The Newmac Expedition: What is the Mokele-Mbembe?

Tomorrow, the Newmac Expedition leaves for the Republic of Congo. Among other things, they seek to investigate a strange legend, centuries in the making. What is the mokele-mbembe?

Background on Mokele-mbembe

As you may recall from yesterday, the Newmac Expedition used Kickstarter to raise $28,925 from 750 backers in order to categorize “plant and animal species in the vastly unexplored Republic of the Congo.” They describe the Congo Basin as “a region of Central Africa larger than the state of Florida, more than 80% of which has been totally unexplored.”

Most of the publicity surrounding the Newmac Expedition has been centered on its interest in a strange creature known as mokele-mbembe. The mokele-mbembe, or “one who stops the flow of rivers,” is a mythological creature supposedly residing in the swamps of the Congo River Basin. Details vary but most descriptions refer to it as having a long neck, a long tail, and a relatively small head.

“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.” ~ German Captain Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz, 1913, Published in Willy Ley’s 1959 book, Willy Ley’s Exotic Zoology

What is the Mokele-mbembe?

So, what is the mokele-mbembe? Well, many cryptozoologists speculate it might be a sauropod. Sauropods were dinosaurs. Their ranks included the Diplodocus and the Apatosaurus (better known as the Brontosaurus). Like all dinosaurs, the sauropods are believed to have died out 65.5 million years ago in the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event. Not a single dinosaur bone has ever been found above the K-Pg boundary, which is a layer of sediment in the earth’s crust marking the switch from the Cretaceous Period (K) to the Paleogene Period (Pg). This indicates that non-avian dinosaurs became extinct at or before the creation of this boundary.

There’s no hard evidence proving the existence of the mokele-mbembe. Photographs exist but they don’t show much of anything. And that’s in spite of the fact that various expeditions have scoured the Congo River Basin for decades.

On the other hand, reports of the creature go back a long way. For example, in 1776, a French missionary named Abbé Lievain Bonaventure wrote about strange footprints seen by natives in the Congo.

“The missionaries have observed in passing along a forest, the track of an animal which they have never seen; but it must be monstrous, the prints of its claws are seen on 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 in this part of its way, and that it carried its claws at the distance of seven or eight feet one from the other.” ~ Abbé Lievain Bonaventure, History of Loango, Kakonga, and other Kingdoms in Africa (1776), Translated by John Pinkerton in A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World: Volume 16 (1914)

Obviously, the natives have believed in the mokele-mbembe for centuries. However, it’s unclear whether they consider the creature to be a real-life physical animal or some kind of spirit.

Most likely, the mokele-mbembe doesn’t exist. A second possibility is that the creatures eyewitnesses have seen are actually giant monitor lizards. Regardless, we’re curious about this. As such, we’ll be doing our best to follow the Newmac Expedition. Fair warning though…it could prove challenging. They will be traveling through extremely remote areas. Also, it appears daily updates and photos will initially be distributed only through donors. So, news might be rare for the time being.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Incidentally, one of the running themes here at Guerrilla Explorer is our deep skepticism toward most so-called cryptids. Not all cryptids, mind you. But many of the popular, land-based ones.

“If undiscovered megafauna still exist on Earth, the most likely place to find them is in the ocean. After all, in the past twenty years, scholars have discovered eight large previously-unknown marine animals. Thus, from where I stand, the most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters such as the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent.” ~ David Meyer, Bigfoot Lives…!

It seems highly unlikely that undiscovered air or land-based megafauna like the Thunderbird or Bigfoot are anything more than long-running figments of our imagination. We have slightly more faith in the Yeti and the mokele-mbembe, although not much. The Yeti supposedly lives in the frigid, treacherous Himalayas. The mokele-mbembe resides in the swamps of remote, isolated jungles. Few people live in these areas and the conditions make expeditions difficult.

But while we’re skeptical of cryptids, we certainly don’t reject the possibility of their existence. One of the things that frustrates us about modern science is the built-in disdain many researchers hold for fields like cryptozoology. Regardless of our opinions, we must continue to evaluate any and all scientific claims with an open mind…even if its about the legendary Sasquatch or an undiscovered dinosaur living in the Congo. After all, that’s what science is all about.

“What I object to in particular is the knee-jerk reaction that any interest in cryptozoology makes you a crank or a naïve believer in the impossible. Not only are some targets of cryptozoology entirely ‘believable’ (example: new marine sharks and cetaceans), the assumption that people interested in cryptozoology necessarily ‘believe’ in the existence of the supposed targets of cryptozoology is erroneous. Clearly, you can investigate mystery animal reports because you’re interested in what they might tell you about the evolution and transmission of folklore, the reliability and abilities of eyewitnesses, and so on. Furthermore, I always thought that the scientific evaluation of claims of any kind was meant to be a good thing. Basically, there’s definitely science to do here, whether you advocate the possible existence of the respective supposed animal species or not.” ~ Darren Naish, Paleontologist


Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of the Newmac Expedition

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