Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Two Unknown Bipedal Apes in the Congo

    This may be my last translation. Charles Cordier (1897-1994) was a Swiss zoo collector who worked for the Bronx Zoo in New York. In the late 1940s he and his wife, Emy made a lengthy expedition to the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), specifically to collect the Congo peacock, which had been identified only in 1936! However, what I presume was his last expedition to the Congo coincided with the violence and anarchy of Congo Independence. Nevertheless, as well as catching gorillas using nets (they don't do that sort of thing any more) in what can only be labelled the geographic centre of Africa, he heard rumours of not one, but two unknown apes.  Here, then, is his account, translated from the French.

Charles Cordier (1963): "Deux anthropoïdes inconnus marchant debout au Congo ex-Belge", Genus 19:175-182
[Two unknown anthropoids walking upright in the former Belgian Congo.]

     This is not a sensational report, nor is it concrete proof of their existence, but the collected indices are so numerous and troubling that, for me, their existence is beyond the shadow of doubt.
     I was in the Congo from November 1947 to June 1949 in order to capture animals for the Bronx Zoo, New York and from April 1956 to December 1961 to collect live animals for a film and, later, on my own account.
     It was only in January 1960 that the natives mentioned the names of these two anthropoids before me or, to be more exact, I started to get interested in following up revelations made by them on the subject of the existence of an aquatic mammal which appeared to be a dwarf dugong.
     At the end of June 1960 the Congolese independence supervened, along with its sequel of troubles. I was able to make investigations during the first six months of 1960 in the environs of our camp in the Walikale Forest, situated at 750 metres [2460 ft] of altitude in the province of Kivu. I made a tour by automobile commencing at Walikale and followed a section of the road leading to Stanleyville [now Kinshasa] up to 20 km [12½ miles] beyond the Osso River. At this point there is a mining road which makes a bend towards the rear on the left and along the right bank of the Lowa River, which I crossed by ferry to beyond Pense Misale. On this section is found Socomukanga.
     By the testimonies collected later and farther away, I had to pass "to the final riddle" [uncertain colloquialism] this region, when I had crossed it in haste, questioning the natives very little. After having crossed the Lowa, I wanted to go up the left bank of this river, to ferry across the Uku River in order to head down in a southerly direction towards the mining centre of Kasese. I was then able to follow this itinerary, I crossed the epicentre of these ape-men, in the light of information subsequ-ently received. Alas, a ferry or bridge was out of service on this section, and I had to resign myself to taking another road leading to Kima. This mining centre has a hospital which, from time to time, receive inhabitants injured by the mountain gorillas which, at this spot, come down to an altitude of 500 metres [1640 feet]. This is also one of the extreme western points in their distribution. From Kima a road goes to Punia, and one can join Kasese from the south through a landscape overturned and devastated by the mining operations.
     After only a score of kilometres, the landscape once more became rough and timbered. I halted in order to photograph a beautiful clump of raffia palms when up came several natives, to whom I posed some questions on the subject of the ape-men. These people then set out to frighten and insult my two native traveling companions in order to indulge themselves in making investigations for a white man on the subject of the "forest devils", as one of them called them in French. After this encounter my two employees were rather crestfallen and depressed. Nevertheless, 15 km [9 miles] to the south of Kasese, on the main road leading to the Lugulu River, and the headquarters of the Shabunda territory, we halted in a little village, where a religious service was underway. Our intention was to ask permission to pass the night there. After prayers and songs, I mentioned the "Kakundakari", and then a young woman suckling a child said, as if it were the most natural statement in the world: "I saw one which was living in a cage at Sokomukange in January 1957. It had been found dead, or almost so, in a snare of steel wire. The hunter brought it to the village, the being recovered, they confined it, and it afterwards escaped. Hundreds of blacks and dozens of whites went to see it." A young man who was present confirmed the accuracy of the account.
     After that, my two traveling companions had recovered from their depression and the next day we continued, full of expectations, towards the south. Alas, the more we sought information near the rare inhabitants we encountered, the more evasive became their answers. At the Lugulu River, which marks the limit of the distribution of the gorilla towards the south, the name of Kakundakari was no longer current, and people talked about the enigmatic "Niaka-Ambúguzá", whose tracks, like the footprints of a child, they often found along the water.
     We pushed our enquiry up to Lukavia and Shabunda, and we took the road which led to Bukavu. Despite lack of success everywhere, nevertheless in a village close to Ikozi, where the people had been catching antelopes in the environs for months, a woman, without presenting herself, let us know that she had seen a young ape-man alive in Sokomukanga, and when we were engaged in the mountain defile called Kimbili, a man told us all about a memorable hunt he had taken part in close to Walikale, a long way to the north. During this hunt, a little ape-man charged into a net, and immediately disappeared. Precisely a few weeks before, I had paid a visit to the owner of the hunting net which the "Kakundakari" had momentarily invaded.
    Two very old men living close to our former forest camp at Walikale had seen a Kakundakari killed 40 to 45 years ago. One of the witnesses claimed that the head resembled that of a human infant, whereas the other categorically affirmed that the head was that of an ape.
   From August to November 1961, I twice captured, in the region of Walike, entire bands of gorillas, aided by Mr. Paul Leloup [Paul the Wolf!], a herpetologist who was familiar with the Congo for a long time. We then collected as much information as possible on the two anthropoids, but we did not dare to make a journey of inspection which would have led us towards Kasese and the region immediately to the north, and of which I have just spoken, because of the lamentable state of the roads ruined by exceptional rains and the evident incapacity of the administration to provide maintenance or repairs. We would have perhaps arrived at the destination, but we would not have been able to return because of a bridge carried away by the waters, or a band of indisciplined soldiers would have been able to take the fuel or even the vehicle . . .
    We had the luck to depart the Congo with eight living gorillas, but we had no wish to retrace our steps, as certain authorities were becoming very xenophobic and irrational.
     But enough introductions ... and here are some stipulations: these two anthropoids, certainly very, very rare, are beings which inspire terror, and the generality of mortals in the Congo say that they are spirits or ghosts: "Mushumbi or Gitáni", but admit that in this case the words mean rare or almost never seen.
     Just to see them is alleged to make one sick, and to draw their presence to the attention of white men would result in the worst consequences. The little anthropoid to which I give the name Congopithecus is alleged to reach a height of 2 to 3 feet [60 to 90 cm]. The hairs on its head are stiff and form a kind of mane down its neck. Its colour is black. The body its covered with short, sparse hair. An informant who claimed to me to have killed one which was wrestling his wife, who had gone alone far from the village to fish for crabs, stipulated that the belly is whitish and strongly resembles that of the brush-tailed porcupine, or Atherurus. This subject, transfixed by a spear, took hours to die, not ceasing to kick around until the villagers threw some boiling water on it, according to what this informant said.
    In the region of Walkale Congopithecus is called "Kakundakari" by the Bakano and Bakondjo, towards the north the Bakumu people call it "Amajúngi", to the south among the Warega it is the "Niaka Ambúguzá" and to the east among the Batembo "Ambátcha". Mr. Leloup told me that on the left bank of the Lomami River in Orientale Province, the natives talk about the "Lisisíngo".
     It moves on the ground erect, quite frequently its tracks are parallel to those of a herd of bushpigs (Potamochoerus), it fishes for crabs in the small streams by moving away the stones, steals the game out of traps and empties the traps for fish and crabs, appears to be almost exclusively carnivorous, but does not disdain the scarlet fruit of the ginger locally known as "Matungulu".
     Just before nightfall it retires into a cave or an empty tree trunk where it piles up wood as if it wanted to make a fire, which it doesn't know how. Numbers of one to three are encountered. If it discovers a fish net, it amuses itself by sticking a finger into each space as if to count them.
     Despite its small size it appears to possess immense strength, capable of carrying off, or dragging away, a 14 year old child. One informant described having once found a little one, entirely white, on a bed of grass on the sandy bank of a small river. He ran to the village to advise the elders, but the little one had disappeared by the time he returned.
    On the road from Walikale leading to Masisi I visited, at the 2 km mark, a cave alleged to have been inhabited in all weathers by the Kakundakaris.
     A shooting range and the fields having been established in the proximity, the Kakundakari only goes there occasionally. I myself saw there the signs of a slide on the edge towards the interior of the cave lower down, terminating with a footprint resembling that of a child. It was 12 cm [4.7 in] long, the thumb [big toe] proportionally longer than for a human being, and the fingers numbering four, the little finger being atrophied, according to what certain people said. [This is clearly an ape footprint, consistent with a height of 79 cm or 31 inches, assuming its build was proportional to a human being's.]
     At the back of the cave, too low for human beings, there were the ends of dead timber and sections of a termite mound placed there by someone. Whether these signs were genuine, or a hoax, I cannot say.
    The big anthropoid or spirit, to which I give the name Paranthropus congensis is alleged to be vegetarian. It is a being with black hair, those of its head being long and dense, covering the head and hiding its face when it bends down. It is as big as a man or bigger, with very broad shoulders, always walks upright, and often has a piece of wood in its hand. It climbs trees to collect honey from the bee hives. It drops down from the heights if surprised. It eats the méke-méké or itenangwa tubers which grow in the wet parts of the forest. It likes ginger fruit. It demolishes the dead tree trunks in order to remove the larvae. It howls, especially at night, in a more frightening manner than a gorilla, but certain people say that this is the cry of the water chevrotain. Indistinct in the forest, following the crests, most informants say that it does not shelter in caves.
     Among the Bakano and Bakondjo people it is called "Kikomba", among the Bakumu, "Apamándi or Abanaánji". The Warrega call it "Zuluzúgu" and the Batembo "Tshingómbe."
     It is a being reputed to have immense strength, apt to charge at a man simply to wrestle with him or rain blows of a club on him, for it often have the end of a branch or the handle of axe loose in its hand. The sole defense is to play dead. It then goes away in order to look for something to cover the victim's body. That is the moment for the unlucky human to make himself scarce.
     In the neighbourhood of Obaye, in the territory of Walikale, a man is alleged to live with a useless arm as the result of a fight with a Kikomba.
     In making the investigations of the Kakundakari cave near Walikale, a man presented himself who is supported to have been pursued by a Kikomba in January 1960 at Km. 14 [8.7 m] of the mining road leading to the gold mine of Umate. I was able to persuade him to get into my vehicle in order to show me the site. After a run of 60 km. [37 m] we arrived at the exact spot. We ascertained that the vegetation at the side of the road had just been crushed by the step of a man leaving at a right angle to the road towards the interior. At the beginning, a gutter made he impression of a path. After having followed the tracks about a dozen metres, there were no more signs of an advance. We turned back and saw that the being had rejoined the road by a small detour. At the end of several metres following the edge of the road, in a small, flat space covered with fine sand, there was a most impressive plantar footprint. Superficially, it resembled a man's, but it was only 20 cm [8 in] long and very broad. It was also peculiar in that the second digit was much longer than the big toe. A quick investigation permitted us to ascertain that, farther on, the presumed "Kikomba" had regained the trail which crossed the road obliquely at this point.
    In making preparations to photograph this footprint, an formidable storm intervened, and the sole tangible proof was effaced . ..
    The proofs and indications concerning the Kikomba are much less than those collected on the subject of the Kakundakari. But I have still to mention that the section of road Walikale-Osso River, a year previously and accompanied by a score of men, we took information on the subject of a savanna or swamp in the forest called "Ido or Idambo" frequented by bongo antelopes which we were seeking, the men of the site related to my men, such that I could not doubt it, that in establishing a hunting camp at the edge of this "Ido", the occupants of the shelter were invariably disturbed at nighttime by the bad tricks of the kikomba which, during the night would come and tear away the leaves of the roofs and shake the huts. They cited to my men the case of an itinerant trader pursued close to the main road by a Kikomba. In order to save himself, the man threw away his backpack and threw himself into a canoe lying on the bank. The frustrated Kikomba picked up the backpack, opened it, and scattered the contents.
     One is entitled to wonder if the "abominable forest man", the Kikomba or Apamándi is perhaps not the male of the little Kakundakári? It is really regrettable that I could not get information on the subject in earlier years, for it seems they are found in all the unpopulated forests of the central Congo basin where I had traveled a lot in search of the Congo peacock and the bongo antelope. When I questioned the men why they had never spoken to me about it, they replied simply: "You never asked us."
    To those who doubt, or claim to invalidate my revelations on the basis that this region has been prospected and passed through in every direction and that nothing unknown could be hidden there, I reply that the region is an veritable geographic nightmare, extremely difficult to traverse, and that the prospectors are always accompanied by a large number of men who, convinced of the existence of these beings, advance with the loudest noise possible in order to cause them to flee.

Comment.   Of course, the scientific names he coined for them are not valid, because no type specimens are provided. Nevertheless, from the descriptions, they are clearly apes, but what kind? Unlike most of the higher primates, but like most of the bigfoot-type species reported around the world, they are essentially solitary. I therefore doubt his speculation that they represent different sexes of the same species. When the male of a species is twice the size of the female, it is usually because he keeps a harem.
     The author is, of course, correct in his last paragraph. That jungle could hide anything. Let us not forget that it has been only in this current century that the Bili apes - a community of giant chimpanzees - were discovered. (Ironically, they are rather similar to Tarzan's fictional Mangani.) Further east we have the koolookamba which, as I explained elsewhere, is probably an undescribed third species of chimpanzee. You probably imagine that chimpanzees are spread out over the whole of the jungle. Think again! Cordier didn't mention them in his article. Dr Geza Teleki and the Committee for Conservation and Care of Chimpanzees produced a map containing a number of small black blotches indicating known areas, surrounded by heavy stippling for "probable areas", plus a broad stretch of fine stippling, covering most of the forest, for "possible areas". If we know so little about the distribution of our closest relative, which lives in sizeable bands, what else can be out there?

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The Possum Book

I am pleased to provide a link to a website of a friend of mine, Robyn Tracey, who has written a fascinating story about her dealings with brush-tailed possums in the outer suburbs of Sydney. You can download the book for free, or read it on the site. Go to: The Possum Book.

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