Deep in the jungles of Congo lives a huge band of giant apes that kill lions, go fishing and howl at the moon—or at least that’s what the local hunters claim. However, up until fairly recently, scientists were unable verify those bizarre accounts.
The supposed location of the strange animals was at the center of a bloody civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which meant that the mystery apes were almost completely inaccessible to western scientists. Reaching the region also means traversing the heart of a nearly impenetrable forest.
But despite the difficulties, a handful of scientists have verified the existence of the animals. In truth, the animals are nearly as strange as the locals described them. Scientists have also been able to confirm that they are not gorillas, or a hybrid resulting from Gorillas and chimps mating (as once suspected), but rather they are a sub-species of gigantic chimps with their own unique culture.
Just as the locals claimed, they seem to have a taste for large predator cats. Normally, it is chimps that would be hunted by these fierce predators, but these super-strong, super-sized primates don’t seem to be worried.
Researcher Cleve Hicks, of the University of Amsterdam, spent 18 months in the field watching the “Bili apes”, which were named after a local town. At one point his team of trackers heard the chimps calling for several days from the same spot. When he investigated, Hicks came across a chimp feasting on a leopard.
"What we have found is this completely new chimpanzee culture," said Hicks.
Unlike their cousins, these chimps regularly bed down for the night in nests on the ground. Other chimps are known to nest high up in trees where they are safe from predators.
"How can they get away with sleeping on the ground when there are lions, leopards, golden cats around as well as other dangerous animals like elephants and buffalo?" asks Hicks.
"I don't like to paint them as being more aggressive, but maybe they prey on some of these predators and the predators kind of leave them alone."
The big chimps even seem to be unaffected by the poison arrows used by locals, which are lethal to their smaller cousins. However, Hicks is quick to point out that in spite of their strength they are not known to be aggressive towards humans. To the contrary, researchers have reported that the chimps seem to “recognize” humans as similar creatures and behave with curiosity rather than hostility.
Colin Groves, an expert on primate morphology at the Australian National University in Canberra who has observed the nests in the field says that the strange sub-species is in a category of their own.
"The ground nests were very big and there was obviously something very unusual going on there."
Posted by Rebecca Sato
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