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Bigfoot News Stories...

October 7th 2004

Giant Ape may be new species

The Advertiser - Adelaide

An elusive giant ape has been spotted in remote forests in central Africa, sparking theories that it could be a new species of primate - a finding that would be the most astonishing wildlife discovery in decades, New Scientist says.

In a report published in next Saturday's issue, the British weekly says the mysterious creatures have been seen in forests around the towns of Bondo and Bili, in the far north of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

From the rare eyewitness sightings, bone discoveries and a video recording, the animals have large, black faces, are up to 2m tall and weighs between 85-102kg.

That would put them in the size category of gorillas - but the region lies 500km from the edges of the known habitats of the western and eastern species of gorilla.

The creature's face is gorilla-like and has a sagittal crest - a long bony ridge - that is typical of gorillas.

But other aspects of the skull morphology are that of a chimpanzee, according to Colin Groves, an expert at the Australian National University in Canberra.

As for behaviour, the apes make nests on the ground like gorillas, whereas chimpanzees prefer to make their homes in the trees. But, unlike gorillas, which hate water and prefer to build a new nest every night, these primates make their beds in swampy ground and reuse them night after night.

Faeces recovered from the nest sites indicated an animal with a diet rich in fruit, which is typical of chimps.

Shelly Williams, a US primatologist affiliated to the Jane Goodall Institute in Maryland, captured the apes on video in 2002 with the help of local people and was once briefly confronted by a group of four of them in dense forest.

This, along with other evidence, makes her think that there is a chance the animals could be a new species of great primate - in other words, an undiscovered genetic relative of humans.

Other possibilities are that it is a gorilla-chimp hybrid, or a new sub-species of chimp that would be 50 per cent bigger than its largest cousins.

Anecdotal evidence about the unusual apes dates back to photos taken by European hunters in 1898, when the region was the Belgian Congo.

The trail was then picked up in 1996 by Karl Ammann, a Kenyan-based Swiss photographer, who was intrigued by local tales that the forests were inhabited by large ferocious apes that could kill lions.

Unlike gorillas, which invariably charge when they see a threat, these apes turn around and silently slip away into the forest when encountered, says Mr Ammann.

The discovery of these apes "reveals just how much we still have to learn about our closest living relatives," New Scientist notes, expressing concern that animals could be "poached out of existence" unless conservation measures are urgently taken to protect them.

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