Tag Archives: coelacanth

Secrets of the Swamp

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Betcha thought I was gonna talk about that swamp down in Washington, D.C. Uh-uh! Not today! I’m talkin’ the Likouala Swamp, in Congo, Zaire, and the Central African Republic–55,000 glorious square miles of it, 80% of which is unexplored. Population, 90,000–but most of the land is unpopulated… and not visited, if one can help it.

Soggy ground, dense forests that are flooded at least half the time, poisonous snakes, clouds of biting insects carrying assorted diseases; 100% humidity, average temperature around 90 degrees; sketchy and unreliable maps, and guides who don’t know what the dickens they’re talking about–

Is it possible that a dinosaur lives here?

Local folklore and worldwide cryto-lore knows the creature as “mokele-mbembe.” The few people who venture into the nastier regions of the swamp are said to be terrified of it. But no one has ever taken a picture of it–let alone brought back any kind of sample, dead or alive.

It’s easy to be skeptical and just laugh it off, there’s no such thing, a kind of brontosaurus surviving to the present day–upon my word, pshaw, humbug! Poor cryptozoology. The moment the cryptozoologist actually finds a specimen, it ceases to be cryptozoology and regular zoology takes over. In fact, any number of animals were discovered in the 20th century that hadn’t been known to exist or were thought to be extinct. Coelacanth, anyone?

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(Not extinct, after all–the coelacanth)

Would it not be more fair-minded to say that maybe, just possibly, there is something in the Likouala Swamp that probably oughtn’t be there? The coelacanth lived contemporaneously with dinosaurs and marine reptiles, and it’s still here. Why not mokele-mbembe?

But if there is such a thing, I hope they never find it. Trouble like that, the people and the dinosaurs don’t need.

Has Anybody Seen the Nandi Bear?

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It’s hard to write this up as Mr. Nature, because the Nandi Bear might not exist. But it’s been a staple of East African folklore for a very long time, and I am told there are people in Kenya who are absolutely sure the beast is real–and very much to be avoided.

It is described as something between an oversized hyena and an undersized bear. As far as scientists can tell, bears have never lived in Africa south of the Sahara. Ice Age hyenas were much bigger and stronger than today’s hyenas, and they ate mammoths and rhinos. Eating a human wouldn’t pose much of a challenge.

Is it possible that an incredibly rare, powerful, nasty relative of the hyena prowls the forests of Kenya? People do sometimes attribute unidentified, fatal animal attacks on humans to the Nandi Bear. Hard to study an animal when no one who ever sees it lives to tell the tale.

And then there’s the basic problem of cryptozoology: no specimens. Because if you do come up with a specimen–like when fishermen first caught a coelacanth–it immediately ceases to be cryptozoological and becomes just plain zoological! What’s a poor cryptozoologist to do? His situation is impossible.

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