The Controversial Discovery of de Loys Ape
de Loys Ape Published: 9:28 AM - 03-01-11

Louis Franšois Fernand Hector de Loys, (1892-1935) was a Swiss geologist pioneer of the young science of oil fields prospecting. He travelled extensively and collected experience in Europe, Africa and America during the golden age of oil exploration. Unfortunately, de Loys is less known for his geological achievements than for a strange story about a strange photograph.

In 1920, a handful of exhausted men reached the bank of the Tarra River, a tributary of the Rio Catatumbo in the borderlands of Venezuela and Colombia. They were all what remained of a group of 20 prospectors of the Netherland oil company "Colon Development", which had ventured in the Sierra de PerijeÚ, a range of mountains, in 1917.

In charge of the expedition, de Loy intended to geologically map and study the region for a planned exploitation of the suspected oil reserves.

The area was not only a dangerous jungle infested with tropical beasts of prey, parasites and diseases, but also inhabited by the hostile Motilones Indians. They decimated one after another of the members of the expedition. It seemed already that the expedition was a failure, but in the last part a strange encounter occurred.

One day de Loys spotted at the shores of the Rio Tarra, two large, bipedal monkeys covered with reddish fur and without tails. The two threatening animals walked upright and begun to approach the expedition, visibly irritated, shouting, brandishing with the arms and finally defecating in their own hands and using the excrements as projectiles against the expedition. Finally the frightened men decided to respond to the attack, so they shot in direction of the two apes and killed was seemed a female, meanwhile the male escaped in the jungle.

Since de Loys and his people had never seen such large monkeys, he tried to preserve the skull and take various photos of the body. However, soon the skull begun to decay and during a trip on the river the boat capsized and most of the photos of the animal were lost.

When de Loys finally returned home with the only remaining evidence, a single photography which he treasured in his notebook, he forgot about his annoying encounter with the unknown monkeys. Only years later a friend, the Swiss anthropologist George Alexis Montandon (1879-1944), accidentally rediscovered the photo.

Considering the supposed dimension of the box (45-50cm high) visible in the photography the height of the animal was estimated to range from 150 to 160cm. This seemed to confirm the measurements by Loys (157cm). Based on the dimension and the unusual human-like characteristics, especially the missing tail, in 1929 Montandon published a detailed description of the ape, which he considered a genuine species named "Ameranthropoides loysi", de Loys' American human-like ape.

The animal in the photograph displays characteristics that are not found in the monkeys of the new world, like the upright posture, the absence of a tail and 32 teeth (after the description of de Loys).

Montandon was fascinated from this sensational discovery of a supposed unknown ape species and began to collect anecdotes and legends of great apes present in remote places of South America not specifically the region of the supposed encounter.

In two stone statues of the Maya period large, 1,5m high apelike figures are pictured. Among the tribe of the "Caribi" of Guyana there is a widespread belief in the "kanaima", demons which roam the jungle armed with clubs, assaulting whoever dares to enter their reign. In Colombia these creatures are called "didi" and described as half man and half monkey. In Brazil and Venezuela there are legends of the "vastiri".

In the book "Natural History of Guiana", published by Dr. Edward Bancroft in 1769, there is a description of an encounter with a creature like an "orang-utan", and naturalist George Edwards in "A study of anthropoid life" (1757) depicts a strange ape-like creature resembling the modern photograph.

However, this publication of Ameranthropoides became accepted only by the French scientific establishment. In contrast it aroused a violent controversy by scientists from Great Britain and North America. The eminent English naturalist Sir Arthur Keith for example, affirmed that the photo showed only a species of spider monkey - Ateles Belzebuth native in the region- with the tail deliberately cut off or hidden in the photograph.

The simplest explanation, the possibility that the photo was a fraud, was refused on base of the good reputation of De Loys:

"It is sure that Francois de Loys was a man of strict science and responsibility, optimistic and friendly and featuring an intrepid spirit of adventure. It seems unlikely that such a scientist may have perpetuated the fraud of the Ameranthropoides only to gain fame. There are sufficient reasons to affirm that de Loys was not a liar, especially one unimpeachable document as the original photo taken at a time when photography and image manipulation did not exist at all."

This statement is surely too optimistic. Photo manipulation is as old as the art of photography and the dimension or characteristics of the animal in many cropped versions of the photography can not be compared to other objects apart from the strange box.

De Loys himself was very reluctant promoting the story, in the official publication of 1929 by De Loys himself about the geological expedition there is no mention of the creature or subsequent research, he published only, hustled by Montadon, an article in the Illustrated London News.

In 1998 Pierre Centlivres and Isabelle Girod finally published an article suggesting that the entire story was an idea by anthropologist Montandon.

If the myths and rumours of large ape-like creature in South America have a zoological explanation, the photo of de Loys surely has nothing to do with them.

Despite his role in the prank, (he contributed the photo and the story and later never resolved the case), he continued his promising career in the field of exploration geology.

He contracted syphilis, returned to the town of Lausanne in France where he died on October 16, 1935.

Edited by: Brenda Booth

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