The Venezuelan Ape Man

Venezuelan Ape Man

Above: A supposedly tailless, five-foot tall ape photographed in Venezuela by François de Loys, a Swiss geologist, sometime around 1920. The picture caused an uproar in the scientific community, because only monkeys, not apes, are believed to inhabit the Americas. If genuine, the finding of such an ape would have thrown into confusion the accepted theory of primate evolution.

According to de Loys, he encountered the ape when he was exploring the Venezuelan wilderness between 1917 and 1920. He had reached the Catatumbo River in the Sierra de Perija forest when two red-haired apes wandered out of the forest and confronted him. They walked upright, like humans, were approximately five-foot tall, and had no tails. Furthermore, they appeared angry, and began throwing dirt at the group of explorers, as if preparing to attack. De Loys immediately picked up his rifle and shot one of them. The other ape fled back into the forest.

Realizing that an American ape was an important zoological find, de Loys took a picture of the creature seated on an oil can, a long stick holding up its head. He then did his best to preserve the creature's remains, though he lacked the necessary tools to do so.

Months later, de Loys made it back to civilization. Unfortunately, by this time he had lost the ape's remains during an attack by a group of Motilones Indians. However, he still had the picture.

Nine years later an account of de Loys' encounter with the tailless ape, accompanied by the above photograph, was published in the Illustrated London News. It immediately caused a scientific uproar.

The Paris Academy of Sciences met to discuss de Loys' discovery. The accepted theory of primate evolution held that apes and humans had evolved only in the Old World (in Africa, in particular). The discovery of a New World ape would have seriously complicated this theory.

After long deliberation and discussion of the evidence, the scientists decided that the picture taken by de Loys did not display a species of ape. Instead, it showed a sapajou, a common New World monkey. The only evidence that it was not a sapajou was its size (for which they only had de Loys' word), and its lack of a tail (which de Loys could have concealed or cut off).

It is not clear whether de Loys intended to intentionally hoax the scientific community, or whether he really did discover an unusual creature inhabiting the forests of Venezuala. Since no concrete evidence has emerged in the decades following de Loys' discovery to demonstrate the existence of such a creature, it seems likely that de Loys was either mistaken about what he saw or that his picture was a deliberate hoax.

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