bernard Heuvelmans’s Les Derniers dragon d’Afrique, together yet untranslated into English. Ns love the cover-art developed for this volumes: the paintings are through Alika Lindbergh. Note the visibility of the gargantuan snake and also the pterosaur-like beast in addition to the sauropod. Credit: amazon

The cryptozoological perspective largely holds the Hagenbeck’s story originated in genuine eyewitness encounters through unknown animals. However, there’s an alternative cultural and sociological perspective. Hagenbeck was virtually certainly taking advantage of an early 20th century dinosaur craze the was scan the globe at the time. Many thanks to palaeontological discoveries made in the western interior of the joined States during the late 1800s, the museum of the day to be racing to obtain and also install complete skeletons of Diplodocus, Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus and their relatives. Large fanfare and public interest surrounded the display of these dinosaurs (Brinkman 2010), the very an initial of i beg your pardon were placed in new York and London in 1905. Interest in fossil sauropods sustained interest and also excitement in living ones – solid the very first time that such a sample of association had developed (a insurance claim has to be made the the exploration of fossil plesiosaurs motivated sightings the long-necked sea monsters… one idea I’ll it is in coming back to soon), and hardly the last. It need to be added that african legends and also stories about giant monster of course existed long prior to this time. However, nobody of the stories describe pets that sound much like sauropods.


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During the late 1800s and also early 1900s, museum in Europe and North America underwent a ‘second Jurassic dinosaur rush’. Among the spoils of the moment is this specimen in ~ the American Museum of Natural history in brand-new York (AMNH 460, a specimen long referred to Apatosaurus but currently of indeterminate status. Its skull is a mainly imaginary model). Credit: public Domain, WikiMedia

What plenty of proponents of the ‘living sauropod’ idea it seems to be ~ to have actually missed is that the half-rumoured notion of enduring African sauropods originally had actually nothing to do with the Congo region, but actually pertained to Rhodesia – today recognized as Zimbabwe. Zambia, likewise in the much south the the continent, was said to be residence to sauropod-like beasts throughout the early 1900s, together was the edge of the Sahara Desert and also South Africa (Loxton & Prothero 2013).


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A crucial sauropod specimen together goes the ‘second Jurassic dinosaur rush’ is the Carnegie Diplodocus, casts of which to be sent about the world and also to the great museums that London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, Bologna, Saint Petersburg, La Plata and also elsewhere. This, of course, is the London specimen, which go on display in 1905 (albeit not in the key hall as presented here). Right currently (June 2018), the specimen is at this time touring the UK. Credit: Darren Naish

In effect, civilization latched on the idea that any wild an ar in Africa could be home to living relatives of Brontosaurus or Diplodocus. Sauropod-like monsters to be not special denizens the the Congo region alone, but examples the a kind of lazy, naive view common in Europe and North America whereby every one of Africa to be imagined as a homogenous dark continent stuck in the rock Age, inhabited wholly by spear-wielding jungle-dwellers, and also where small had happened because the Mesozoic Era. Indeed, one oft-repeated phrase made in link with the idea of enduring sauropods is that “Africa has scarcely adjusted since the time of the dinosaurs”. Even the many cursory examination of Africa’s fossil, geology or tectonic background will show that this is totally incorrect. Dynamic phases the mountain-building, continental rifting and also desertification have had huge impacts ~ above African pet life (e.g., Kingdon 1990), and numerous places in the continent have actually acted together so-called ‘species pumps’ – locations where high numbers of new species have actually evolved and from i m sorry they have dispersed. Such effective mammal lineages as elephants, humans, porcupine- and also cavy-like rodents, and spiral-horned antelopes originated in Africa, frequently spreading the end from the continent to colonise regions elsewhere. Even the an excellent rainforests of central and west Africa have fluctuated giant in size and position, so much so that they were largely replaced through savannah throughout the last ice age (Malhi et al. 2013). Vertebrate types of rainforests room Cenozoic novelties, no Mesozoic relicts (Plana 2004). Disclaimer: there are tropical afri arthropod groups – prefer tick beetles – that carry out indeed appear to it is in Mesozoic relicts (Murienne et al. 2013), however they’re small arthropods, not giant vertebrates. All of this provides a josh of the idea – well-known in the cryptozoological literature – the Africa has actually been a static, secure refugium for many millions the years, inhabited by unchanged animals of Mesozoic grade.


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The african vertebrate fauna absolutely contradicts the idea the Africa"s animal assemblage deserve to be imagined together some type of backwater, lost world or – to use current biogeographical ax – ‘museum’ of lineages. These illustrations room from mine in-prep volume on the vertebrate fossil record, on which walk here. Credit: Darren Naish

In short, the principle of the mokele-mbembe as a life sauropod seems to have actually originated as a an effect of both a ‘dino-mania’ heat sweeping the human being during the at an early stage 1900s, and also of crass, erroneous stereotyping of afri biological background – a see of Africa together somehow an ext ‘prehistoric’ than the remainder of the world.


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I don’t have to say the the mainstream watch of the mokele-mbembe – that it’s an amphibious, fat-limbed, swamp-dwelling beast with multiple claws and distinct digits – is very obviously an exact mirror of inaccurate sauropod reconstructions as depicted in the late 1800s and throughout the early and middle years of the 20th century. This day we know that sauropods were not favor this. This scene shows the Morrison formation diplodocoid Diplodocus, a Stegosaurus in ~ left. This picture was created prior to the 1992 exploration of dorsal spines in diplodocoids. Credit: Darren Naish

For those disappointed v the truth that this short article doesn’t evaluate the proof that’s been placed forward in assistance of the mokele-mbembe’s existed, the rest of the book’s chapter goes ~ above to comment on that proof (Naish 2017). I may revisit the topic of the mokele-mbembe in time...

For vault Tet Zoo write-ups on cryptozoology and also Hunting Monsters, see...

And for write-ups on yes, really sauropods, see...

Refs - -

Brinkman, P. 2010. The 2nd Jurassic Dinosaur Rush. Chicago: college of Chicago Press.

Kingdon, J. 1990. Island Africa: the development of Africa’s rarely Animals and also Plants. Collins, London.

Loxton, D. & Prothero, D.R. 2013. Abominable Science! beginnings of the Yeti, Nessie, and also Other famed Cryptids. Columbia college Press, new York.

Mackal, R. P. 1987. A life Dinosaur? looking for Mokele-Mbembe. E. J. Brill, Leiden.

Malhi, Y., Adu-Bredu, S., Asare, R. A., Lewis, S. L. & Mayaux, P. 2013. Afri rainforests: past, present and also future. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal society B 368, 20120312.

Murienne, J., Benavides, L. R., Prendini, L., Hormiga, G. & Giribet, G. 2013. Woodland refugia in west and main Africa together ‘museums’ that Mesozoic biodiversity. Biology Letters 9 (1), 20120932.

Naish, D. 2017. Hunting Monsters: Cryptozoology and the reality Behind the Myths. Arcturus, London.

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Plana V. 2004. Mechanisms and tempo of advancement in the african Guineo–Congolian rainforest. Philosophical Transactions the the Royal culture of London B 359, 1585-159410.


The see expressed room those of the author(s) and are no necessarily those of scientific American.


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Darren Naish is a scientific research writer, technical editor and also palaeozoologist (affiliated through the university of Southampton, UK). He mostly works ~ above Cretaceous dinosaurs and also pterosaurs however has an avid interest in all points tetrapod. His publications deserve to be downloaded at darrennaish.wordpress.com. He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology because 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at tetzoo.com!Follow Darren Naish on Twitter