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BioFortean Review: Reprints

"Ain't No Such Animile," But—

Somewhere in "Darkest Africa" Capt. L. B, Stevens of England is searching for the prehistoric monster whose reported existence has been disturbing the scientific world more or less since 1903. It is supposed to be some sort of a dinosaur. Inasmuch as the dinosaur is a fifty-foot lizard that dates back to the "Age of Reptiles," which antedates man on this earth by anywhere from 60 to 600 millions of years, the scientists are naturally saying, with the country boy at the circus at sight of his first hippopotamus, "Gosh, there ain't no sich animile!"

Still there was such an animal once. And people are saying they have seen such an animal now. Hence Captain Stevens' expedition to Africa.

The earlier reports hare been corroborated by two Belgian big-game hunters, who report sighting a huge beast of terrifying proportions and attributes. Mr. Gapelle, one of the Belgians, says his party caught a glimpse of a huge beast rending his way through the jungle verdure, which defied zoological analogy. He says it was in the general shape of a lizard, probably fifty feet long, with a thick tall like a kangaroo's, a hump on its back, and a terrifying horn on its snout. The monster was covered with scales, which were colored with great blood-red spots from which radiated pale green stripes.

A well-known English naturalist and collector, has written to the press that there is every reason to believe there is such an animal living in the heart of the unexplored jungles, if not great numbers of them. During his stay in Africa he heard the story from so many different sources, he says, that he is convinced there is some truth in it.

"Fifteen years ago, when collecting in the Transvaal, I heard an interesting story of a monster, half snake, half beast. My informant, of the Rhodesian police, who patrolled near Barotseland, said he had approached within a hundred yards of it while it was lying asleep on the border of a swamp. It was, he declared, a hundred feet long, and its strange appearance so frightened him that it awakened and glided into the swamp before he could raise his gun. It traveled noiselessly and with great speed.

"The country round about was quite unexplored. My friend told me that I was the first to whom he had mentioned the story, as he was afraid to tell his comrades because they would have laughed at him.

"Once again when I was on the French Kongo seaboard I heard fearful stories from the native hunters of the monster. I also heard the same stories on the way to the Belgian Kongo, where the present so-called brontosaurus is supposed to have been seen. When you hear stories from three or four widely different sources I believe there is some truth in them. You must remember that if you travel to Fernan Faz and Sette Cama and go up into the interior, most of the country has never been explored. What creatures live in its vast mysteries, we do not know. Whether the so-called brontosaurus is a prehistoric survival or not, I would not care to say. I firmly believe the creature exists, but I believe it is an unknown creature of more modern descent.

"The brontosaurus, or whatever the strange creature is, makes use of its legs and its body— it glides. I should imagine it is a very dangerous creature. But that it is not all a fairy-tale I am certain: I have been there, and I have talked with natives who will not pass a certain boundary into an 'evil land' because of the huge monsters which live in its remote solitudes."

Walter Winans, an American living in London, the pistol champion and a big-game hunter, also believes in the existence of this creature.

"The late Cart Hagenbeck told me before the war," Mr. Winans said, "that two of his travelers, on different expeditions and in different years, had seen the brontosaurus in swamps in central Africa. I do not think it is impossible that some of the prehistoric animals have survived, and when several explorers have seen glimpses of what they think must be such animals, they are most probably right. It is not as if some one not used to recognizing them instantly saw wild animals for the first time. These men are always on the lookout for new species and know all the animals by sight.

"It is possible that the sea-serpent is one of these so-called extinct reptiles, and that the dodo may still exist somewhere not yet explored. The quagga, too, which existed until a few years ago, may still live in some unexplored part of Africa and the mammoth and the cave bear still wander in Siberia."

Mr. Winans went further to satisfy the English public and drew an outline of what this animal probably looks like. With that picture, which appeared in the Evening News, he appended this bit of descriptive argument:

"The scientists draw this beast standing on its legs, as a mammal would. Now no mammalian animal has the combined heavy tail and a long neck, but it is built very light in front, with only short rudimentary legs. It uses its tail as a third leg, in combination with its two hind legs and works on a tripod so formed. The giraffe has a long neck, but it is built light behind, and its tail is so light that it practically has no weight in comparison. The giraffe carries its head high so as not to put a leverage on it.

"Now the brontosaurus is heavy both in the tail and the neck, which, besides, are both very long. If it stood as the scientists draw it, the tail and neck would overbalance it and a slight puff of wind from the side would blow it over. It is ridiculous to think that an animal a hundred feet long would have legs close together in the middle and have three-quarters of its length sticking out in front and behind unsupported in the air. My idea is that the brontosaurus was a reptile, practically a crocodile, with a snake-like neck, and not a mammal, that it carried itself as a crocodile does, that is, crawled on its belly when on land and did not walk on straight legs.

"I think it crawled with its neck drawn back so as to stalk, [then to catch] they had  poisonous fangs. In fact, it was a big poisonous lizard, and that it was brilliantly colored, like them, and perhaps discharged poison through its skin like a toad when irritated.

"The best weapon to shoot it with would be the magnified Mauser rifle, such as the Germans used against tanks, only with an explosive shell instead of an armor-piercer. If I were younger I should be off after him."

Anyway, the monster is sufficiently real to have set the scientists disputing about his possibility, his identity and his looks. They call him all sorts of names—brontosaurus, triceratops, broalosaurus, tylosaurus and so on. One expert writes to the press:

"The animal in question can not be a brontosaurus, if the illustration in H. G. Wells' book, 'Outlines of History,' are correct. The illustrations show a very different creature from the descriptions in the newspapers of this one. What this one really appears to be is a triceratops, only that animal has two horns."

Another zoologist heaps scorn on the entire idea, asserting that while he believes there are undiscovered animals living in the heart of Africa, he doubts that a dinosaur or any other primeval beast exists anywhere today. He writes:

"The period in which they lived is incredibly remote as man counts time. Their bones are found in the strata of the Eocene period. The brontosaurus was remarkable for his very small head and small brain cavity. His whole skull was no larger than his neck bone. The name means 'thunder beast,' and one species was well over fifty feet in length and weighed probably twenty tons or more."

The evolution of man has been a long process—so long that the geologists and other scientists prefer to dodge the question of the millions of years involved and reckon in eras, an era being anywhere from six to 45 millions of years. They call the first era Archeozoic; it is ancient beyond all knowledge. Then comes the Proterozoic, with its very primitive forms of water life, lasting 33 millions of years. The Paleozoic, with fish, amphibians and land plants, lasted 45 millions. The Mesozoic, the age of reptiles and amphibians and of trees, saw the first mammals; it lasted 16 millions of years. The present era, the Cenozoic, has seen the rise and development of the highest orders of plants and animals and the appearance of man; its duration to date is put at 6 million years.

So that's what we are up against when we talk of there being at large in Africa a survivor of the Age of Reptiles.

Anyway, we know these reptiles actually existed because we find their fossil remains pretty much all over the world. Why, these fossils are so thick out in Utah, U. S. A, that we have the Dinosaur National monument. You see, once upon a time, the waves of an open sea rolled over the spot where now stands Long's peak (14,255 feet), "King of the Rockies." In this sea sported the marine monster of long ago and on its shores lived the grotesque creatures of the Age of Reptiles. Then the Rocky Mountains heaved themselves up and this great inland sea had to run off into the Arctic ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. And then the rains washed down the mountains and filled up the plains with the [...].

Some of the creatures in this inland sea got mired and their bones are now found petrified in a remarkably perfect state of preservation. And, it's no trick for a scientist who knows his business to reconstruct an animal from his bones.

Mr. Gapelle's monster seems to suggest the armored dinosaur, Stegosaurus. If that's the fellow, he isn't dangerous. He's herbivorous. He's scarcely any brains at all; that's why he is armored to protect him from his enemies. He's about 20 feet long and 10 feet high.

The Tylosaurus, "half snake, half beast," isn't a Dinosaur, but a Mosasaur, though that probably makes no particular difference. He's a seaserpentish sort of thing and probably requires more water than a morass affords.

The Brontosaurus, according to the restoration herewith reproduced, doesn't look especially formidable, except for his size.

The dinosaur that seems best able to pay his way and keep on going is the Allosaurus. He's got teeth and claws and looks as if he might move rapidly.

However, the fact that the African dinosaur does not seem to be exactly like any of his prehistoric relatives proves nothing. It may be that the fellow Captain Stevens is after has evoluted [...] and is prepared to present something entirely new in dinosaurs. Why should he not have developed? He's had at least six million years in which to improve himself.

"The Outlines of History," H. G. Wells' new book, considers these early monsters quite fully. He says in one place:

"The earliest-known reptiles were beasts with great bellies and not very powerful legs, very like their kindred amphibia, wallowing as the crocodile wallows to this day; but in the Mesozoic they soon began to stand up and go stoutly on all fours, and several great sections of them began to balance themselves on tail and hind legs, rather as the kangaroos do now. Another division was the crocodile branch, and another developed toward the tortoise and the turtles. The Plesiosaurs and the Ichthyosaurs were two groups which left no living representatives. Plesiosaurus measured 300 feet from snout to tall tip—of which half was neck.

"The Mosasaurs were a third group of great porpoiselike marine lizards. But the largest and most diversified group of these Mesozoic reptiles was the group we have spoken of as kangaroolike, the Dinosaurs, many of which attained enormous proportions. In bigness these greater Dinosaurs have never been exceeded, although the sea can still show in the whales creatures as great. Some of these, and the largest among them, were herbivorous animals; they browsed on rushy vegetation and among the ferns and bushes, or they stood up and grasped trees with their forelegs while they devoured the foliage.

"Among the browsers, for example, were the Diplodoccus carnegii, which measured 84 feet in length, and the Atlantosaurus. The Gigantosaurus, disinterred by a German expedition in 1912 from rocks in East Africa, was still more colossal. It measured well over 100 feet! These greater monsters had legs, and they are usually figured as standing up on them; but it is very doubtful if they could have supported their weight in this way out of water. Buoyed up by water or mud they may have got along.

"Another noteworthy type we have figured is the Triceratops. There were also a great number of flesh eaters, who preyed upon these herbivores. Of these, Tyrannosaurus seems almost the last word in 'frightfulness' among living things. Some species of this genus measured 40 feet from snout to tail. Apparently it carried this vast body kangaroo fashion, on its tail and hind legs. Probably it reared itself up. Some authorities even suppose that it leapt through the air. If so, it possessed muscles of a quite miraculous quality. Much more probably it waded, half submersed, in pursuit of the herbivorous river saurians."

And along with these terrible beasts were batlike creatures. "These bat-lizards were the pterodactyls. But birdlike though they were, they were not birds, nor the ancestors of birds. The structure of their wings was that of a hand with one long finger and a web; the wing of a bird is like an arm with feathers projecting from its hind edge. And these pterodactyls had no feathers."

All of these creatures have disappeared from the face of the earth, Wells says. They ended abruptly. They were extinguished, as though by the wave of a magic wand, perhaps in order to make place for man; and Wells says that the ending of the reptiles is beyond all question the most striking revolution in the whole history of the earth before the coming of mankind.

"It is probably connected with the [...] of a vast period of equable warm conditions and the start of a new, [...] age, in which the winters were bitterer and the summers brief, but hot."

Marble Rock, Iowa, Journal, July 29, 1920.

Historical Reprints:

Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation

Historical Bigfoot Stories

Big Snakes

Great Sea-Serpent

Sea Monsters Unmasked

Blue Tiger

Catching Wild Animals

Lesser Known Mystery Animals

Lake Champlain Mystery

Missionaries and Monsters

Cryptobotany Fiction