- 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."