Dec 15, 2022 I Nick Redfern

If You Want to Find Monsters, the Congo Could be the Best Place: A Hotbed of Unknown Animals

Richard Freeman, formerly a head-keeper at England’s Twycross Zoo, says: “An English ex-pat that gathered information on a supposed horned giant animal said to lurk in Lake Bangweulu [which is situated in the upper Congo River basin in Zambia], J.E. Hughes was born in Derbyshire in 1876 and attended Cambridge. The British South Africa Company offered him a job as assistant native commissioner in the newly formed civil service of north-east Rhodesia. After seven years of service Hughes resigned and became a hunter/trader. He lived for the next eighteen years on the Mbawala islands on Lake Bangweulu. He recorded his life in a book, Eighteen years on Lake Bangweulu, in which he writes of the monster.” Having digested Freeman’s words, let’s now turn our attention to Hughes himself and his extraordinary story of a rampaging monster. “For many years now there has been a persistent rumor that a huge prehistoric animal was to be found in the waters of our Lake Bangweulu. Certainly the natives talk about such a beast and ‘Chipekwe’ or ‘Chimpekwe,’ is the name by which they call it. I find it is a fact that Herr Hagenbeck sent up an expedition in search of this animal, but none of them ever reached the Luapula, owing to fever, etc; they had come at the wrong time of year for newcomers."

(Nick Redfern) Richard Freeman: full-time monster-hunter

The story continues: “Mr. H. Croad, the retired magistrate, is inclined to think there is something to the legend. He told me one night, camped at the edge of a very deep small lake, he heard a tremendous splashing during the night, and in the morning found a spoor on the bank- not that of any animal he knew, and he knows them all. Another bit of evidence about it is the story Kanyeshia, son of Mieri-Mieri, the Waushi Paramount Chief, told me. His grandfather had said that he could remember one of these animals being killed in the Luapula in deep water below the Lubwe. A good description of the hunt has been handed down by tradition. It took many of their best hunters the whole day spearing it with their ‘Viwingo’ harpoons - the same as they use for the hippo. It is described as having a smooth dark body, without bristles, and armed with a single smooth white horn fixed like the horn of a rhinoceros, but composed of smooth white ivory, very highly polished. It is a pity they did not keep it, as I would have given them anything they liked for it.

“I noticed in Carl Hagenbeck’s book ‘Beasts and Men,’ abridged edition, 1909, p.96, that the Chipekwe has been illustrated in bushman paintings. This is a very interesting point, which seems to confirm the native legend of the existence of such a beast. Lake young is named on the map after its discoverer, Mr. Robert Young, formerly N.C in charge of Chinsali. The native name of the lake is ‘Shiwangandu.’ When exploring this part in the earliest days of the Administration, he took a shot at an object in some floating sudd that looked like a duck; it dived and went away, leaving a wake like a screw steamer. This lake is drained by the Manshya River, which runs into the Chambezi. The lake itself is just half-way between Mipka and Chinsale Station."

Now, there's this: “Mr. Young told me that the natives once pulled their canoes up the Manshya into this lake. There were a party of men, women, and children out on a hippo-harpooning expedition. The natives claimed that the Guardian Spirit of the lake objected to this and showed his anger by upsetting and destroying all the men and canoes. The women and children who had remained on the shore all saw this take place. Not a single man returned and the women and children returned alone to the Chambezie. He further said that never since has a canoe been seen on Lake Young. It is true I never saw one there myself. Young thinks the Chipekwe is still surviving there Another bit of hearsay evidence was given me by Mr. Croad. This was told to him by Mr. R. M. Green, who many years ago built his lonely hermitage on our Lulimala in the Ilala country about 1906. Green said that the natives reported a hippo killed by a Chipekwe in the Lukula- the next river. The throat was torn out."

(Nick Redfern) The Congo is definitely a place to look for monsters

And we're still not done: “I have been to the Lukulu many times and explored it from its source via the Lavusi Mountain to where it loses its self in the reeds of the big swamp, without finding the slightest sign of any such survival of prehistoric ages. When I first heard about this animal, I circulated the news that I would give a reward of either £5 or a bale of cloth in return for any evidence, such as a bone, a horn, a scrap of hide, of a spoor, that such an animal might possibly exist. For about fifteen years I had native buyers traversing every waterway and picking up other skins for me. No trace of the Chipekwe was ever produced; the reward is still unclaimed.” Hughes concluded: “My own theory is that such an animal did really exist, but is now extinct. Probably disappearing when the Luapula cut its way to a lower level- thus reducing the level of the previously existing big lake, which is shown by the pebbled foothills of the far distant mountains.”

It’s well worth noting Richard Freeman’s comments on this affair, give his extensive knowledge in the fields both zoology and cryptozoology: “Perhaps, if we are to believe Mr. Young’s tale the creature’s ferocity kept it from being hunted very often. A picture is emerging of a huge, dangerous, semi-aquatic animal with a single horn and an antipathy towards hippos. Many have come to the conclusion that these are Ceratopsian dinosaurs. These were a sub-order of Ornithischia (bird hipped dinosaurs) and contained such well known horned dinosaurs as Triceratops and Styracosaurus. They were all herbivores and were typified by bearing horns and a bony frill like an Elizabethan ruff that grew from the rear of the skull to protect the animal’s neck. The number of horns varied between the species, some such as Monoclonius bore only one horn on the snout. There are two main stumbling blocks with the dinosaur theory. First and foremost there is no fossil evidence for any species of non-avian dinosaur surviving beyond the Cretaceous period (which ended 65 million years ago). Secondly there is no indication of any species of being aquatic, let alone Ceratopsians. So we need to look elsewhere for this beast’s identity.”

Richard Freeman believes that the beast may be some form of gigantic, aquatic rhinoceros. He says: “The idea of a water dwelling rhino may seem strange but the great Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) spends almost as much time in water as a hippopotamus. It feeds mainly on lush water plants such as reeds and water lilies. The Indian rhino also bares only one horn much like the Emela-ntouka and unlike the two savannah dwelling African species who both bare two horns.” Freeman adds, in conclusion: “One group of rhinos the Amynodontids specialized in an aquatic lifestyle. These flourished in the Oligocene epoch 38 to 25 million years ago finally dying out around 10 million years ago. Could one species have survived into the present? This is by no means impossible but it is perhaps more likely that our unknown giant is a modern species that has avoided detection, rather than a prehistoric survivor.”

Now, let's have a look at possibly the creepiest thing of all in the Congo: giant spiders. And when I say "giant" I mean "GIANT!" For vast numbers of the human population spiders provoke a sense of creepiness and dread. Sometimes, for people with arachnophobia, outright terror. And that’s often as a result of an encounter with a small spider. Imagine, then, encountering a spider the size of a dog! You think it couldn’t happen? It’s time to think again. For decades, accounts have surfaced of giant-sized spiders, ones that easily rival anything conjured up by the world of Hollywood. The largest known spider is the South American bird-eating spider, which goes by the name of Theraphosa blondi. One particular specimen, a twelve-year-old named Rosi, has an impressive leg-span of just under twelve inches, making her the largest, living spider on record – ever. That does not mean nothing larger than Rosi exists. It simply means we haven’t formally classified it or them. But, more than a few people claim to have seen such things.

(Nick Redfern) Who knows what might be found?

In 2001, English cryptozoologist Dr. Karl Shuker heard a fascinating story from explorer Bill Gibbons, who spent a great deal of time investigating reports of the Congo’s most famous monster, Mokele M’Bembe. The story dates back to 1938 and the experiences of a pair of explorers, Reginald and Margurite Lloyd. While negotiating a jungle pathway in the heart of the Belgian Congo, they saw something very strange step out in front of them. Their first thoughts were: was it a small crouching person, or a similarly crouched monkey? To their eternal horror, it quickly became clear it was neither. What it actually was, was a gigantic spider, one that had legs which spanned four-feet! Reginald Lloyd, realizing the enormity of the situation – never mind the enormity of the creature – quickly reached for his camera. Unfortunately, the beast raced across the track and vanished into the undergrowth before he could capture what would, most assuredly, have been a priceless picture. The pair was in doubt about what they had encountered, however: a truly giant, eight-limbed monstrosity.

The amazing account of the Lloyd’s does not stand alone: the local Baka pygmy people have longstanding stories of these goliath spiders, which are said to be far rarer today than they once were; although, reportedly, one of their tribespeople saw such a terrifying thing in 2003. As for the lairs of the beasts, the Baka maintain they create something akin to huts, which are fashioned out of leaves and vegetation. They are also skilled weavers of massive, thick webs, which they build to ensnare their prey, which can include anything up to about the size of a small antelope. Moving on to the United States, there is the 1948 report of William Slaydon, his wife, and grandchildren – which eerily echoes the report coming out of the Congo a decade earlier. The location was Leesville, Louisiana, and the family was walking to a nearby church for an evening of worship and prayer when their journey was suddenly interrupted – and in horrific fashion. As the Slaydons strolled along the road, to their horror, a giant spider – described as being “the size of a washtub” – surfaced out of a nearby ditch and raced across the road. Never again did the family walk that particular stretch of Louisiana road.

For at least two centuries, there has been talk of a deadly and violent monster lurking in the deep and dark waters of Africa, and particularly so in the Congo. Lakes, rivers, and swampy environments are those most preferred by the monster that has become known as Mokele-Mbembe. In English, it means “the one who stops the flow of rivers.” It’s a most apt name, since the Mokele-Mbembe is said to be size of an elephant – and maybe even bigger – and has a long, muscular neck. Although, at a local level, the existence of the beast was known for generations, it was not until 1980 that the rest of the world, thanks to mainstream media sources, got to hear about this mysterious animal, which sounds not unlike some surviving relic from the Jurassic era. It was in that year that Dr. Roy P. Mackal headed off to Africa to try and determine the true nature of the Mokele-Mbembe. It’s important to note that Mackal was not some wide-eyed, amateur sleuth. No. He was a biologist and biochemist who spent much of his time working at the University of Chicago.

Mackal had the very good fortune to interview a large number of native people who had seen a Mokele-Mbembe, or who had heard of its exploits. Having listened carefully to what the witnesses said, and studied their descriptions of the appearance of the monster, Mackal came to an astonishing conclusion: the animals were very possibly sauropods. We’re talking about huge reptiles that we are told became extinct 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs’ rule of the planet came to a crashing end – possibly as a result of a comet or a massive meteorite slamming into the Earth. Seven years after his trip to Africa, Mackal penned a book on his work, In Search of Mokele-Mbembe.  Mackal was not the only person to seek out the truth of the monsters of the Congo. The late J. Richard Greenwell also spent much time trying to resolve the riddle of Mokele-Mbembe. His target was the Likouala River – a place where he stumbled on a number of massive tracks, which suggested the presence of a huge, lumbering beast that spent time in both the water and on land.    

Nick Redfern: Something strange under the water?

In 1986, a man named Rory Nugent caught sight of a long-necked animal in the Likouala Swamp, adding further weight to the theory that the Mokele-Mbembes are sauropods. The strangest part of the story is that Nugent managed to secure a couple of clear photographs of the animal. They could, potentially, have resolved the matter once and for all. Except for one thing: the native people of the area viewed the Mokele-Mbembe as a beast with supernatural overtones attached to it. The result: they demanded Nugent destroy the film, lest the monster would kill them all. Given the hostility shown to Nugent, he, perhaps wisely, did as he was told.

“Around 1960, the forest dwelling pygmies of the Lake Tele region (the Bangombe tribe), fished daily in the lake near the Molibos, or water channels situated at the north end of the lake. These channels merge with the swamps, and were used by Mokele-mbembes to enter the lake where they would browse on the vegetation. This daily excursion into the lake by the animals disrupted the pygmies fishing activities. Eventually, the pygmies decided to erect a stake barrier across the molibo in order to prevent the animals from entering the lake. When two of the animals were observed attempting to break through the barrier, the pygmies speared one of the animals to death and later cut it into pieces. This task apparently took several days due to the size of the animal, which was described as being bigger than a forest elephant with a long neck, a small snake-like or lizard-like head, which was decorated with a comb-like frill.”

The search for Mokele-Mbembe continues: Richard Freeman, of the Center for Fortean Zoology, traveled to the domain of the monster in 2006 and, while he believes the creature exists, he strongly suspects it’s an unknown type of huge monitor-lizard. Imagine a thirty-foot-long, ferocious Komodo dragon and you have an idea of what Freeman has in mind. For all adventurers, it's time to hit the Congo!   

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

Join MU Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions & much more! Subscribe Today!