Swamp Safari Seeks Living Brontosaurus In Africa
By Mark Macaskill The Sunday Times
The land that time forgot may have been found. Scientists are to mount a dinosaur hunt in a remote area of central Africa after sightings of a creature said to resemble a small brontosaurus. The aquatic animal, about 30ft long, has been seen by dozens of Africans living in villages around the swamps that dominate much of Congo, Gabon and Cameroon. They call it the mokele-mbembe, or "blocker-of-rivers".
Reports describe a large animal with a squat body and a long neck which enables it to pluck leaves and fruit from plants around the water. Witnesses' drawings show that it resembles nothing known to be still living on earth - but it does have a startling likeness to a family of herbivorous dinosaurs that became extinct 65m years ago, the largest of which was the brontosaurus.
The expedition is being organised by Dr Bill Gibbons, a zoologist who specialises in trying to track down new species. He and other cryptozoologists will set off for Africa in October.
In the past few weeks their hopes have been raised by reports from members of the Kabonga tribe that a mokele-mbembe was caught by hunters, who killed it and tried to eat it. The flesh proved inedible, the carcass was left to rot - and now its skeleton is said to have been produced.
Gibbons said: "I am sure this animal exists. The main problem, aside from the inhospitable terrain, is that it mostly lives underwater in areas with very few people and in countries which are politically very unstable."
The Likouala swampland, where the mokele-mbembe is said to live, is twice the size of Scotland and its hazards include venomous snakes, disease and the risk of attack by Africans. Gibbons believes he can overcome these dangers and will be employing pygmies as guards and to guide his team to where the creatures have been sighted. When they reach the area, the scientists will use equipment including sonar, infrared detectors and video recorders.
Dinosaurs - the name means "terrible lizards" - dominated the world for more than 200m years and were eliminated when the Earth was hit by a meteorite 65m years ago. Scientists have long speculated that they might have survived in some areas, especially near the Equator which would have been less affected by the fall in temperature after the meteorite.
The inaccessible swamps of central Africa would also have protected them from early man, who hunted thousands of other prehistoric species to extinction, including the mastodon, a giant elephant, and the giant elk. The hunt for new species may sound fanciful but expeditions in the past few years have led to a spate of discoveries.
Recent finds include a large kangaroo which lives in trees in Irian Jaya, the western part of New Guinea, and a species of ox, the vu quang, discovered on the borders of North Vietnam. In South America scientists used special nets to trawl the deepest reaches of the Amazon and found ancient freshwater fish species.
Dr Richard Greenwell, secretary of the International Society of Cryptozoology in Arizona, is planning several expeditions. In July he will head a team searching the mountains of northern California for the sasquatch, a large primate said to live in the area. Soon after he will lead an expedition to Ecuador to seek a giant sloth previously thought to have been hunted to extinction 8,000 years ago.
Greenwell said: "The society applies scientific principles to determine if there is any evidence for the existence of these animals."
The society has reports of other dinosaur-like creatures. The muhuru, said to have been seen in Kenya, is supposed to resemble the heavily armoured stegosaur which protected itself from predators with large bony plates along its back and had a huge tail which it wielded like a club.
The survival of dinosaurs has always belonged to the realm of science fiction - the most famous recent instance is Steven Spielberg's film Jurassic Park.
Dr Karl Shuker, a British cryptozoologist, said: "It is unlikely that any natural phenomenon could have wiped out all dinosaurs - after all, crocodiles and snakes survived.
"Central Africa contains vast areas where prehistoric animals could have survived. Jurassic Park could have been with us all the time."