If there exists middle of nowhere, Lake Tele is there. At least for humans, because the environment here is extremely hostile to them.
Many other animals though feel here well and one of these animals might be the mysterious mokele-mbembe or the even more mysterious emela-ntouka.
Likouala Swamps - land of gorillas
Lake Tele is located in the central part of Likouala Swamps - 140 thousand square kilometres large swamp which is larger than Greece or Bulgaria. This is the least explored swamp in the world and scientists are convinced that here will be discovered numerous new species. It is possible that here live large animals which are unknown to science.
It is very hard to access the lake because no sizeable river flows in it or from it, there are no roads either. If there is no seaplane available, one should walk through the swamp for tens of kilometres towards the lake.
This walk is almost impossible feat. Depth of swamp sometimes exceeds several metres and walking (or swimming) is made more complicated by dense vegetation. People here are constantly attacked by fierce bees, other venom spitting insects, leeches and countless other vermins - many are unknown to science. Area is known for its numerous diseases, including such feared infectious diseases as Ebola virus and lesser known maladies. Extremely hostile climatic conditions make unusable almost any kind of equipment in a few days time.
Thanks to swamp this forest remains intact up to this day. Around the lake live some 125,000 gorillas: the highest density of gorillas ever reported. Here live many chimpanzes, elephants, in the lake live four species of crocodiles, many species od fish, crabs, shrimps, molluscs.
Lake Tele Community Reserve was created around the lake in 2001. The protection of this 4,389 km² large reserve largely remains on the paper.
Lake Tele - impact crater?
Lake Tele is large, shallow lake which is 8 by 6 km large, with six smaller streams draining into it. It is shallow, average depth together with silty sediments is just 4 m. Silt is approximately 1 m deep. Swamp encloses the lake from all sides, only the northern bank is somewhat more dry.
Hydrological exchange in the lake is almost exclusively vertical. As a result the water of this lake has low mineral content, but it is rich with organic materials and is comparatively acidic (pH < 4). Water is turbid, one can see only 10 cm deep.
Lake has formed in recent sediments - Pliocene alluvium, which was formed from sediments of mighty rivers. Origin of this lake remains a mystery. It could be volcanic structure or formed in some other way - for example by meteoritic impact.
This hypothesis though is not much supported by facts. There is a magnetic anomaly under the northern part of lake - but such anomalies are rather frequent and mostly not related to meteoritic impacts. Palynological record shows that hydromorphic (swampy) forest has existed around the lake for at least 6600 years, trees and other vegetation around it step by step are closing this scar in the giant rainforest of Congo.
For tens of thousand years at the rivers in Likouala Swamps live pygmies - Mbenga people, who maintain the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle up to this day.
It is not known with certainty whether these are evil rumors or truth - but other local people tell that pygmies of Likouala Swamps are cannibals up to this day.
Some settlements of Mbenga have been noticed at the northern bank of Lake Tele but most likely these are temporary settlements.
There are many animals in Likouala Swamps but one is especially revered and feared by Mbenga people - the mysterious mokele-mbembe (mokèlé-mbèmbé).
This is not Mbenga name - in Lingala (one of Bantu languages) it means "one who stops the flow of rivers". In Bomitaba (another Bantu language) it (or another animal?) is called emeula natuka - "eater of the tops of the palms" (in other versions it means "killer of elephants").
Locals have no doubts that these animals exist - just like elephants or gorillas.
According to stories of eyewitnesses mokele-mbembe is enormous animal, between hippopotamus and elephant in size, up to 9 m long. It has long neck what allows to pluck leaves and fruits directly from the water. Skin is brownish grey, smooth, head is adorned with large teeth or horn, tail is long and muscular.
This creature most likely is a reptile. When comparing their memories to drawings of extinct reptiles, locals consider that the extinct (?) Apatosaurus - a North American dinosaur - is most similar to mokele-mbembe.
The mysterious reptile lives mainly in water, pygmies and other locals report that it may live in shallow caves in the banks of rivers. It is most active late in the night and early in the morning, but it can leave the water in the day time as well.
Mokele-mbembe eats fruits and leaves, especially malombo fruits: Landolphia mannii and Landolphia owariensis.
In spite of its diet, mokele-mbembe is ferocious and protects its territory with sudden, deadly attacks. Animal attacks hippos, elephants, crocodiles without fear and, according to stories of locals, has attacked and killed humans (also in boats) too.
The existence of mokele-mbembe is not proved, thus we can not know the number of these legendary animals.
Animal is sighted in many locations: Bai River, Likouala aux Herbes River, Likouala Swamp, Lake Makele, Sangha River, Lake Tebeki, Lower Ubangi River (all in the Republic of the Congo) and in Boumba Cross, Loponji, Mbame, Ngoko, Dja, Ntem and Sanagat Rivers (Cameroon).
Most frequently though it has been seen in Lake Tele by groups of local fishermen and some expeditions of Westerners.
Sightings of mokele-mbembe
It is not sensible to list all known cases when mokele-mbembe has been met - there are many such cases.
First written source
The oldest known written mention is by French priest Abbé Liévain Bonaventure Proyart - in his book about the natural history of Congo (Histoire De Loango, Kakongo: Et Autres Royaumes D'afrique, 1776, page 39) he mentions:
While walking through the forest missionaries have observed traces of unseen animal which should be of monstrous size. His claws have left footprints approximately three feet in circumference (?). They did not see it and could not tell whether it was walking or running but the distance between the footprints was seven feet.
This animal has been described by many authors, including the famous Carl Hagenbeck in 1909. Captain Stein zu Lausnitz was the first to mention the name mokele-mbembe in 1913 - he reported that this animal has been seen at Ubangi, Sanga and Ikelemba Rivers.
Several white people have claimed that they met the animal themselves - including Ivan Sanderson in 1932, Reverend Eugene Thomas in 1960ies, Herman Regusters and his wife in 1981.
In total there have been some 50 expeditions looking for mokele-mbembe. Many have returned in confidence that such animal does not exist, but several have brought interesting materials - blurry images or footage of animals (reportedly caused by excitement or bad condition of filming gear), there are sharp images and casts of three-toed footprints as well as stories about short sightings of something unusual.
Expedition of Regusters
One expedition led by Herman Regusters in 1981 has been especially fruitful - during the 32 days long stay at the lake he recorded sounds, collected droppings, made casts of footprints. Five times he and his team members observed large animal with long neck. He and his wife heard unusual, loud cry, starting as low windy roar and culminating into deep-throated trumpeting growl. Animal walked heavily through the thicket some 40 - 50 m far. Such cries were heard repeatedly and locals said that this is mokele-mbembe. Once the animal was heading towards the boat in lake. It hid when noticing the boat.
The tales of local people differ. Some researchers have learned that pygmies and other local people know the animal very well and have no doubt about its existence. Other researchers consider that mokele-mbembe is rather a spiritual being which lives only in the imagination of jungle people.
Most legends are told about Lake Tele. Locals have especially much respect for some short tributaries (lobes 6 and 10) of the lake.
At unknown time (some sources tell that it happened in 1930ies, some - that in 1950ies or 1960ies) one or two mokele-mbembes reportedly were killed at Lake Tele by pygmies.
This group of fishermen reportedly was terrified by lake monsters while in boat. In order to continue the fishing they decided to hunt these animals and reportedly succeded - killed one of them. This animal had a comb-formed frill on the back of its head. Fishermen tried to eat its meat - but it was not tasty.
We don't know whether this happened in reality. The wet climate of Likouala Swamps would decompose any bones in a few years time.
Herman A. Regusters. Mokele-Mbembe. An Investigation into Rumors Concerning a Strange Animal in The Republic of the Congo. 1981. Munger Agricana Library Notes, July 1982.
Aseer Manilal, Chippu Shakir, Joseph Selvin and Balu Sabarathnam. "Mokele-Mbembe": A Cryptozoological Animal of Centre African Prefecture: Veracity or Hoax. World Applied Sciences Journal 10 (5): 544 - 551, 2010.
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