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Lee Speigel

Dinosaur Hunter Seeks Funds For African Expedition

Posted: 04/23/2012 10:45 am Updated: 04/23/2012 3:27 pm

Illustration of an alleged mokele-mbembe, an animal described by native eyewitnesses in the African Congo as having an elephant-like body, with a long neck and tail.

How's this for using the Internet in an unusual way? Stephen McCullah needs funds to finance an expedition to remote areas of the African Congo in search of unknown species of animals -- including a possible living dinosaur.

McCullah, 21, is reaching out to potential sponsors on Kickstarter, the Internet's funding site for creative projects.

"I'll be launching one of the first expeditions in this century with the goal of categorizing plant and animal species in the vastly unexplored Republic of the Congo," Missouri native McCullah wrote on Kickstarter.

"Our hope is to discover a wide variety of new species along the way," he explained. "I have a strong passion for exploring and researching the few 'impregnable' locations on Earth. The places that make people shudder are the ones I'm most drawn towards."

Dubbed "The Newmac Expedition," McCullah plans a preliminary three-month, five-man venture.

While some detractors may think that McCullah is too young and lacks a formal background to be able to pull off such an undertaking, he disagrees.

"I am well educated in the necessary procedures, it's the reason I went to school to study biology," he wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.

"I've worked for similar projects for three months at a time in the Brazilian and Bolivian Amazon. Granted, this will be my first time leading a project, but I'm confident I have the experience necessary to properly oversee categorization of plant and animal species."

With a June 26 expedition launch date, McCullah has so far raised nearly $11,000 from 17 backers, including one $10,000 pledge. And he needs the rest of the money by Friday, May 11 in order for the journey to move forward.

Among the targets on McCullah's list to search for are reported dog-sized tarantulas and small prehistoric sauropods, or long-necked four-legged dinosaurs, as illustrated at right.

These brontosaurus-type animals, known locally as mokele-mbembe, are reportedly water-dwelling creatures, and could be the African continent's version of the legendary Loch Ness Monster, also believed by many to be a survivor of prehistoric times.

If McCullah raises the money he needs to search for new creepy species, it won't be the first time anyone has tried.

Numerous expeditions, over several decades, have ventured into the swampy, remote Likouala region of Congo where the climate today is similar to when dinosaurs thrived millions of years ago. Numerous eyewitnesses from tribes that have little contact with each other have reported encounters with sauropod-type animals.

In 1976, crocodile expert James Powell Jr. traveled through Gabon and questioned natives who lived in fear of a mokele-mbembe-like animal which they called n'yamala.

When Powell showed natives a sketch of a long-necked brontosaurus dinosaur, they identified it as their dreaded n'yamala.

Watch this video about the search for Africa's living dinosaur, mokele-mbembe:

Four years later, Powell returned to Congo with University of Chicago zoologist Roy Mackal, who believed the mokele-mbembe might actually be a living dinosaur -- a bizarre relic of the planet's prehistoric past.

After trekking through dangerous swamps thick with insects and poisonous snakes, the scientific team arrived at a location where pygmies had claimed to see several of the monsters in recent weeks, but no evidence could be found.

Even after a second unsuccessful journey to Congo in 1981, Mackal felt that more scientists were becoming open-minded about the discovery of unusual animals.

"Surveys would indicate that 1 or 2 percent of the scientific community would agree that these areas should be investigated, and we've maintained from the beginning that there should be no area of human experience which should somehow be tabooed or should not be investigated," he said.

While McCullah is realistic about the slim chance he and his team -- who range in age from 22 to 28 -- would actually encounter a prehistoric animal, he has high hopes of discovering many new insect, plant and fish species.

"There are five of us," he said. "Two members have degrees in biology and the other two have more of a support purpose or skill set like EMT, tracking or navigation."

McCullah's role as team leader is to raise the money he needs to head to Congo and be involved in the categorization of whatever they might find there.

One thing's for certain: He'll have to bring enough equipment. Capturing a living dinosaur may require some very big nets.

Here are other alleged elusive creatures reported around the world:

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  • Loch Ness Monster

    A view of the Loch Ness Monster, near Inverness, Scotland, on April 19, 1934. The photograph, one of two pictures known as the "surgeon's photographs," was allegedly taken by Col. Robert Kenneth Wilson, though it was later exposed as a hoax by one of the participants, Chris Spurling. On his deathbed, Spurling revealed that the pictures were staged by himself, Marmaduke and Ian Wetherell, and Wilson. References to a monster in Loch Ness date back to St. Columba's biography in 565 A.D. More than 1,000 people claim to have seen "Nessie," and the area is, consequently, a popular tourist attraction.

  • Bow-Nessie

    In England, a kayaker took this photo on Lake Windemere, near Bowness in Cumbria. "At a distance, I thought it was some sort of large dog," said Tom Pickles. "Then I realized just how long it was." Ever since the first reports of Bow-Nessie emerged in 2006 from Lake Windermere, a legend has taken root with people wondering if this could be a not-too-distant relative of the legendary Loch Ness Monster of Scotland.

  • Loch Ness Sighting

    This is a photo of boats at Urquhart Bay, Loch Ness, Scotland, on Aug. 6, 1983, made by American wildlife photographer Erik Beckjord. It shows splashes on the surface of Loch Ness made by an unidentified object (white mark at center right), which Beckjord claimed could have been made by the Loch Ness Monster.

  • Loch Ness Monster Fin

    Robert H. Hines, president of the Academy of Applied Science, released this photo during a 1972 investigation of Loch Ness. Hines said his expedition took photo, which he said showed the fin of the Loch Ness Monster, and that it was substantiated by sonar and other scientific data that strongly suggests there is a large marine creature inhabiting Scotland's Loch Ness.

  • Mersey Monster

    This mysterious shape was captured by photographer Mark Harrison while riding on a ferry off the Seacombe district of Wirral in the United Kingdom on the morning of May 25. Experts claim that it could be a harbor porpoise or a basking shark, but Harrison says, "Me? Clearly, I believe it's Nessie on her hols!"

  • Nessie and Alaska's Illie May Be Sleeper Sharks

    This 2000 image shows biologist Bruce Wright in salt waters in southeast Alaska with a small Pacific sleeper shark that was caught on a research cruise. He believes much bigger versions of this shark group could be the true identity of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster and Alaska's Lake Iliamna creature known as Illie.

  • Dorset Pliosaur

    The giant jaws of a huge marine reptile are on permanent display at Dorset County Museum in the UK. Dating back around 155 million years, the pliosaur skull was discovered on the nearby Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, and is one of the largest and best preserved fossils of its kind ever found.

  • Chupacabra

    Phylis Canion holds the head of what she called a Chupacabra at her home in Cuero, Texas, on Aug. 31, 2007. She found the strange-looking animal dead outside her ranch and thinks it is responsible for killing many of her chickens.

  • Montauk Monster

    Was it a dog or a pig or something else? Nobody knows for sure, but this animal was discovered in 2009 on a beach in Southold, on the North Fork area of New York's Long Island. Subsequent photos were published on <a href="" target="_hplink">Montauk Monster</a>.

  • East River Monster

    This Atlantic sturgeon corpse measuring more than 6 feet long was pulled from the East River in New York City near Pier 17 on May 21, 2011. <a href="" target="_hplink">Watch video here.</a>

  • Bigfoot in Rutherford County, N.C.

    Thomas Byers snapped this photo of "Bigfoot" along Golden Valley Church Road on March 22, 2011.

  • California Bigfoot

    This is a 1977 still photo from a 16 millimeter film made by Ivan Marx reportedly showing the legendary Bigfoot cavorting in the hills of Northern California.

  • Washington State Sasquatch

    This is a black and white print from a color movie Frank White said he took in the forest near Bellingham, Wash., on Oct. 8, 1977. "I'd call it a North American ape," said White. "You can call it a Sasquatch or anything you like."

  • Georgia Bigfoot

    This still-frame image from video provided by Bigfoot Global LLC shows what is claimed by them to be a Bigfoot or Sasquatch creature in an undisclosed area of a northern Georgia forest in June 2008.

  • Bigfoot Footprint

    The legend of Bigfoot has baffled many people for decades, especially when images like this one are released. A footprint measuring 17-and-3/4 inches long and 7-and-1/2 inches wide was discovered Aug. 26, 1980, at a residence in the Conemaugh Township area of Johnstown, Pa. A very well-defined print was left behind, if indeed it was Bigfoot, plus a left print was found eight feet away in a more wooded area. Along with the footprints, reports of strange noises and a very unusual but strong odor coincided with the account.

  • Bigfoot Plaster Cast

    Ken Gerhard of Houston holds a duplicate plaster cast footprint at the Texas Bigfoot Conference in Jefferson, Texas, on Oct. 15, 2005. The event was hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center.

  • Bigfoot Casts

    Al Hodgson, a volunteer guide at the Willow Creek-China Flat Museum, holds up a plaster cast of a Bigfoot imprint displayed at the museum's Bigfoot Wing in Willow Creek, Calif., on June 5, 2000. The wing was built to bring tourists interested in the legendary creature to the economically depressed ex-lumber town.

  • Bigfoot Body?

    This photograph obtained Aug. 15, 2008, from <a href="" target="_hplink">Searching For Bigfoot</a> shows what is purported to be the body of the legendary ape-like creature that has been the subject of decades of hoaxes and dubious sightings. Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer claimed before a crowd of skeptical reporters in Palto Alto, Calif., that they were hiking in a northern part of Georgia when they stumbled upon the body near water. The corpse was said to be 7 feet, 7 inches tall, weighing more than 500 pounds. Many scientists believe Bigfoot is folklore instead of fact.

  • Abominable Snowman Footprint

    This alleged Abominable Snowman footprint photo was taken near Mount Everest on Dec. 13, 1951.

  • The Jersey Devil

    An artist's rendition of the Jersey Devil, based on eyewitness reports of a creature said to roam the Pine Barrens area of New Jersey.

  • Mothman

    A large Mothman sculpture stands along Main Street on Dec. 11, 2007, in Point Pleasant, W.Va. More than 40 years after the first reported sighting of the mysterious creature later dubbed "Mothman," residents here have embraced his legend, helping to turn the town into a destination for people in search of an offbeat tourism experience.