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DE LOYS' APE


WORMWOOD FILES: MONKEY BUSINESS WITH DE LOYS' APE


By Dr. Abner Mality

The jungle. It exists in our minds as "green hell", an impenetrable wall of riotous vegetation capable of hiding innumerable secrets. It's the home of hidden cities, dangerous natives and lethal creatures. Or so it appears in the depths of our minds, where old archetypes linger.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century, the jungle is in full retreat everywhere in the world, even in the mighty Amazon forests, the most primal  of all. Bulldozers, pesticides and rapacious greed have pushed the true jungle to the brink of extinction. The sad fact is, within our lifetimes, what remains of the jungle will exist as carefully tended nature preserves, a shadow of what used to be.

In 1920, though, the steaming jungles of the Amazon were still only lightly touched upon by Western civilization. Many parts of Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru were pretty much blank spots on the map. Into these voids would venture the explorers, brave men who risked life and limb to go where few had travelled before. Some lost the gamble, such as Colonel Percy Fawcett, legendary eccentric who disappeared forever in search of the "Lost City of Z".

Those explorers would often turn up with wild tales of strange discoveries...man-eating plants, giant snakes bigger than a city bus, remnants of lost empires. It was 1920 when one of the most shocking and controversial of all jungle discoveries was made: what appeared to be a totally unknown variety of giant monkey or mystery primate.

This weird creature has come to be known as "De Loy's Ape". It was even given the scientific name of Ameranthropoides Loysi, which means "Loys' American anthropoid". All evidence for its existence rests on one startling photograph, which usually shocks those who see it for the first time, but which has come to be considered a crude hoax. The picture still has its defenders', though, and to this day, there are those believe a completely new kind of giant primate lives (or did live) deep in the South American jungles.

The story behind the photo is the stuff that great novels are made of...a European expedition into unknown jungle territory decimated by hostile natives, disease and extreme conditions...an attack by monstrous giant monkeys...cries of fraud and even accusations of Nazi-style racism...and an unsolved mystery. This is the sort of thing the Good Doctor can sink his teeth into...and which I shall now share with you seekers of the strange.

In 1920, acclaimed Swiss geologist Francois de Loys headed into the deep, unexplored jungle on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. De Loys had little interest in unknown animals or lost empires...he was searching primarily for rich oil deposits. He was already hugely respected in oil prospecting circles for his intuition in finding petroleum in out of the way places. This time, though, the ambitious de Loys had bitten off more than he could chew.

20 men originally accompanied de Loys into the wilds. When he returned to civilization, only three were still left. Green hell had taken its toll. The expedition had run afoul of the aggressive Motilone tribe, who were not fond of strangers in their territory. In 1920, the idea of "headhunting savages" was not fanciful fiction but still a reality. The Motilones picked off several members of the group. What they weren't able to do by bow and arrow, Mother Nature completed with tropical disease. The dreaded scourge of malaria...and perhaps other plagues less well known...cut more into the expedition. Native guides and bearers deserted. Tropical rains, sweltering heat and hellish undergrowth made every mile of the trek an ordeal.

When de Loys reached the Tarra River on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, he was down to four men. At this point, the men were sick, tired, exhausted and in a constant state of wariness. But the clearing near the river seemed peaceful and protected compared to the rough country they had been through. Perhaps the worst was past...Instead, the most bizarre and terrifying moment of the expedition was about to occur.

At the arrival of twilight, the men settled down for what they hoped would be an uneventful night when a huge commotion in nearby brush got their attention. As they watched with disbelief, they were set upon by two large anthropoid creatures resembling monkeys, but without tails and walking upright. The creatures were hooting and shrieking loudly and as de Loys himself later reported, "behaving shamelessly by defecating into their hands and flinging the offal at us". Many found that description amusing, but in fact, such behavior is not unknown among monkeys who feel threatened.

Fearing for their lives, de Loys and his companions went for their rifles and opened fire. Both creatures were struck, but one managed to retreat into dense underbrush while the other fell dead immediately. Unnerved almost past endurance, the men nervously watched for more of the anthropoids. But they were scientists above all and immediately studied the animal they had shot.

They determined right away it was a female, meaning the escaped animal was likely its male mate. None of the men had ever seen or heard of anything like it, although South American natives have a tradition of the "mono grande" or great monkey. It was just under five feet in height, making it much larger than the largest known South American monkey. It had no tail, which argued against identification as a monkey and put it more in the camp of being an ape. It was found to have 32 teeth, which is also much more like an ape than a monkey. But the structure of the elongated hands and feet was very much in line with a monkey.

De Loys was no anthropologist but he knew this was a new and unique species.  The expedition, despite all its tragedy, still had a working camera. The men took the body of the dead animal, propped it up on a packing crate and took a photograph. This is the photograph that caused so much later controversy and which even now, is seen as either evidence of an undiscovered species or a spectacular hoax. In addition, the men skinned the creature, which had to be a nauseating procedure, and detached the jawbone. They prepared those items as best they could and next day set out once again to try and reach civilization. This time, they nervously kept an eye out for the mate of the animal they had killed.

Fortunately, de Loys and his confederates reached safety in another couple of days. The experience took a physical toll on all of them and de Loys never did reclaim his former vigor. As for the oil deposits, they were later found in great quantity in Venezuela...even today, those desposits are still being worked.

Now a mystery starts. For almost 9 years, Francois de Loys said nothing about his encounter with the giant monkeys. No one was shown the picture he took. As for the skin and bones of the creature, de Loys later said they had to be disposed of to avoid more disease striking him or his men. Other than de Loys' own word and that single photograph, there was no evidence that the "American anthropoid" existed. To this day, no real explanation has been given for the long gap between the discovery of the creatures and their revelation.

In 1929, the photograph of the creature and the full story of De Loys' encounter was revealed to the world.  "The Illustrated London News" did a complete report on the de Loys expedition, including showing the startling picture. But more importantly, the case for the existence of the new species had been taken up by Dr. Georges Montandon, one of the most respected anthropologists in France. Montandon was the man who named the animal "Ameranthropoides Loysi" and declared it a "missing link" in the evolution of man upon the South American continent.

The general public was excited and stunned by the photograph, but the scientific community immediately set about dismantling the claims of de Loys and Montandon. Sir Arthur Keith, England's foremost zoologist, laid into the story with cool precision. If the creature in the photograph was so large and was conveniently dead, why, then, weren't de Loys or one of his associates in the picture. Would this not have been common sense and allowed absolute proof of the animal's size? Why was no picture taken of the animal from the rear, demonstrating that it had no tail?

To Keith, the answer was clear. The animal was merely a large spider monkey, shot in such a way to make it look like something else. The tail was simply tucked behind the box it was posed on. He also noted that the other physical evidence was conveniently left behind in the jungle somewhere. A single hair, a finger, a bit of bone, even a few drops of blood...if these had been presented along with one dubious picture, it would have made for a more convincing case. Keith declared the whole thing a hoax designed to support Montandon's controversial theories about the evolution of man in South America.

Keith's dissection of the animal was devastating. Many other anthropologists and zoologists followed in denouncing the picture and the scientific orthodoxy has never swerved from the opinion it was a hoax. After a couple of years, the incident of de Loys' ape became forgotten by many. But even today, there are those who claim the ape is real.

Montandon and de Loys defended their claims with vigor. Montandon produced a packing crate like the one the animal was posed on. His cousin worked for the Standard Oil company, which produced the crate, and confirmed that they were used throughout South America. Montandon took such a crate and posed a dead spider monkey on it. When the resulting picture was compared with the one de Loys took, it showed that de Loys' ape was considerably larger and not far off the five foot mark. As for not keeping the skin and bones of the animal, de Loys passionately said with sixteen other members of his expedition dead from disease or native attack, the priority was merely to stay alive...an assessment few could disagree with.

But few could also dispute Keith's main point: why was there nothing in the photo to show size? How hard could it have been to put a man or some other object next to the ape? For this, de Loys and Montandon had no ready answer.

In recent decades, cryptozoologists once again began to study the problems of the "American Ape" more closely. That investigation brought a lot of unsavory facts to light about the theories and racial ideas of Georges Montandon. It turns out that Montandon was a strong proponent of the racial superiority of European man. He believed that minority races such the native peoples of North and South America were derived from a different...and much inferior...breed of primate than the main races of Europe. To Montandon, de Loys' giant monkey was a "missing link"...an ancestor to South American natives.

If you are detecting overtones of the race theories of the Nazis in Montandon's ideas, you would be correct. The Nazis were indeed influenced by some of Montandon's ideas, including his ideas that minority populations in Europe should be forcibly resettled and put under the control of the "superior" population. However, to be fair to Montandon, this was not to be done as a matter of conquest or ethnic cleansing, but as a way to prevent the kind of strife that led to the horrors of World War I.

At any rate, Montandon's racial ideas were not popular or widely held by many serious scientists. Some had the belief that he cooked up the entire episode of de Loys' ape to garner support for his "missing link" theory. Again, it seemed highly suspicious that after 9 years of silence, de Loys should present this lone photograph, which seemed to support his friend Montandon's ideas.

In modern times, Montandon's ideas were held in even more contempt than they were in the 1930's and 40's, as Hitler's fanatics ravaged Europe. But there are some cryptozoologists who go out on a limb and wonder if maybe evidence of a fabulous find was obliterated by the haste to condemn Montandon's controversial ideas.

In the more than 75 years since Francois de Loys said his expedition was attacked by unknown giant monkeys/apes, no other concrete evidence has risen to support his story. Many see this itself as evidence that it was nothing but a story all along. Although, if you listen to the natives who have lived in the jungle-haunted mountains of South America, you will hear stories of the "mono grande"...the "great monkey",,,the didi, another large monkey-like creature...the ucumar, who lurks among the thick forests of Central America. To these people, the existence of such creatures is something they do not question.

So we are left with a photo that has the power to amaze but not to prove. And unless something more of de Loys' ape emerges from the green hell, that is where matters will stand.

This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights...