Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Every Kid Likes Dinosaurs, Part two.

Today's rendition of this topic focusses solely on the apparently unwanted outsider in the story: Herman Regusters. There is some unknown [to me] bad "sociology" in this part of our tale, but as I know little of the substance, I'll try to stick mainly to what if anything Regusters found.

From what I can tell Herman Regusters was indeed a NASA engineer and was working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory associated with Cal Tech when he decided to take his fling at Mokele Mbembe. His father had been a west African missionary which doubtless gave him a special feeling of connection to sub-Saharan Africa. He met his wife, a psychologist with some medical background, in Ghana, and they were married there in a traditional local ceremony. She went with him on this Congo expedition. Regusters was a technology expert and good at hi-tech equipment and photography. He was also a pilot and had served with the USAF in Korea. Regusters heard of other probes into the Likuoala swamps and their difficulties in "navigation", and the whole project interested him. Having NASA contacts, he was able to float a brilliant idea: why not let me go into those swamps as a test of our LANDSAT and NAVSTAR capabilities for mapping difficult areas?? NASA wouldn't pop for the idea officially, but Regusters decided to go for it anyway unofficially.

What Regusters WAS able to do was to get good LANDSAT imagery of the relevant area. Through that he was able to reject the idea of flying directly to the lake [uncertainties as to depth and obstructions], but rather fly semi-directly [to the village of Epena] and trek the rest of the way.

On the map beside, you can see Impfondo circled in green, where most expeditions were stuck with as a staring point. Epena is at the end of the orange line at the edge of the red circle, allegedly prime mokele mbembe territory. Regusters was already well ahead of the time curve. Regusters, like Mackal et al, also traveled southwest along the Likuoala River searching for the semi-hidden Bai River, which would take them north to Lac Tele.

At the village of Boa, however, he discovered that all the maps were invalid as to the actuality of getting to Lac Tele. This, it turned, was impossible by water. The inability of the Powell-Mackal expeditions to get there was readily explained. Instead, locals informed him that there was a way, surprisingly on foot. Porters were hired and the trip was successful without ever seeing the River Bai. Even then it was not picnic with much hard sloshing and little food on the trail. Regusters said that "anything which crossed the gunsight" ended up on the fire. This included Crocodile, Snake, and Monkey. Asked what Monkey tasted like, he resisted the standard joke and said "dark meat".

Whatever the "advantage", Regusters did in fact make it all the way to Lac Tele and there, at a minimum, found a rather strange perfectly round body of water --- let the unfettered hypothesizing begin!!. One idea which "surfaced" immediately was that it was formed by a meteorite impact, but how had it fought off the encroachment of the swamp vegetation so effectively? I suppose we'll never know that answer.

Other than a mysterious round lake, what else did he find?? One possibility was tracks. He felt that maybe these tracks, like the one pictured above, might belong to Mokele Mbembe. This is probably wrong.

One thing that over-enthusiastic explorers might forget is that their are some plenty big but well-known critters out there. Also these characters often wander about more than you'd expect. We saw earlier on this site how Ivan Sanderson was corresponding with a guy in Africa who thought that he might be on the track of some kind of living mastodon like thing, and Ivan was right behind him on this. He ultimately got a mudtrack, which was not that much different than the one above, and he and Ivan still both thought they had something big. Ivan's zoologist friend at the Philadelphia Zoo had to talk him down off crypto-olympus by telling him that this was surely a pygmy rhino. [I think that's what he determined anyway --- too lazy to go back and look it up now].

Regusters thought that his print might show three toes and thereby a dinosaur-like foot. But our friends the rhinos have a foot conformation which produces such fooler mudprints, and so our intrepid NASA engineer is probably out of his depth on this one.

On another website, someone published a later story [entirely different thing having nothing to do with Regusters] wherein locals told of a battle with a mokele mbembe and when shown a picture like the one below said that yes, that is precisely what mokele mbembe looks like. What this tells us is that legends slide around the countryside and people with no contact with "mokele mbembe" at all transfer the name into other experiences with large dangerous and unfamiliar [to them] animals. It also tells us that you need more than stories.

So did Regusters come up with more than the stories of Mackal et al?

Most interestingly for we casual followers of these matters were several instances where the group felt that they saw an unknown large animal. Case 1: "perturbations in the glass-smooth surface of the lake which implied the presence of a sizable object".

Case 2: Object sighted. "A long necked member could be clearly distinguished in the clear morning air". Submerged and not sighted again.

Case 3: A loud roar from the jungle [this was recorded].

Case 4: "Appearance of a very large object moving through the water." One kilometer distance. Pronounced wake. No head nor neck seen. Smooth dark brown surface. Native observers with team said much too large for hippopotamus, which is also unknown in that area.

Case 5: Loud animal sound. Splash of something big entering water. Regusters' wife sees long serpent-like neck and head emerge from water c. 30 meters from boat. Head held two meters above surface. Dark gray color and smooth-skinned. Whole sighting was only about 5 seconds.

Case 6: Regusters and wife alone exploring north end of shore and forest [place where allegedly two mokele mbembe animals had been killed by locals in past.] Heard heavy footsteps approaching from three different directions. The exploring instinct gave way to more fundamental ones and they ran.

The line drawing above: this wasn't identified in the file materials, but appears to be a sketch by a local person of what he saw at Lac Tele. It could represent "Case 2". [correction: while packing up the SITU file, I came across Regusters' title for this. It is: Sketch of an animal (monster) made by Colonel Emmanuel Mossedzedi, deputy commandant of the Brazzaville Garrison. Later Regusters said that this sketch "came alive" with one of the sightings at the lake.]

The camera shot of above left: this was also not identified in the file, but its location therein clearly indicates that it was sent by Regusters as part of his documentation of the expedition. I have seen this [in color and always left/right reversed] on the internet, and commented upon as if it is a probable crocodile. This could be true as Regusters says that the lake is heavy with crocodile population. [Another correction for the same reason as above: Regusters says that this is the Head portion of Mokele Mbembe submerging into Lake Tele. Taken from estimated distance of 300-400 feet.]

So, what else? Regusters brought back his taped jungle roar and got some pretty good expert opinion to analyze it. That opinion said: interesting sounds but we can't identify them with any animal we know. All of us non-animal vocalization experts must take that for what it's worth.

The only other scientific thing that Regusters did which is germane does not involve Lac Tele directly. It involves rather a dinosaur skeleton fossilized in Niger, of which he was given some "bone" samples to analyze. Why??

Regusters' idea here was not crazy. What he felt that he knew from the geology of that Niger region was that it was not desert [as it is now] c.10,000 years ago, but rather quite wet, and likely verdant. And, it would not be a stretch at all to imagine that it was part of a large ecosystem which stretched from there down into the Cameroons and Congo area. If so, and if some evidence could be found for a surviving dinosaur species in the Niger region in the vicinity of a few thousand years ago, that evidence would state that African dinosaurs had indeed survived the Cretaceous boundary extinction, and as habitat shrunk, may have been left as a concentrated remnant in those Congolese swamps. So, he accepted the fossil samples happily and got a good lab to try to date them.

As you can read in the letter above and below, the testing was not exactly plain sailing. This is well-explained by the analyst and is nobody's fault that a clearer answer was not obtained. All we can say is that the analysis does NOT show a VERY late date for the sample. What is frustrating about the language though is that one does not know whether it says that the sample was in the ballpark of a few tens of thousands of years [which would make Regusters' point just fine], or merely that anything over 30,00 back to multiple millions of years is fair game.

So, there are the concrete elements of this, and the science, as best it happened. In all of that it seems to me that Regusters did a decently good job. However, this was not at all welcomed in either the skeptical nor cryptozoological communities. Why I do not know. Regusters was a cryptozoological outsider. Perhaps he wasn't "generous" enough to his forebears. Perhaps he was seen as an unwanted usurper, much as was Gerald Hawkins by the traditional archaeologists about his Stonehenge astronomical theories, or Luis Alvarez by the palaeontologists with his asteroid-killed-the-dinosaurs hypothesis [in these Hawkins was right, and Alvarez in great part was wrong, but paradoxically the wrong theory is nearly universally accepted by now and the right one still fights to get into the textbooks --- we surely can mess things up]. I have my own experiences with such tribalism [I'm OK if I'm writing about UFOs {since I'm a Tribal Elder}, but roundly criticized if I write about Cryptozoology, by some anyway]. This is horribly ingrained in us apparently, much to the detriment of our species' advancement of knowledge.

Whatever went on here in the Regusters case, it didn't help the cool pursuit of the truth about mokele mbembe. Regusters was angrily miffed by some of it. He wrote to Bob Warth:

"I came to learn, sadly, that I was better prepared for the adventures of exploration and new geographic and biological discoveries than I was for the criticism and negative comments and attacks on my integrity I did receive after my return; especially criticism from armchair investigators, pseudoscientists, and skeptical members of the media."

Regardless of what went on here in this sociological fiasco, any long-term member of the anomalies-researching community [who actually does any work and publication] has been there. I don't know what "blame" exists in this, and to whom, but on the surface of the documents that Bob Warth had in the SITU file, it seems to be to have been an honorable try by Regusters to discover something.

There are animals who eat their young..................

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