Saturday, July 4, 2009

MONSTERQUEST: The Last Dinosaur

History Channel - Original Air Date: 6/24/09

MQ goes to Cameroon, Africa, to search for the Mokele-Mbembe, a supposed throwback to the dinosaur age -- like a brontosaurus.  The show features the usual compelling eyewitness accounts and supporting animations.  Dr. Roy Mackal has spent a long time looking for the beast, but other scientists point out there is no fossil record to support the ongoing existence of such creatures.  Mackal tells stories from explorers of three-toed tracks three feet across.  Because of eyewitness reports, Mackal is convinced the creature is real: a living dinosaur.  In 2004, Peter Beach returned with pictures and casts of supposed footprints.  He says the local foliage, too tall for any known animal to reach, had been stripped.  The prints and photos are taken for analysis.  MQ sends a team to Africa to investigate, but -- already, at the start -- one of them says they're more interested in the eyewitness reports than in the opinions of western scientists as to whether the animal can exist.  This does not bode well for scientific inquiry. The remoteness of the region makes just getting to the area in question difficult (especially in the rainy season).  Locals draw a dinosaur-like picture in the sand, but the show's claim that these people have little contact with the outside world seems undercut by their western wardrobes.  They do, however, pick a dinosaur out of a "mugshot book" of possible local animals.

Theorizing that the creature may hole up on local caves (15' across) during the dry season, the MQ team sets some camera traps and boats out looking for lairs.  (At this point, we seem to be into speculation.)  They find a deep hole, but the earth is too hard to excavate and discover what's inside.  So they decide to use sonar to check the river bed, and seem to find some crocs, snakes, and perhaps tree branches.  But they get no video, and most of their "discoveries" are mere speculation based on sonar blips -- especially when they seem to think they've found something with a big body and long neck.  Surely this would have been worth further investigation, even if starting the motor might have scared the beast.  (Maybe especially if.)  Yet, they keep drifting and trolling the river, finally motoring down to the deeper headwaters.  They think they may have found something here, too, but they drift too close to the Congo, on the other side of the river, and have to turn away to avoid political trouble.  Their camera traps, as usual, turn up nothing out of the ordinary.  The sauropod expert says that the toes on the casts are placed wrong for a dinosaur, and pictures of dino tracks bear this out.  "Who knows?" one researcher says at the conclusion, "the next time we might get some film."  Yes, that would be nice.

I'm a sucker for dinosaur stories, and the legend of this beast is fascinating to me.  The witness stories are interesting and compelling, but the researchers seem to be entirely too invested in the reality of the creature and it being some kind of dinosaur.  That's not a very scientific POV.  And, I should point out that a recent episode of Destination Truth concluded that the beast was merely legend and misreporting of encounters with hippos.  Sadly, another strikeout for MonsterQuest.  By my count, that's no real monsters found (and only a couple of large animals).  Better luck next season.


DaveB said...

Regarding the 'Last Dinosaur', I wonder if the searchers are so set on finding an actual dinosaur that they have overlooked another possibility. Could it be that the creature is actually a totally new species of modern lizard, perhaps a new Monitor. It wouldn't have to be as large as a dino but the shock of seeing a long-necked 15 to 20 foot lizard could cause imaginations to exaggerate the size of an animal more the size of a large croc.

Monitor lizards have five toes, not three, however the supposed footprints are so imperfect that two of the toes may not have made an impression. Also the head of a Nile Monitor or Komodo Dragon could be said to be snake-like.

A 15 to 20 foot long-necked Monitor could easily have a breeding population right along side of the ubiquitous crocs, perhaps even being mistaken at times for crocs. The various sightings could be of several individuals at differing times and places.

Diet? The program says that they attack people, but not whether the attacks are for food. Otherwise they seem to be vegetarian. One or two vegetarians every month or so should be adequate for any 15-20 foot Monitor! Keep those tourists coming, the fate of the long-necked Monitor is at stake!
(I tried to use your email but the "email me" link doesn't work)

Stephen D. Sullivan said...

Interesting theory. I'm all for finding new (and interesting) animals, but a lot of these shows seem to go for myth rather than fact. Let's actually find some monsters, and build our theories about them on tangible evidence (rather than just "witness" reports). People see all kinds of strange things, but not all of them are real. (The mind is a wondrous and strange thing.)

I'll check on my contact link. It worked last time I knew.