Mokele-Mbembe is a legendary water dwelling dinosaur that supposedly lives in the jungles around Congo’s Lake Tele. Most descriptions reveal Mokele-Mbembe to have a large brown-grey elephant-like body, long neck, small head and long tail. Contrasting descriptions, on the other hand, paint a picture more closely resembling a rhinoceros. Cryptozoologists claim he is a sauropod, and possibly a living remnant of the Diplodocus. In Congo River basin folklore, there are varying accounts describing Mokele-Mbembe as a living creature and others insisting he is a spiritual being.
Dr Roy Mackal, a retired biologist from the University of Chicago, was intrigued by the legend when he checked a map of the remote Congolese jungle where the creature allegedly lives. He said: “I checked maps, and the data on the maps was white. It said, ‘insufficient data to delineate terrain’. Well that got me! It’s the end of the world. It gives you a feeling of a surviving prehistoric time.” Congolese government officials claim that 80% of the Likouala region’s 66,000sq km is uncharted. Much of it is a dense and flooded forest. If there is a place for a dinosaur to hide, it’s there. Dr Mackal led 2 expeditions to the Likouala swamp in Congo in the 1980s, but failed to discover any hard evidence.
For those on the hunt for this mysterious creature, they claim it is a herbivore but, if you get too close, it will roar aggressively. Some hunters say the beast has a single horn which it uses to kill elephants.
Many Western explorers have been attracted by the teasing possibility that they could discover a living cryptoid that has remained, as yet, unknown to science. Over 50 expeditions have been carried out but the only evidence captured are blurry photos and a claw shaped footprint recorded by a French missionary in 1776. Thus, the legend of Mokele-Membe survives on eyewitness accounts. For instance, as one man told the BBC: “I was in a boat on the river when I saw Mokele-Mbembe. He began to chase us. Mokele-Mbembe rose out of the water. We ran, or he would have killed us.”
So, what about an economists’ point of view? Well, lets consider the motivations of the Congolese who promote the existence of the creature. American writer Rory Nugent visited Congo in search of Mokele-Mbembe and wrote a book about his experience titled “Drums Along the Congo”. He witnessed “an elegant French curve moving through the water” but believes it may have been set up by locals to fool tourists. “The guides were screaming about a god beast. Whether it was part of the show, whether there was somebody swimming under the water with flippers pushing a cardboard piece across the lake, I couldn’t tell you.” He believes it is all a “money making operation” and fears it could turn into a “Disneyland Congo” similar to the tourist trap surrounding the Loch Ness monster.
Jacqueline Woolley, a psychology professor at the University of Texas weighed in with her opinion on that matter and posits that it is the mystery that everyone enjoys chasing after, not the actual creature itself. “I think there is a basic need or drive to entertain possibilities just outside of our reach … There is the excitement in believing that what seems impossible or improbable could potentially exist.”
However, there is still hope for Mokele-Mbembe hunters because it was in 1901 in Congo where the zebra-giraffe-like creature Okapi was discovered … an animal which mainstream scientists claimed couldn’t exist.