Africa’s Nessie is ‘a dinosaur called Mokele-mbembe who lives in the Congo’

The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and the Surrey Puma: creatures that have never been proven to exist, but continue to live on in legend.

It’s easy to write them off as mere myths, but more than one ‘mythical’ creature has later been found to be real. Sea serpents were thought to be sailors’ tall tales until the oarfish was catalogued by science in 1772.

The rarely seen fish, growing to 26feet in length, is a good match for mariners’ tales of monstrous serpents lurking in the ocean depths. Mix in occasional sightings of the smaller, but still sizeable frilled shark and you have a sound basis for sea serpent stories.

The Coelacanth, a “prehistoric” fish that lived over 400 million years ago and was believed to be extinct since the age of the dinosaurs until a South African fisherman caught one in 1938, is a prime example of a Lazarus Taxon – a species that appears to have returned from the dead.

At least a dozen other Lazarus Taxons have been proven to exist.

Scandinavian fishermen told of the Kraken, a gigantic squid hundreds of times larger than the ones you find on your tapas plate. Their stories were written off until 1925, when parts of a gigantic squid were discovered in the stomach contents of sperm whale.

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The first whole adult specimen of the species now known as the Colossal Squid was not found until 1981.

The creatures have been known to grow to at least 34 feet long, and far bigger examples could yet be lurking in the ocean depths far beyond the reach of man.

There have been so many credible reports of a big cat living in the Home Counties that it’s almost certain that something is stalking among the fields hedgerows of England.

A puma was even captured in Scotland in 1981. Felicity, as she was later named, was caught in Inverness. She seems to have been a pet that had escaped because she was very comfortable around humans.

Several other puma and lynx were found in the UK through the Eighties and Nineties. While most of them ended up being shot by farmers protecting their livestock, one turned up in Cricklewood in north-west London. She ended up in London Zoo.

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But there are several other “mythical” creatures on the brink of discovery. The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, is a carnivorous marsupial that was once widespread across Australia. It became extinct on the Australian mainland, at least according to conventional scientific wisdom, at least 2,000 years ago. It was wiped out by humans and, in particular, their dogs.

One lonely thylacine was captured in Tasmania and died in an Australian zoo in September 1936.

But sightings of thylacines persist. Australia’s Department of Conservation and Land Management recorded 203 reports of sightings of the “extinct” beast in Western Australia from 1936 to 1998.

Loren Coleman runs the International Cryptozoology Museum, a one-of-a-kind institution that boasts innumerable extraordinary exhibits – from examples of genuine Yeti hair to a replica of PT Barnum’s notorious “FeeJee Mermaid.”

One of his prize exhibits is the cast of what appears to have been a fresh thylacine paw-print discovered in 2001.

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He told Daily Star Online that he thinks the chance of thylacines being rediscovered is “very high.”

The wildest tale in cryptozoology is of the Mokele-mbembe, a Nessie-like dinosaur lurking in the depths of Lake Bangweulu in Zambia.

The beast, long part of local legend, was supposedly seen by European explorers in the early part of the 20th Century. German adventurer Paul Gratz called it the Nsanga – “a degenerate saurian which one might well confuse with the crocodile were it not that its skin has no scales and its toes are armed with claws.”

Another German explorer of the period, Ludwig Freiherr von Stein zu Lausnitz, described an unknown animal “of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size is approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck.”

Loren Coleman thinks those tales are exaggerated, and Mokele-mbembe is probably “an unknown species of aquatic rhinoceros.”

Loren goes on to say that the mysterious creature has even been photographed in Lake Tele, in the Republic of Congo, by the Herman Regusters Expedition in 1981.

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Sadly, says Loren, “most people don’t hear about Regusters, his expedition nor the evidence he brought back” because the African-American adventurer has been widely ignored even by many other cryptozoologists simply because he was black.

Former aerospace engineer Regusters held a press conference on his return where he and his wife insisted they observed a “dinosaur-like” creature on several occasion in late October and early November when they were accompanied by officials from Ghana and the Republic of the Congo.

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Unfortunately the weather conditions were so poor that the solitary photo of the creature “about the size of two hippos” that they snapped is very out-of-focus.

Nevertheless, said Regusters, “we’re not placing the whole importance of our expedition on a couple of seconds of possibly photographing the animal."

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The truth of the Mokele-mbembe is so mixed up in local legend that it’s hard to be sure what the grain of truth at the centre of the story might be.

A local pygmy village tell the story of how they killed a Mokele-mbembe that was preventing them from fishing in 1930. They allegedly encircled the beast, speared it to death and decided to cook it. But after a feast to celebrate their historic victory, all those who ate the flesh of the Mokele-mbembe died.

There are certainly photographs of large footprints that defy easy explanation as well as numerous eyewitness reports. Dr Roy Mackal, a microbiology professor at university of Chicago reported seeing a “small sauropod” in the region in 1980 and Marcellin Agnagna, a Congolese biologist who was researching wildlife in the Lake Tele region, says that he spotted the elusive creature in 1983.

The 16-foot animal had a wide back, he said, a long dinosaur-like neck, and a small head.

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The discovery of a family of dinosaurs that managed to escape the mass extinction is not likely. But something is out there waiting to be discovered.

Loren Coleman says it’s always possible: “Large animals are discovered frequently. A fifth species of tapir, a new orang-utan, new turtle, new birds, new giant crayfish, another species of coelacanth in 1998, and more”

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Jonathan Downes, a renewed cryptozoologist who founded the Centre for Fortean Zoology, one of the world's largest and best-known cryptozoological research organisations, that the talk of dinosaurs may only be a slight exaggeration.

“I think that you can explain all the sightings,” he told told Daily Star Online, “without resorting to dinosaurs.

"I think that they can be explained by extremely large monitor lizards."

“But," he added "there is also quite good evidence to suggest that the Nile soft shell turtle grows considerably larger than people think. Gerald Durrell, for example, writes about [an example] six foot in length in one of his books.”

Lizard, rhinoceros, or something entirely new to science: something is lurking in the remote waters of Lake Tele.

And, with fully one sixth of mankind currently under lockdown and not disturbing their habitats, who knows what other creatures will take this opportunity to step back out of the pages of legends and into the light?

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