Dec 11, 2018 I Brent Swancer

Bizarre Accounts of Mysterious Living Dinosaurs of Africa

One of the most mysterious types of cryptid creatures is that of what are called living dinosaurs, said to be relic populations of those enormous lumbering lizards that once thunderously crashed over the face of our planet with ponderous might. While most may assume that these creatures went extinct eons ago, it is surprising how many reports there are of actual dinosaurs still alive and roaming about in the most isolated parts of our planet as they did millions of years ago. One place that has proven to be a veritable Lost World of supposed living dinosaurs is the dark continent of Africa, and here in the remote unexplored jungles dinosaurs still allegedly reign supreme as if they were never gone at all.

By far the most famous of the supposed lost African dinosaurs is none other than the one called Mokele-mbembe, which literally translates to “one who stops the flow of rivers.” The habitat of this creature is deep within the furthest recesses of the steamy swampland and dark jungles of the Congo river basin, in particular an expanse of sprawling isolated wilderness called the Likouala swamp region. The beast in question truly lives up to its name, larger than an elephant and with a long neck topped by a smallish reptilian head and with stocky short legs, resembling a brontosaurus and which has been a part of the landscape here for the native tribes since time unremembered. Semi-aquatic in nature it is rarely seen even by the natives, and although a vegetarian makes for a frightening sight, with a mighty roar that is said to create great fear and dread in all who hear it. A good description of the Mokele-mbembe can be found in a 1980 issue of Science, within an article called Living Dinosaurs, which reads:

In the swampy jungles of western Africa, reports persist of an elephant-sized creature with smooth, brownish-gray skin, a long, flexible neck, a very long tail as powerful as a crocodile’s, and three-clawed feet the size of frying pans. Over the past three centuries, native Pygmies and Western explorers have told how the animals feed on the nutlike fruit of a riverbank plant and keep to the deep pools and subsurface caves of waters in this largely unexplored region.

Although the tribes and missionaries of this land of impenetrable swamp had long known of the creature, it was not until the early 1900s that its existence would finally trickle out to the Western world. In 1909, the renowned big game hunter Carl Hagenbeck wrote of the creature in his autobiographical work Beasts and Men, in which he told of hearing tales from the natives of a hulking, frightening beast that was described as being half elephant and half dragon. Hagenbeck looked into this phenomenon further, speaking with the naturalist Joseph Menges, who told him that indeed the natives had a rich lore of this beast, and that he personally believed it to be some kind of dinosaur similar to a brontosaurus. Yet another of Hagenbeck’s sources was the German adventurer, filmmaker, and big game hunter Hans Schomburgk, who told him that the natives of the area blamed the Mokele-mbembe for killing all of the hippos at a place called Lake Bangweulu.

Another well-publicized account was made in another area in 1913, by German adventurer and Captain Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz, who at the time was surveying a region of present day Cameroon for potential spots for colonies. Natives told him many tales of the Mokele-mbembe, which were surprisingly consistent across the board from many independent sources, although Lausnitz remained rather skeptical himself at first. This version of Mokele-mbembe painted it as a vicious force to be reckoned with, an aggressive behemoth that the natives steered well clear of, and he would later write of the mysterious beast:

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.

These accounts, along with other scattered reports from explorers and missionaries in the region of these brontosaurus-like animals roaming the swamps really captured the public imagination, with the thought of lumbering dinosaurs from ages past wallowing through the mists of this lost world proving to be absolutely irresistible. Many expeditions were launched into the forbidding terrain of this mysterious domain in search of the enigmatic Mokele-mbembe over the decades, with some of them funded by such respected institutions as the Smithsonian, and even the famed cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson made an excursion there in 1932. Sanderson would come across large tracks that the natives explained as being from the creature, and he also spotted something very large disappear into the water which he could not explain. In the 1930s the lore was further fueled by a report from the region’s Lake Tele of a tribe of pygmies that had actually managed to kill one of the creatures. According to the tale, two of the Mokele-mbembe tried to smash through a wall of stakes designed to keep the beasts out, and were set upon by fierce, spear wielding tribesmen. After an epic, thrashing battle, they were allegedly able to kill one of them, after which they brought it back to the village and had it cooked and eaten as part of a celebratory feast. The story goes that everyone who ate the meat of this mysterious animal became violently ill and later died.

Perhaps the most famous of these expeditions was that of a University of Chicago biologist named Roy Mackal, who ventured to the Likouala swamp region multiple times in 1980s in order to investigate the stories. Although he would not find any solid physical evidence or see one of the creatures himself, the team did find things like large swaths of broken branches caused by something very large barreling through, footprints, and they claimed to have heard the creatures as well. Mackal would bring back numerous native reports of the Mokele-mbembe, which he compiled into a book entitled Living Dinosaur?. Another rather interesting expedition was carried out in 1981 by a Herman Regusters, who brought his team to the remote Lake Tele. This particular expedition would come back with quite a bit of supposed evidence of the creatures, such as droppings, a footprint cast, and even an alleged recording of the Mokele-mbembe’s roar, which you can listen to here, although it is pretty inconclusive at best and could be anything.

Indeed, the 1980s saw several promising expeditions into the region. In 1980 there was one launched by German adventurer and engineer Herman Regusters and his wife. The couple would claim to have seen the beast on several occasions, both in the water and on land, as well as hearing its roars, and they even produced an alleged photograph of it. In 1983 a zoologist by the name of Marcellin Agnagna led an expedition to Lake Tele and claimed to have seen the creature when it raised its long neck and head out of the water, which he described as being thin and reddish in color, with reptilian oval eyes that stared at him for a time before vanishing beneath the murky depths. Interestingly, the only known video footage of the Mokele-mbembe was taken at Lake Tele in 1987, when a Japanese film crew was flying over the lake to survey the area. The footage is grainy at best, but shows what appears to be a very large animal of some sort moving across the water, with what looks like it could be a head and neck but which has been criticized as being merely two natives on a canoe.

Expeditions and reports of the Mokele-mbembe have continued on into later years, with some of them proving quite spectacular indeed. One British expedition led by explorer and cryptozoologist William Gibbons in 1992 trekked through a large portion of the region and came back with a photograph of what might be the head of a Mokele-mbembe taken at Lake Tele. In 1999 there was also a rather incredible report printed in the Sunday Times of London, which claimed that members of the Kabonga tribe had killed one of the creatures, but it is unknown how much veracity this report holds as no body was ever presented for scrutiny. Despite all of the expeditions and reports, which continue to this day, there has not been any solid evidence provided for the existence of Mokele-mbembe, but it remains the most talked about and sought after “living dinosaur” of Africa. Is it out there or not? Considering the lack of many modern day sightings, is there even the chance that if it did exist, has it finally gone extinct after all?

If Mokele-mbembe is in fact a real living dinosaur and really exists, then it also has some company, and there are various others said to lurk within the muck and trees here, inhabiting the exact same area, within the remotest, most impenetrable areas of the Congo’s Likouala swamp region. One is a large, saurian creature said to prowl Lake Bangweulu, and which the natives call the nsanga. This ferocious beast is described as looking very similar to a crocodile, only much larger, without scales, and with formidable, over-sized claws on its feet. The German adventurer Lt. Paul Gratz claimed in 1911 to have been presented with strips of skin from the creature.

A rather more well-known member of this menagerie is called the Emela-ntouka, which literally translates from the local tribal language to “Elephant Killer.” It is said to be a massive dinosaur-like reptilian beast that is said to be about the size of a full grown elephant and takes a stout, tank-like form with an armored body, a ponderous thick club-like tail, and a prominent and formidable horn protruding from its head similar to that of a rhinoceros. The creature is supposedly semi-aquatic, spending much of its time lurking hidden within the muddy waters of the swamp and, although a vegetarian stays true to its name, storied by local tribes for its explosive aggressiveness, attacking anything that approaches and indeed killing elephants, as well as buffaloes or hippos on occasion with apparent ease, usually while unleashing a reverberating, distinctive growl.

Although this mysterious creature has long been known to the native tribes of the region, the wilderness itself is so forbidding and closed off from the rest of the world that it wasn’t until the 1930s that stories of the existence of this single-horned killing machine prowling the dim swamps began to come in from outsiders. One of the first mentions of the creature by Western explorers was by the adventurer J.E. Hughes, who wrote of a local tribe along the shores of the Luapula River who had killed one of the beasts, an account buried within an otherwise non-sensationalist 1933 travel book called Eighteen Years on Lake Bangweulu. Interestingly, there was another of the creatures supposedly killed by tribesmen in the early 1930s near a place called Dongou. In 1954 the creature was really propelled into the public consciousness when a former Likouala game inspector named Lucien Blancou wrote of it in an article for the scientific journal Mammalia, saying of it:

The presence of a beast which sometimes disembowels elephants is also known, but it does not seem to be prevalent there now as in the preceding districts. A specimen was supposed to have been killed twenty years ago at Dongou, but on the left of the Ubangi and in the Belgian Congo.

In the 1980s, when Dr. Roy P. Mackal made his way into the hostile wilderness of the Congo looking for the legendary Mokele-mbembe, he too heard the stories of the Emela-ntouka, which he also included in his famous 1987 book A Living Dinosaur. Mackal himself believed the creature to be perhaps a surviving relic population of the Centrosaurus, an extinct dinosaur that possessed a large single horn, a theory supported by the legendary cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, although this cryptid is not said to have the same prominent head ridge that these dinosaurs displayed. Another idea is that the creature is not a dinosaur or even a reptile at all, but rather something more like a new species of semi-aquatic rhinoceros, but considering the incredibly isolated area and the relative small number of sightings by outsiders it is likely we will never know for sure, and indeed that like the Mokele-mbembe might even be already extinct once and for all.

The Emela-ntouka seems to somewhat physically resemble in some respects other supposed living dinosaurs within the uncharted wildernesses of Africa, particularly an immense squat, armored beast covered in bony plates and with a thick tail said to inhabit the jungles of Kenya and called the Muhuru. Also, roaming the savanna region of Cameroon is a cryptid called the Ngoubou, which is said to be a buffalo-sized hoofed creature with a thick, muscular body and with an imposing array of 6 horns upon its head, which it uses to chase off, and on occasion even kill, elephants. It is uncertain what connection either of these have to the Emela-ntouka but the passing similarities are interesting.

Getting back to the Likouala Region of the Republic of Congo we have yet another apparent living dinosaur to join Mokele Mbembe and the Emela-ntouka, in this instance one called the Mbielu-Mbielu-Mbielu, or literally "animal with planks growing out of its back." As its name suggests its main feature is an array of protruding armored ridges running along its back, and is said to be almost completely aquatic in nature, rarely seen out of the water, and villagers of the region in which it is seen say that its back is typically covered with a sheen of green algae.

This is rather similar to yet another Congo dwelling dino called the Nguma-monene, which allegedly takes the form of a massive lizard, or in some accounts a snake, with intimidating ridges down its back. The Nguma-monene is reported from along a tributary of the Ubangi River called Dongu-Mataba, and one of the most famous sightings by an outsider was made by a pastor Joseph Ellis in 1971, who saw it swimming alongside him as he rode a dugout canoe, and who described it as absolutely gigantic, with a portion of the tail alone measuring the same size as the vessel he was in, with clearly visible diamond shaped protrusions all along the top. The truly massive creature apparently created a rush of ripples and waves that were enough to threaten to overturn the canoe as it glided past. This creature is also apparently very aggressive, and supposedly hates hippos, killing them on sight. Hippos seem to just do that to these dinosaurs.

Also from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is an apparent dinosaur more in appearance like the terrible Tyrannosaurus Rex, reported from the remote rainforests of a place called the Kasai Valley. The creature in question is most spectacularly known from a report made in 1932, by a Swedish plantation owner named John Johanson, who at the time was travelling through the region with a local guide. At one point during their trek through the mosquito choked interior jungles they allegedly came across a rhinoceros going about its business. As they stood looking at the creature, they claimed that an enormous bipedal dinosaur-like monster, estimated at around 43 feet long, came erupting forth from the trees to pounce upon the rhino and kill it, after which it actually began to eat the carcass, apparently unaware that the two startled men were standing there watching it go about its hunt. Johanson would describe it by saying,“It was reddish in color, with blackish-colored stripes. It had a long snout and numerous teeth. The legs were thick; it reminded me of a lion, built for speed.”

There was another rather intriguing report from that very same year from the same area of what may or may not have been the same creature, which was published in the Rhodesia Herald. In this account, a hunter made his way to the Kasai Valley along with his gunbearer. As they made their way through the jungle, they supposedly came across two large elephants standing there in the mist. As the two witnessed surveyed the area their gaze fell upon what they described as “a monster, about 16 yards in length, with a lizard's head and tail.” Of course the hunter did the human thing and fired upon it, hey if you don't understand it kill it, and he would say of what happened next:

I was shaken by the hunting-fever. My teeth rattled with fear. Three times I snapped; only one attempt came out well. Suddenly the monster vanished, with a remarkably rapid movement. It took me some time to recover. Alongside me the boy prayed and cried. I lifted him up, pushed him along and made him follow me home. On the way we had to transverse a big swamp. Progress was slow, for my limbs were still half-paralyzed with fear. There in the swamp, the huge lizard appeared once more, tearing lumps from a dead rhino. It was covered in ooze. I was only about 25 yards away. It was simply terrifying. The boy had taken French leave, carrying the rifle with him.


At first I was careful not to stir, then I thought of my camera. I could hear the crunching of rhino bones in the lizard's mouth. Just as I clicked, it jumped into deep water. The experience was too much for my nervous system. Completely exhausted, I sank down behind the bush that had given me shelter. Blackness reigned before my eyes. The animal's phenomenally rapid motion was the most awe-inspiring thing I have ever seen.

Stories of similar creatures have been told in the region, but the credibility of the so-called Kasai Rex has been the subject of some skepticism. One of the main things that has detracted greatly from its veracity are two photographs of the alleged creature, both of which were found to be doctored hoaxes. There is also the inconvenient fact that the natives of the region don’t seem to have any knowledge of this particular creature, and it has mostly only been sighted by outsiders, making the reports all the more questionable. Whether it is real or not, they are interesting accounts nonetheless.

Other areas of Africa are not without their own stories of roving dinosaurian monsters. Cameroon, which is also thought to be a haunt of the Mokele-mbembe and others, also has a monster of supposedly truly epic proportions known locally as the M'kuoo M’bemboo. This creature is said to be truly gargantuan, with its head alone described as being the size of a full grown hippo. The M'kuoo M’bemboo is described as being a jet black in color, and has a flattened head that is reminiscent of that of a seal. The creature is known for its rumbling, gurgling roar, and it is said to kill hippos but not eat them. Hippos just can't catch a break here. Cameroon is also purportedly home to what are called the Jago-Nini, and the Amali, which are said to be immense aquatic dinosaurs that glide through the rivers here, oddly not killing hippos. The adventurer and ivory trader Alfred Aloysius Smith wrote of these mysterious creatures thus:

Aye, and behind the Cameroon there's things living we know nothing about. I could 'a' made books about many things. The Jago-Nini they say is still in the swamps and rivers. Giant diver it means. Comes out of the water and devours people. Old men'll tell you what their grandfathers saw but they still believe its there. Same as the Amali I've always taken it to be. I've seen the Amali's footprint. About the size of a good frying pan in circumference and three claws instead of five.

Perhaps one of the strangest “living dinosaurs” of all is one supposedly native to the wilds of Sudan, in the wetlands of Bhar el Zeraf, and well as in Sudan’s Lake No, and in Lake Victoria. The creature is called the Lau, which is said to look like “a donkey with flippers,” possesses bizarre tentacles on its face, and measures up to 100 feet in length. It is said to emit a truly terrifying roar that sounds like “the thundering of elephants.” There have been many reports of the creature since the 1800s, and in 1914 there was a Lau allegedly killed in the swamps of Addar, but the body was never recovered. In 1924, a supposed vertebrae from one of the beasts was received by a British officer from a native tribesman, but where it went is anyone’s guess and we are left with no physical evidence at all.

It is rather frustrating because that is the situation we are left with all of these cases, a lack of any clear evidence and only these mystifying stories and native accounts to go by. It is certainly not an indication that these creatures cannot exist, and the terrain itself makes it a given that these places should be unexplored. After all, we are dealing with some of the most unexplored places on the planet, walls of nearly impassable jungle filled with diseases, dangerous wildlife, and often in wartorn areas patrolled by nefarious bands of cutthroats, all conspiring with the extremely vast areas involved, meaning that it is very difficult to mount thorough expeditions and investigations into the matter. The reliance on reports from natives is also not a damning thing, as many known animals such as the gorilla and the okapi got their start in tribal reports that at the time seemed every bit as outlandish. In the end we are left with the question of whether any of these creatures are real, and if so, are they indeed living dinosaurs? It is impossible to say, but if there are dinosaurs still roaming the earth, then these dark uncharted jungles are pretty much exactly where one would expect them to be.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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