We’ve had reason now and again to mention the unusual ape photographed at Yaounde Zoo (in Cameroon) a few times. I finally got round to digging out and scanning the only photo of the animal I’ve seen: it was taken by Peter Jenkins and Liza Gadsby and first appeared in the November 1996 issue of the Newsletter of the Internal Primate Protection League (IPPL). It was later published in issue 100 of Fortean Times.
Jenkins and Gadsby thought that the animal might be a gorilla-chimp hybrid. I can’t help but get this impression too, mostly because the eyes look gorilla-like while the rest of the animal is obviously chimp-like. Apparently little known is that there is a long history of debate over the existence of an alleged gorilla-like chimpanzee, known as the kooloo-kamba (an onomatopoeic reference to its call). W. C. Osman Hill was supporting the distinction of this form (as a Pan troglodytes subspecies) as recently as the late 1960s (Hill 1967, 1969). Supposedly, P. t. kooloo-kamba [originally Troglodytes kooloo-kamba Du Chaillu, 1860; sic: hyphens are not permitted in scientific names] has a gorilla-like nose, ‘an extremely prognathic face’, an entirely black face, and small, black ears. It also lives singly or in small groups, rather than in large troops. It was thought to inhabit Cameroon, Gabon and the former French Congo, and to live alongside chimps of the nominate subspecies (Hill 1967, 1969) [type specimen of P. t. kooloo-kamba (126.96.36.199 of NHM collection) shown below, from Elliot (1913)].
While Hill regarded the kooloo-kamba as a distinctive chimp subspecies, previous authors regarded it as a distinct species somehow ‘intermediate’ between chimps and gorillas, or as the product of gorilla-chimp hybridisation. Supposedly, several individuals were kept in captivity during the late 1800s and ealy 1900s, including ‘Mafuca’ of the Dresden Zoological Garden, and ‘Johanna’ of Barnum and Bailey’s circus collection. There’s a substantial literature on these animals. Some mammalogists said that they were gorillas, others than they were chimps, and others said that they were hybrids, or intermediates (see Shea (1984) and references therein). It has most recently been argued that ‘Mafuca’ was a Bonobo P. paniscus (see de Waal 1997), in which case at least some ‘kooloo-kambas’ were definitely not gorilla-chimp hybrids or intermediates at all.
It does now seem that the kooloo-kambas of the older literature reflect the fact that both gorillas and (especially) chimps are more variable in facial anatomy, body size and overall appearance than many primatologists were once willing to accept. Chimps of some populations, for example, are larger, darker-skinned, and superficially more ‘gorilla-like’ than many of the chimps first brought back to Europe, but this doesn’t mean that such animals are hybrids, or intermediates. Indeed, Shea (1984) concluded that the ‘kooloo-kambas’ present in osteological collections are either large male chimps, or small female gorillas. Various other controversial African apes – most notably the Pygmy gorilla Pseudogorilla mayéma (see Groves 1985) [shown here, photo ©, by B. Heuvelmans] – also tell us more about our poor understanding of variation, and don’t necessarily point to the presence of additional distinct taxa.
Having said all that, the possibility that some ‘kooloo-kambas’ or kooloo-kamba-like apes really were or are hybrids, or new taxa, does still exist. Could individuals like the Yaounde Zoo animal shown above really be hybrids? I don’t know: opinions gratefully received. Incidentally, if you’re wondering how the ‘Bili apes’ of DRC fit into all this, see the previous Tet Zoo comment here.
For previous Tet Zoo articles on apes and other primates see…
- Chimpanzees make and use spears
- Probably not a sasquatch
- Bipedal orangs, gait of a dinosaur, and new-look Ichthyostega: exciting times in functional anatomy part I
- When I grow up, I want to be a functional anatomist: functional anatomy part III
- Chinese black rhinos and deinotheres, giant sengis, and yet more new lemurs
- One-eyed indri
- The Cultured Ape, and Attenborough on gorillas
- Zihlman’s ‘pygmy chimpanzee hypothesis’
- Encounters with gigantic orangutans
Refs – –
de Waal, F. 1997. Bonobo, the Forgotten Ape. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Elliot, D. G. 1913. A review of the primates, volume III: Anthropoidea (Miopithecus to Pan). American Museum of Natural History, New York.
Groves, C. P. 1985. The case of the pygmy gorilla: a cautionary tale for cryptozoology. Cryptozoology 4, 37-44.
Hill, W. C. O. 1967. The taxonomy of the genus Pan. In Starck, D., Schneider, R. & Kuhn, H. (eds) Neue Ergebnisse der Primatologie. Fisher, Stuttgart, pp. 47-54.
– . 1969. The nomenclature, taxonomy, and distribution of chimpanzees. In Bourne, G. H. (ed) The Chimpanzee, Vol. 1. Karger, Basel, pp. 22-43.
Shea, B. T. 1984. Between the gorilla and the chimpanzee: a history of debate concerning the existence of the kooloo-kamba or gorilla-like chimpanzee. Journal of Ethnobiology 4, 1-13.