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The Mokole Mbembe

Hatred burns inside me. A vile, black rage, thick and chunky like some sort of beef stew of anger. It’s the first thing to greet me when I wake up and the last thought that goes sizzling through my brain before I fall into the bleak depths of a restless sleep each night, only to be wrenched from my grainy, terrible dreams to face another day. Loathing and disgust boil inside my very veins like a thousand red-hot angry wasps, buzzing and stinging their way through my ventricles with every beat of my cold, black heart.

The object of my hatred? A fish. A dirty, ugly little fish called a Coelacanth.

See, here’s the problem: these little buggers were, at one point, on the top rung of the evolutionary ladder. Their importance declined and, until one was caught off the coast of Africa in the 1930s, it was widely believed that they went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period, 60 to 70 million years ago.

This lousy fish gives me indigestion.

Okay, so archaeologists messed up. A big ugly fish slipped under their radar. I can forgive that. Two-thirds of the surface of the Earth is covered in ocean, and there are some points that are almost unfathomably deep. So even a large number of fish, thousands of them, going unnoticed, is hardly something to unexpected.
But I swear on what little I hold holy that the next time someone uses the Coelacanth to try and convince me that dinosaurs are still alive, there’s going to be trouble. I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself. You see, ever since this supposedly extinct fish was found alive and well, ‘cryptozoologists,’ as modern–day monster hunters call themselves, try to hold it up as proof that the earth still conceals her mysteries.

To this end, the Coelacanth and other previously unknown creatures, such as the man-eating Giant Squid, have been used as proof that everything from Bigfoot to the Loch Ness Monster exist. One of the strangest causes into whose service they have been pressed is that of the Mokole Mbembe.

In the heart of Africa, the various peoples that dwell in the jungles of the Congo speak of a monster that resembles, basically, a tiny Brontosaurus. 10 feet long, on average, paranormal enthusiasts claim that since the ugly fish-monster that is the Coelacanth survived since prehistoric times, surely a couple of other dinosaurs could have.

Believe it or not, this is the strongest argument for the existence of the Mokole Mbembe. Believe it or not even more, a lot of people have spent a lot of time looking for it. British explorers went out looking fairly regularly during the 18th and 19th centuries, but to be honest I think British gentlemen of that era were just itching for an excuse to go skipping off into the heart of darkness. More recently men such as Carl Hagenbeck, John G. Millais, and biologist Roy Mackal went looking for the thing.

Hang on to your Top Hats, lest they pop off your head in surprise, and get a grip on your bowtie, lest in spin in amazement as I reveal the following bombshell: none of them brought back so much as an ounce of physical proof of the monster’s existence. This even includes the stalwart Captain Freiheer von Stein zu Lausnitz, a German with a terribly hard-to-type name that mounted an expedition to the Congo just prior to the War to End All Wars.

Is that too much to ask? All I ask for is a hoof. A piece of fur. A toenail clipping. Hell, even a bag of feces would sate my curiosity. And before the goddamn internet community gets any bright ideas, let me qualify that last sentence by saying the only poo I wanted mailed to me needs to have come from a dinosaur.

The Coelacanth going undiscovered makes sense. The oceans are vast, coelacanths are small, and there’s very few human beings cruising around the ocean floor. It’d be a simple thing for the fish to hide, for their corpses not to turn up, for their specimens to go unnoticed. On the other hand, dinosaurs are enormous, leave a lot of physical evidence (such as footprints, waste, and corpses) and are in a region that, compared to the floor of the ocean, is teeming with human witnesses. Also, they scared the hell out of that family on “Land of the Lost.” Oh man, that show was sweet. Remember the Sleestack?

Rumor got around that the Smithsonian Institute had sent an expedition to the Congo, but that they were killed in a train crash. They were therefore offering a reward for anyone who could produce the creature. It seems that this is what created most of the “evidence” of the Mokole Mbembe: to collect the reward, creeps of every description appeared with some sort of proof, all fake.

Anyway, the thousands of individuals needed to keep a population going is easy to hide in the vast oceans, but it’s ridiculous to think that the thousands of giant dinosaur monsters needed to perpetuate a population of dinosaur monsters has survived this long without giving up a body or two, a lock of hair, something, anything. All we have are stories and tribal legends.

Let’s look at those stories: to the various peoples of the Congo, the dinosaur monster in question goes by the names Mokole Mbembe, Ol-umaina, Chipekwe, and Mbulu-eM’bembe. It’s said to be between the size of an alligator and larger than an elephant, leave footprints between the size of a frying pan and the size of hippo tracks, be covered with scales or regular flesh, with a brown, gray, or dark red complexion, perhaps covered in spots like that of a leopard, and it has a head like either an otter or snake. Captain Lausnitz reported that the monster had one big tooth that may or may not be a horn.

Well golly gee, since descriptions of the monster hardly vary at all, I’m sold! I

’m joking, I’m joking. Look, it’s not impossible that an enormous monster has survived the course of tens of millions of years without leaving a single trace. I’m just saying that it’s as likely as, say, Elvis really being dead. Which is to say, not likely at all, since Elvis is still alive.

Anyway, Roy Mackal is my kind of guy. He heard about this dinosaur living in the Congo, and what did he do? He went looking for it. He went looking and found nothing, absolutely nothing, and he admitted that when he returned. Of course, the hundreds of square miles of swamps in the last un-invaded part of the world is a large place, so he plans to go back. There’s nothing I’d like more than for him to succeed.

But until he does, bringing back the carcass of the thing, some decent photos, anything, I will continue to be the nagging, frantic voice of common sense buzzing in the background. The story of the Mokole Mbembe is fascinating, and I suggest you read up on him, but always, always be sure to gaze upon the stories with the jaundiced eye of logic. With the data we have before us now, the likelihood of a gigantic swamp monster surviving 60 million years longer than we had thought without leaving a single scrap of evidence is very, very low. If it turns out it does exist then by all means, I will personally invite Dr Mackal and his compatriots to my home, where I will allow them to kick me squarely in the jewels. Until that day comes, I implore you, don’t get suckered in by the irrational voodoo mumbo-jumbo of the occult and paranormal. There is nothing to suggest that the Mokole Mbembe is anything other than a Congolese version of the Mngwa (“the strange one”), a sort of Swahili boogieman. These stories are good for scaring children, and little else.

First published in The Triangle 19 December 2005.