What looks like a chimpanzee, eats like a chimpanzee, seldom climbs trees and makes nests on the ground like a gorilla? The answer is, nobody is quite sure.
Part of the problem in identifying these peculiar animals is that some of their behaviors appear to be more like those of gorillas, which currently do not seem to inhabit the region.
Skulls brought to Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren in 1908 were re-examined in 1970 and anthropologist Colin Groves determined that they were identical to the skulls of western gorillas. A much more recent skull recovered by wildlife photographer and conservationist Karl Ammann had the pronounced forehead ridge characteristic of gorillas while the rest of the skull bore a remarkable resemblance to those of chimpanzees.
Adding to the confusion is the animals’ diet. Unlike gorillas, which generally dine on various types of leaves, analysis fecal material shows that the mystery apes eat a diet rich in fruit.
Efforts are underway to determine whether these animals, known as Bondo mystery apes, are giant chimpanzees, some type of chimpanzee-gorilla hybrid, or an as-yet unidentified new subspecies of great ape. They are reclusive, like gorillas, and no live animals have been captured. Ammann is in the process of habituating a group of these ground-nesting chimps by offering them sugar cane.
The world of the great apes still holds mysteries. Are these animals chimpanzees who have somehow incorporated gorilla-like behaviors into their culture, or are they some completely new type of animal that developed its own unique adaptations to its environment? Karl Ammann is devoting his efforts toward finding answers. It will be interesting to see what he finds out.
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