Why Mokele-Mbembe Is Not A Rhino

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 12th, 2008

The Emela-ntouka has been an unknown animal of some confusion in Africa. A few chroniclers have felt it was merely another named cryptid representing the sightings of the Mokele-mbembe. But as revealed by an image seen here exclusively at Cryptomundo in the past, it appears to be a beast unlike the saurapod-like Mokele-mbembe.

Emela N\'Touka

Click on image for larger size

Copyright: Michel Ballot – Mokélé – Mbembé CAMEROUN 2004

On page 219 of one of my field guides, coauthored with Patrick Huyghe, we noted, among several different kinds of alleged “dinosaurs” in Africa, “one animal is called by locals the emela ntouka, or ‘killer of elephants.’ The semi-aquatic Emela-ntouka is described as more rhinoceros-like than the Mokele-mbembe, with a single horn that protrudes from its head.”

In 1981, Dr. Roy Mackal while searching the Congo for the Mokele-mbembe, collected accounts of these Emela-ntouka. The natives in the northwest region of the Likoula swamp told him that this animal would gore elephants with its single horn. Mackal initially considered that Emela-ntouka might be a Centrosaurus (“pointed lizard”) of the Ceratopsian family (formerly the Monoclonius). But he also noted the pygmies did not report a neck frill, which he would have expected on a ceratopsian.

wet rhino

A wet deep rainforest rhino photographed in Asia, used to illustrate how un-rhino-like the species sometimes appear.

I have long speculated in writing, and wondered aloud if there might be an unknown new subspecies of aquatic rhinoceros in the Cameroon-Congo area, captured in the folklore of the Emela-ntouka ~ and confused for ease of discussion by the media with the Mokele-mbembe.

Troubling in the identification has been the long tail seen on the Emela-ntouka. Rhinos have short tails. Disturbing to the ceratopsian school has been the lack of a neck frill, and the dubious survival of dinosaurs into modern times.

Today, William Gibbons shares his firm point-of-view that Mokele-mbembe is not a forest or aquatic rhino. Gibbons sorts out the various cryptids being described, and discusses the giant spider too.

Regarding the supposed identification of the Mokele-mbembe as a rhino, I believe that the BBC crew interviewed the Aka people of Congo-Brazzaville. Depending on the tribal group being interviewed, Mokele-mbembe is sometimes used as a generic term for any unusual or unknown animal. This is why it is important to interview only first hand eye-witnesses who have actually encountered the animal.

In my 22 years of research into this mystery, there are over a dozen major tribal groups that inhabit the Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon the Congo Basin, Uganda and southern Sudan that are familiar with Mokele-mbembe or at least animals that are remarkably like them.

For example, the names attributed to hippo or elephant sized long-necked animals throughout Equatorial Africa include; amali, badifui, dibi, embulu-mbembelu, lukwata, isiququmadevu, Jago-nini, songo, M’koo-m’bemboo, Mokele-mbembe, and La Kila-bembe. Regardless of the ethnic or tribal group involved, all eye-witnesses describe these animals as being hippo to elephant sized, with a long thin neck, a small lizard or snake like head, a long flexible tail and four powerful legs. In the northern Congo a rooster-like frill adorning the top of the head is sometimes described, and in southern Cameroon the dermal spikes are attirbuted to the animals.

The skin colouration ranges from a smooth, reddish brown texture to thick, armoured skin similar to a caiman. The habitat of all described animals remains basically the same, namely, rivers, swamps and remote jungle lakes. There have been several eye-witness accounts of the animals moving around on land, either in search of food or to move from one location to another.

We can confidently establish that Mokele-mbembe at least looks remarkably like a small to mid-sized sauropod dinosaur as we might imagine in life, although the animal could well be something entirely different. It is rare, completely semi aquatic, able to stay under water for lengthy periods of time, is violently territorial and greatly feared by all tribal groups that know them well.

In my forthcoming book there will be photographs of the caves we have found, as well as very large footprints (about 10 days old) we found in the mud on swamp island where the animal was known to feed up until 2004.

Regarding the rhino-like cryptid, this animal is known as the Emela-Ntouka in the Congo, and N’Goubou in Cameroon. The Congolese animal is said to possess a large, single horn which it uses to attack and disembowel elephants, hippos and anything else that gets in its way. The Cameroonian animal possesses two horns that are placed side-by-side on the top of the animal’s head rather than the snout. This may be nothing more than sexual dimorphism within the same species.

Timbo Robert, the Baka chief of Cameroon, killed one such animal in 1996 in an elephant trap that he and his villager dug on an elephant trail that led from the Boumba River into the forest. Again, the witnesses described to me the two unusually configured horns on the animals head.

The multi-horned animal, still known as the N’Goubou, lives in an area of savannah that borders Cameroon and the Central African Republic. It is descrribed as being as big as an elephant, with a prominent neck frill, beaked mouth, and sporting between three and six horns. The animals are observed in small groups or herds of about six individuals, and once a female gives (live) birth to a single calf, it will leave the group and raise its offspring for about a year before returning to its herd.

Once again the animals are described as ill tempered and will chase away or kill elephant on site. Although the popular idea is, that the animal could be a surviving ceratopsian, I am open to the idea that we could be dealing with a hitherto unknown species of armoured rhino of some kind. Pierre Sima, our Cameroonian colleague, took the opportunity to examine a specimen that was shot by villagers in November 2000. After describing the animal in detail, he carefully examined all the illustrations in our binder, finally picking out the Triceratops as being most like the animal he examined before it was butchered for its meat.

As for the giant spider, this remains an enigma. There are only a handful of reports of giant spiders around the world. The Baka are resolute that the Jba Fofi is a spider. They killed some large spiders for us to examine, and explained that the Dja Fofi was like a tarantula (which they eat!), except its leg span is between four to six feet.

It is reddish brown in colour in its juvenile/infant stage, eventually turning a mustard yellow as it reaches maturity. As the Baka are in the habit of killing these monsters, whatever they are, I am hoping to establish a reward for anyone who kills and keeps one of these creatures for us to examine.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

16 Responses to “Why Mokele-Mbembe Is Not A Rhino”

  1. olejason responds:

    It’s my understanding that an arthropod, or any insect for that matter, can not reach a size that big with the classic exoskeleton anatomy. The body would fall apart under it’s own weight.

    Maybe these claims have always been exaggerated or maybe the creature has some sort of evolutionary divergence that allows it to reach such a large size.

  2. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Not only the matter of weight against exoskeleton structure, as olejason comments, but I’m uncertain if the respiratory system of tarantulas also limit their size capacity, as it is the case with insects (there were giants dragon flies in the Carboniferous because of the higher levels of oxygen in the atmosphere).

    A spider of 6-ft leg span! That was certainly not the greatest image to get in your head before going to bed 🙁

  3. PhilsterUK responds:

    I saw a fossilized spider in a Cambridge museum about 10 years ago that was very large, I’d say 2 feet across. This had thick legs of the tarantula build. I imagine a thinner legged spider could be supported by chitin exoskeleton. It would be interesting to see if they produce anything for the reward.

  4. SOCALcryptid responds:

    Thanks for the post Loren.Very interesting. I also thought this creature could be a Rhino. The more I learn about Mokele points me in another direction. I think it is possibly a Triceratops or some type of sauropod also.

  5. gavinfundyk responds:

    If a tarantula/giant spider had developed a more advanced book lung, could it grow far larger than accepted limits?

    I have also read that insects would be unable to reach a very large size because of their exoskeletons.

    As a spider grows, it’s weight is distributed outward, almost in a circle when spread out. Would that not allow for greater exoskeleton size?

  6. sausage1 responds:

    Thanks for the post, Loren, that answers my query in a previous post about the BBC documentary. Good article.

  7. cryptidsrus responds:

    I VERY highly doubt this is a spider or arthropod.

    A spider THAT big? Sheesh!!!

    Like I said on another thread—

    I think locals would know (for the most part) the difference between a rhino and something else.

    SOMETHING big and reptile-like is present in darkest Africa. I tend to agree with SOCALcryptid. Triceratops or Sauropod sounds more like it.

  8. kittenz responds:

    I think that the giant “spider” might be a large land crab. The description of a large roundish body and long jointed legs could just as easily be an as-yet undescribed species of crab. I don’t think a giant spider is completely out of the question, I think a giant forest crab is more likely.

    I believe that the forest rhino theory is by far the most promising possibility for the Mokele-mbembe. Or maybe it could be a tapir-like animal, or some kind of giant hog, or even a rare, previously unknown proboscidean. There are several possibilities that I think would be much more likely than any kind of dinosaur. I just do not believe that any dinosaurs survived the K-T extinction – unless you count birds.

  9. Bob Michaels responds:

    Looking forward to William Gibbons’ book. Most likely we are dealing with an unknown mammal rather then a dinosaur.

  10. serpent_seeker responds:

    From reading the article, it seems that they are dealing with a version of the exinct brontosauras but they only eat veggies as for the rhino its described as a tricertopps now we need to get a body one of these animals to prove they exist.

  11. Spinach Village responds:

    Great Article!

  12. mystery_man responds:

    Ok, I thought I would address the issue of giant spiders here because it is a subject I have researched before out of personal interest and some have already briefly touched on the problems. I figured I would go into a little more detail on the matter. The hard fact is that arthropods are limited in size in two major ways.

    First of all, as some here have already mentioned, is the problem presented with the creature’s breathing as size increases. Arthropods do not have a closed circulatory system and this means that their “blood” (actually called hemolymph in this case) doesn’t carry oxygen the way ours does. For arthropods, oxygen comes in through pores (called spiracles) connected to the outside of the exoskeleton and the oxygen is then diffused into the body through tubes called tracheae. At a certain point, an arthropods size is physically limited because these pores and tubes become too big to effectively exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. At a certain size, an arthropod will physically not be able to breathe and will die from a build up of carbon dioxide. Prehistoric arthropods were able to become somewhat larger in size because of the more oxygen rich atmosphere they lived in.

    Even if this respiratory problem was somehow overcome, there is a second problem to contend with that limits size. There is a long drawn out scientific explanation for this, but I will try to make this as concise as possible. Basically, arthropods have muscles inside their bodies and so the exoskeleton becomes a major limitation as size increases. The power of the muscle fibers are a function of their thickness, and as an arthropod grows larger in three dimensions, its muscles only get bigger in two. In other words, the weight of the exoskeleton increases at a faster rate than muscular strength. To maintain strength, the arthropod’s muscles would have to grow larger at a faster rate than the actual limbs and exoskeleton around it. At a certain point, two things can happen. The creature can either burst, or it will become unable to move at all since because its weight increases faster than its muscular strength, the exoskeleton becomes to heavy to lift. Insects can perform great feats of strength precisely because they are small. The reason underwater arthropods can get so large is because the water helps support them and makes it easier to lift around the exoskeleton. This is physics and it applies to all creatures with an exoskeleton, even land crabs.

    There are solid, scientific reasons why a terrestrial arthropod’s size is limited. I do not believe it to be possible for a terrestrial spider to attain the extreme 4 to 6 foot range described simply because there are certain well established biological and physical restrictions that apply to all arthropods, and I am not about to ignore these because some people claim to have seen them.

  13. mystery_man responds:

    gavinfundyk- I should also mention that the “book lungs” you mentioned, that are found in many types of arachnids, are also often reliant upon the inner tracheae tubes to actually diffuse the oxygen into the hemolymph and become more inefficient as size increases. Book lungs in general just aren’t well suited for the kind of gigantic sizes described here. I think even an advanced form would likely become a ineffective method of respiration as size increased to a certain point. Besides, even if for some reason the spider was able to make a radical adaptation to allow it to breathe at these sizes, it still would not be able to escape the physical limitations to size presented by its exoskeleton. The design of arthropods just isn’t geared toward these kinds of immense sizes.

  14. wdsasquatch responds:

    Living dinos!!!!!!!:)

  15. lincoln s responds:

    it was interesting to hear about the mother and infant ngoubous leave their herd in all my reading on it I’ve never come across that. thanks for the post very insightfull

  16. lionfish responds:

    Wait a minute! Pierre Sima actually saw a dead triceratops wich was shot in the year of 2000? And did not take a single picture of it? Really? In 2000??

    Pierre Sima was, and still is, the guide of the early Mokele Mbembe expeditions, from decades!!!! He knew that the explorers was looking for other cryptids, like the Emela-ntouka.

    Then, Pierre guides the explorers for decades, based just in natives reports and “yes sir, I saw it too” and…. when Pierre actually see an unknown animal, dead, and did not take a single picture of it, to show to the explorers in the future???? Pierre is from Cameroons, he KNOWS about local wildlife. He just saw a unknown animal, a real corpse, and did not take any proof, a single picture, a piece os skin or the several horns from the animal!!!

    Sorry guys, this is just hard to believe, very hard!

    The explorers give money for the guides, like Pierre? Of course they do! Sorry, but it seems that those explorers are being fooled by Mr. Pierre.

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