Mokele Mbembe and the Loch Ness Monster

According to Coleman and Clark, a 1913 German expedition to the Congo encountered a group of pygmies that informed them of an animal called Mokele-Mbembe or 'one who stops the flow of rivers.' The creature was described as the size of an elephant or hippopotamus, with an extremely long, flexible neck. It was also said to have a long tail, like an alligator. Coleman and Clark note that this description fits with the existence of sauropods or other small dinosaurs in the jungles of Africa (167).

Mokele-Mbembe is not just the subject of folklore, however. Coleman and Clark also report that in 1992 a Japanese film crew captured images of the creature on video. First noticing a large shape moving across the surface of the lake, the videographer zoomed in for a closer look. The resulting image is inconclusive but tantalizing. They write,

The resulting footage, though jumpy and indistinct, shows a vertical protuberance at the front of the object - possibly a long neck. A second, shorter projection could be a humped back or a tail. If the object is not a dinosaur, it's difficult to say what animal it could be. (169)

The most famous candidate for a surviving aquatic dinosaur is surely the monster said to inhabit Scotland's Loch Ness. The Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as 'Nessie,' has been the subject of press reports since 1933. On May 2 of that year the Inverness Courier ran a story entitled 'Strange Spectacle of Loch Ness: What Was It?' that firmly established the creature's presence in popular culture. Though this initial story indicates that Loch Ness had long been believed to be the home of a water-kelpie or water-horse (a feature shared by most large bodies of water in Scotland), it was this account that marked the beginning of the modern fascination with Nessie:

On Friday of last week, a well-known business man, who lives near Inverness, and his wife (a University graduate), when motoring along the north shore of the loch, not far from the Abriachan Pier, were startled to see a tremendous upheaval on the Loch, which, previously, had been as calm as the proverbial mill-pond. The lady was the first to notice the disturbance, which occurred fully three-quarters of a mile from the shore, and it was her sudden cries to stop that drew her husband's attention to the water.

There, the creature disported itself, rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron. Soon, however, it disappeared in a boiling mass of foam. (Binns, 10)

In August of that year, the story grew even more interesting with the publication of another eyewitness account:

I saw the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life. It crossed my road about fifty-yards ahead and appeared to be carrying a small lamb or animal of some kind.

It seemed to have a long neck which moved up and down in the manner of a scenic railway, and the body was fairly big, with a high back; but if there were any feet they must have been of the web kind, and as for a tail I cannot say, as it moved so rapidly, and when we got to the spot it had probably disappeared into the loch. Length from six feet to eight feet and very ugly. (19-20)

In April of 1934, newspapers published the first photograph of the creature, a photograph that came to be known as the 'surgeon's photograph.' This photograph was taken by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynecologist, and shows what appears to be the head and neck of the creature (96). Though there have been many photographs taken of something purported to be the creature, the surgeon's photograph was for many years regarded as the best evidence, although it has recently been questioned because of claims of a hoax perpetrated with the use of a miniature model of the creature attached to a child's toy submarine.

Loch Ness Ancient

7. The famous 'surgeon's photograph' of the Loch Ness Monster, or 'Nessie,' from 1934.

Of course, the Loch Ness Monster is hardly the only water monster to have been reported throughout the years. This category includes classic sea serpents as well as the monster of North America's Lake Champlain ('Champ' for short). There have also been countless theories as to what Nessie, Champ, and all the others might be. A.C. Oudemans' 1892 classic, The Great Sea Serpent, published without reference to either Nessie or Champ, suggested that sea and lake monsters might be examples of giant pinnipedia - aquatic carnivores such as seals, walruses, and otters. Long out of favor, Oudemans' theory is usually rejected in favor of the theory that creatures such as Nessie and Champ are actually extant versions of aquatic dinosaurs such as the plesiosaur.

Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe note, however, that eyewitness accounts would indicate that there is not simply one type of aquatic mystery creature, but many. In their Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep they categorize these mystery creatures according to physical characteristics, range, history, likely candidates for their identity, and descriptive incidents. One of these categories is what they call the Classic Sea Serpent:

This serpentine creature of the seas is generally quite long, upwards of 100 feet, with rough skin, a distinct head, and a tapering tail. A string of what appear to be dorsal humps, a slender neck of medium length, and noticeable eyes characterize this marine cryptid. (49)

The authors suggest that a candidate for the identification of this creature might be a zeuglodon, or ancient whale.

This Classic Sea Serpent is to be distinguished from the water-horse:

The Waterhorse is a gigantic freshwater and marine cryptid. It has an elongated body and neck, with a rounded body showing above the water, and two sets of flippers (with the rear ones together frequently giving the appearance of a tail). The animal often exhibits a mane and, when seen at close range, seems to be covered with hair. The Waterhorse seems to have rather poor outside vision but an acute sense of hearing. (72-3)

The water-horse, unlike the Classic Sea Serpent, is found in many different environments, both marine and freshwater. These creatures are usually residents of what Coleman and Huyghe call the 'Monster Latitudes:' they live in the ocean and in freshwater lakes and rivers 'at latitudes near isothermic lines 50 degrees F, between 32 degrees F and 67 degrees F, especially in the Northern and perhaps the Southern hemispheres' (74). They argue that the water-horse is probably a type of plesiosaur.

Other types of lake or sea monsters include mystery cetaceans, giant sharks and mantas, and giant sea centipedes as well as my personal favorite, the Giant Beaver. The Giant Beaver of British Columbia is some 14 feet long 4 IT HAD hUGE FRONT with a long beaver-like tail and

TEETH AND LARGE BACK LEGS beaver-like legs. Coleman and AND WAS NOT . . . A NORMAL Huyghe theorize that the best BEAVER 5 candidate for the Giant Beaver may be the:

supposedly extinct giant beaver, castoroides ohioensis, which was the size of a black bear and weighed 600 to 700 pounds. Castoroides ohioensis was almost 8 feet long and had enormous, convex incisor teeth 6 inches long, 4 inches of which extended beyond the gum line. Its tail was long and beaver-like but thinner, and some paleozoologists sense that it was more round than flat. (199)

They recount a recent eyewitness report from Lake Powell, Utah. The witness reported to Coleman that:

This beaver was about the size of a medium-sized horse or a large bear. It had huge front teeth and large back legs and was not, in our opinion, a normal beaver. It definitely had beaver-like characteristics but it was more of a prehistoric type of animal that was so large that we were all in shock. (201)


So what are we to make of these reports of creatures - the ones that Hawk warned me about and all the others: Wendigo, Skinwalkers, Wolf-men, Chupacabras, Mothmen, Big Birds, ropens, dinosaurs, and sea serpents? In many, if not all, of the cases the ontological nature of the creatures has seemed to vacillate between flesh and blood and 'other dimensional,' between the physical and the metaphysical.

Many researchers insist on treating these creatures entirely as empirical entities. The research into their nature is thus seen as a subset of zoology. It is a branch of zoology that focuses on unknown animals. Hence the term 'cryptozoology.' According to Coleman and Clark this term first appeared in 1959, coined by Lucien Blancou in his dedication of a book to Bernard Heuvelmans, 'master of cryptozoology7 (15). Heuvelmans' book, On the Track of Unknown Animals, was published in 1954 and was indeed one of the first attempts to examine mysterious creatures in a scientific manner. Soon Heuvelmans and others were referring to the study of Sasquatch, Nessie, and all the rest as cryptozoology, and they were identifying the creatures themselves as 'cryptids.' Cryptozoology is thus the study of hidden animals, the study of cryptids.

In 1982 the International Society of Cryptozoology was founded and the subject matter of cryptozoology was expanded to include the study of known animals in unexpected environments, the study of animals mistakenly thought to be extinct, and the study of animals occurring in undocumented sizes, in addition to the original study of unknown or hidden animals. Thus cryptozoology is seen as the study of such hidden creatures as Bigfoot and Nessie, as well as the study of kangaroo sightings in Texas, the study of extant dinosaurs, and the study of Giant Beavers. Of course, these categories frequently overlap, as Bigfoot, Nessie, and the Giant Beaver are frequently identified as living specimens of known species thought to be extinct.

Chad Arment proposes a slightly different definition of cryptozo-ology in his book Cryptozoology, a definition that focuses less on its subject matter and more on its method. For Arment, cryptozoology is 'a targeted search methodology for zoological discovery' (9). Cryptozoology is one method, among many, for determining the status of new or lost species - what Arment calls 'mystery animals' or 'cryptids' - that are defined as 'an enthnoknown animal that may represent a new species or a species previously considered extinct' (9). Arment calls cryptids 'ethnoknown' to indicate that that encounters with these creatures have been reported in eyewitness accounts or folklore. Some cryptids may have a solid standing within a particular group's belief system, others may be known through a 'casual sighting scribbled into an explorer's journal' (11).

As a methodology for zoological discovery, cryptozoology offers the potential for success at least as great as that offered by more traditional methods. He writes,

Rather than relying upon chance or random collection, a zoologist may investigate reports of an animal which suggest a species unknown to science. By focusing on one potential species rather than taking a scattershot approach, the scientist develops a specific procedure to locate and obtain physical evidence of the animal. Once accomplished, morphological and genetic examinations determine whether it is in fact a new species. This methodology is used in mainstream zoology, but its potential is seldom admitted. Because of risk to reputation, as it places one in the company of 'fanatics' and 'loonies', it is rarely acknowledged as a methodology in its own right - cryptozoology. (11)

Arment is careful to exclude one type of creature that might be classified as 'ethnoknown,' namely those entities that can be classified as paranormal:

Paranormal, folkloric entities, whether ghosts, vampires, or lycan-thropes, are not cryptozoological . . . Occassionally, paranormal traits are attributed to certain cryptids . . . This is usually the unfortunate consequence of poor data analysis. (11)

Indeed, Arment argues that paranormalism is a 'sister path to skepticism' because, like skepticism, it is a response to the notion that if a cryptid does exist as a flesh-and-blood creature it would have been found already. While skepticism moves from the fact that a certain cryptid has not yet been discovered to skepticism about its reality, paranormalism moves from the same fact to the assertion that the cryptid must be paranormal in nature. Cryptozoology, according to Arment, should be careful to avoid either of these faulty conclusions.

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