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Dinosaur Hunter Seeks Funds For African Expedition

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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.
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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