Mokele-Mbembe: The Congo Dinosaur

Mokele-Mbembe: The Congo Dinosaur

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My name is Kayleigh Cecil and I am a recent graduate of Stevenson University. I majored in Medical Laboratory Science but would like to move into the science writing industry. I have always had a passion for science and would like to share my knowledge with others online. My main interests are biology, astronomy, and physics.

Everyone knows that dinosaurs went extinct millions of years ago. However, there are some people claiming that dinosaurs coexisted with humans or are even still alive today. One of the most famous dinosaurs that people claim is still alive is the Congo dinosaur, better known as the mokele-mbembe.  

A Living Dinosaur in the Congo?

“Mokele-mbembe” means “one who stops the flow of rivers” in Lingala, an indigenous language of Central Africa. According to locals, it’s a large, long-necked reptilian creature that lives in the Congo River Basin. It has pale-gray skin, similar to an elephant or rhinoceros. The creature lives in rivers or swamps and has a single tooth or horn. This description closely matches that of a sauropod, or long-necked dinosaur (like Brontosaurus). 

In illustrations, the Congo dinosaur is often depicted as an outdated version of a sauropod. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, scientists thought sauropods were cold-blooded, sluggish, amphibious creatures with thick legs and dragging tails. This is exactly how sauropods look in old dinosaur art. Now, scientists believe that sauropods were warm-blooded, had thinner legs, carried their tails above the ground, and lived entirely on land. 

The Real Explanation for the Congo Dinosaur

Obviously, dinosaurs died out long ago, so they can’t still be around. Ground, aerial, and satellite surveys have never found any signs of a large, long-necked creature in the Congo Basin. Instead, the animals that the surveys did find were large animals common to Africa, such as elephants. 

The Congo Basin locals probably created the myth of the mokele-mbembe from sightings of the black rhinoceros, which used to live in the region. The mokele-mbembe has pale-gray skin and sometimes a single horn on its head, like a rhinoceros. Besides the mokele-mbembe, there are other long-necked creatures in the folklore and mythology of the local cultures.

The mokele-mbembe is probably just a result of mixed descriptions of these mythical creatures. The fascination that Western cultures had with dinosaurs in the early 20th century was probably another reason for the mokele-mbembe’s depiction as a dinosaur. Some people have even compared the mokele-mbembe to a long-necked monitor lizard

Why Some People Still Insist That the Congo Dinosaur Exists

Despite the glaring lack of scientific evidence for the Congo dinosaur and the fact that dinosaurs went extinct long ago, some people still insist that the Congo dinosaur is real. These people are cryptozoologists (people who look for unknown or legendary animals), pseudoscientists (people who study unscientific claims), and young Earth creationists.

Young Earth creationists hold the Biblical belief that the Earth is only 10,000-6,000 years old, and that all life on Earth was created in just 7 days. Therefore, they believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, and that dinosaurs could still exist today.

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Cryptozoologists, pseudoscientists, and young Earth creationists have searched for the mokele-mbembe in order to prove that the creature exists. Of course, none of them ever found a dinosaur in the Congo Basin. 

The Modern Dinosaurs of Africa

Even though the Congo dinosaur isn’t real, dinosaurs are, in a way, still around today. Birds and crocodiles are both related to dinosaurs. In fact, scientists consider birds to be dinosaurs (more specifically, avian dinosaurs) because they evolved from dinosaurs (more specifically, non-avian dinosaurs). Scientists classify birds, crocodiles, dinosaurs, and pterosaurs (extinct flying reptiles like the pterodactyl) as archosaurs, which are all considered reptiles. So yes, birds are scientifically both dinosaurs and reptiles. In a way, Africa still has dinosaurs because of the crocodiles and all of the bird species that live in Africa.

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My name is Kayleigh Cecil and I am a recent graduate of Stevenson University. I majored in Medical Laboratory Science but would like to move into the science writing industry. I have always had a passion for science and would like to share my knowledge with others online. My main interests are biology, astronomy, and physics.