Saturday, June 27, 2009

In the Depths of the Jungle

I've tromped through jungles the world over for one reason or another, muscling ground-scrub and palm from my way so I could take one more step. Then another, and another. Trust me, if there was a location that stood out as a potential habitat for pygmy dinosaurs, it would be the buried forests of the Congo.

The Likouala Swamp of central Africa is over 55,000 square miles, larger than the state of Florida. Roughly 20% of the area remains unexplored, not simply by the machete-wielding 'white' explorer, but also by the indigenous tribes that live on the edges. It is among these clearings and pools that Mokele-Mbembe is supposed to reside. The name can translate to mean, One that stops the flow of rivers, One who eats the tops of palm trees, Monstrous animal, or even Half-god, half-beast. Whatever the case, it's big, supposedly standing twenty plus feet from the top of the head to the ground, and potentially thirty to forty feet long to the tip of the tail.

Descriptions of M-M seem to match that of a sauropod dinosaur, but only at a fraction of the size. Three separate expeditions (1776 by French missionaries, 1913 by German zoologists and 1932 with a British team), came to the same conclusion: The tribes believe whole-heartedly that mokele-mbembe survives deep within the impenetrable depths of the forest. Images of non-native species were shown to the tribesmen interviewed, and without a fault, each of the men pointed to images of dinosaurs as being M-M. As recorded by the 1932 expedition, a tribe reported killing one of the animals when it attacked them, and when the beast fell, it was butchered. Unfortunately, those who ate the meat of the kill were dead within hours, so no information as to the remains was available.

This past weekend, I took my daughters down to our local pond for a bit of fishing. At the first strike, my 2 1/2 year old looked at how the fish was dragging around the bobber and commented, "Moke?" No such luck, it was just a one pound sunfish. Maybe next time.