For as long as we have explored the uncharted and unknown places of our world there have always been stories that have trickled back to civilization of strange and wondrous creatures populating the wildernesses beyond what we know. Explorers have throughout the centuries come back from their travels with all manner of strange and fantastical tales of the creatures they have encountered out over the horizon, many of which serve to stoke the imagination and make us wonder just what lurks out there in the remote places of our world. On occasion, these explorers will bring back supposed evidence of these encounters, and one such case is that of an explorer in the jungles of South America, who would bring back a photograph of a curious creature that has become iconic in the world of cryptozoology, and has served to incite debate on whether it is real or an elaborate hoax.

In the early 1900s, a Swiss oil geologist by the name of François de Loys was surveying a remote region of South America and would allegedly come across an odd finding that would shake the world of zoology at the time. From 1917 to 1920, De Loys was in the process of searching for petroleum along an isolated stretch of mostly uncharted jungle in an area near Lake Maracaibo, on the border of Colombia and Venezuela, along with an expedition of 20 members. It would prove to be a disastrous expedition, as in the process of slogging through mosquito choked, nearly impenetrable jungle inhabited by aggressive natives and dangerous animals, only four of the expedition would make it out of the perilous wilderness alive. Although the expedition had met up with tragic circumstances, it is mostly known for an alleged curious encounter. During this dangerous trek, the group made their way to the shores of the remote Tarra River, where they set up camp. It was here along the shores of the river that De Loys would claim that two strange reddish primates, one male and one female, would emerge from the jungle to approach the expedition. They were described as looking like very large monkeys, standing around 1.57 meters tall, only without tails and walking about in an unusual upright, bipedal manner. The two mystery primates were said to have been quite bold and seemingly a bit perturbed at the presence of humans in their jungle domain, howling and waving their arms about wildly. As they approached closer, the two creatures reportedly became even more aggressive, defecating into their hands and flinging the excrement at the startled men of the expedition and tossing stones. The increasingly frightened men soon decided that things had gone far enough and fired upon the strange ape-like creatures, killing the female and sending the male to scurry away into the thick underbrush.

De Loys was fascinated by the whole ordeal, having never seen such large monkeys before in South America, and certainly none that had no tails and walked around like men. Although the jungles were crawling with monkeys, there had never been any species of ape in South America, and this is precisely what the creatures seemed to be. Further examination of the corpse would show that it had a human-like tooth count of 32 teeth rather than the 36 more common to the New World monkeys of the region. In fact, the creature was profoundly different from any known South American primate. Perplexed, De Loys had the strange ape propped up on a crate with a stick wedged under its chin and took a series of photographs of it, after which he had it skinned in order to preserve the hide and skull as physical evidence of the encounter. As the expedition pressed further into the vast wilderness and met with more hardship and perils, it is said that all of the photographs but one were lost, and that the group was forced to get rid of the skin and skull of the creature. All that would remain was a single photo of the “ape” sitting on the crate.

De Loys would survive the harrowing expedition which had killed most of his men, and when he returned home to Europe he would not give another thought to the matter of the strange ape they had shot. It was not until 1929 that an anthropologist by the name of George Montandon would come across the photo of the beast while sifting through De Loys’ records in an attempt to hunt down information on the indigenous tribes of the region. Montandon thought the photograph to be of great zoological and anthropological importance, perhaps evidence of a South American ape or even some sort of hominid, which led him to pursue study of the creature. De Loys finally came forth with his bizarre account in the Illustrated London News of June 15, 1929, which would be followed by several legitimate scientific articles on the matter and would lead to the creature actually acquiring the scientific name Ameranthropoides loysi, which was suggested by Montandon himself.

With all of the talk of this amazing new discovery and the official scientific naming of a new South American ape based on a single photograph, there was immediate skepticism that spread across the scientific community. Several red flags were apparent from the start. First was the fact that there was only one photograph of the mystery ape. De Loys claimed that more had been taken, but that they had been lost on the ill-fated expedition. It was also claimed that the hide and skull of the creature, which would have settled the matter once and for all, had indeed been kept, but that they had been lost due to accidents, decomposition, and the fact that the skull had been corroded away by being used as a container for salt. The lack of any remains meant that it was impossible to physically verify what the primate was, or corroborate De Loys’ claims about its unusual tooth count. Furthermore, the photo itself was highly suspicious. The creature had only been photographed from the front, making it impossible to determine if it had a tail or not, which could have been hidden or even cut off, and there was little apparent in the photograph to give a sense of scale, so the true size could not be determined. Making things worse was the fact that many published versions of the infamous photograph had been cropped in such a way as to make the ape look more enigmatic and mysterious, and with the vegetation in the background removed.

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De Loys' Ape

Later research would cast more suspicion on the photograph, when what appears to be the stump of a banana tree was noticed on the right side of the photo. Since banana trees are not native to the jungles of South America, and would certainly not have made their way to this isolated area, this observation casts doubt on whether the photo was even taken where De Loys claimed to begin with. In addition to all of these suspicious factors, there were naturalists who stated the obvious, that the primate in the photo looked exactly like a spider monkey, of which there were many species in the region and were very common. Although spider monkeys are smaller than the purported size of the ape and have very prominent tails, the condition of the photograph makes it impossible to determine the size and possession of a tail with the mystery creature, and so we have only De Loys' word to go on.

To be fair, DeLoys himself did very little to play up the mystery factor of the creature and the photo, remaining rather quiet about the whole thing, and indeed he only mentioned it once in passing for the article in the Illustrated London News entitled Found at Last – The First American, which was a rather bold, sensationalist piece expounding on how the missing link had been found in South America. Indeed, the publication was reminiscent of a tabloid of the time, and even in this case, De Loys had been pressured into doing the article by Montandon. In fact, De Loys was generally rather reluctant to discuss the matter of the ape encounter at all, indeed even leaving it out of the official published record of the expedition. The main driving force behind promoting the discovery of the bipedal ape, Ameranthropoides loysi, was Montandon, and it would turn out that he had serious potential ulterior motives for doing so.

Montandon was a known, outspoken racist, and endorsed a twisted view of human evolution in which it was believed that humans had evolved independently from whatever ape species lived in a certain geographical area, an idea known as “hologenisis.” For instance, according to the theory gorillas had evolved into Africans, orangutans into Asians, and so on, which was an idea that neatly fit into the overall popular racist notions of human evolution at the time. In this pseudo-scientific theory, the existence of a large South American ape such as Ameranthropoides loysi would show that the people of South America had evolved from this “missing link,” and would go a long way towards propagating and confirming these misguided ideas on human evolution. Considering this, it has been suggested that the whole story of “De Loys’ Ape” was merely an elaborate fraud perpetuated by Montandon himself to further promote and spread his racist theory of evolution. This notion of the De Loys’ Ape as a tool by Montandon for an erroneous racist school of evolutionary thought was first championed by such eminent cryptozoologists as Loren Coleman and Michel Raynal in 1996, and further written about by historians Pierre Centlivres and Isabelle Girod in 1998.

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A spider monkey

Further driving the nail into the coffin of the Ameranthropoides loysi discovery was a letter published in the the July-August 1999 edition of the Venezuelan scientific magazine Interciencia. The letter, first written in 1962 to the editor of the magazine Diario El Universal, was authored by a Doctor Enrique Tejera, who claimed to have been on the very same expedition in which De Loys had allegedly found the ape, and in no uncertain terms denounced the entire affair as a flat-out hoax. In the letter, Tejera describes how De Loys was an insufferable prankster who was prone to trickery and laughing at his own jokes. It was explained that during the expedition, De Loys had adopted a spider monkey with a handicapped tail that was subsequently amputated, a procedure which Tejera claimed to have personally witnessed. De Loys had then allegedly kept the monkey as a pet, naming it el hombre mono (the monkey man), until it sadly died. De Loys had then decided to take a picture of his dead companion propped up on a box, and it was this photograph that had become the basis of the whole “discovery” of a South American anthropoid ape. Tejera also claimed that the photograph had been modified and manipulated so as to hide the surrounding vegetation, make the box on which it was perched as nondescript as possible, and create the illusion that the mystery primate looked much larger than it really was. The letter ends on the note that Montandon was “not a good person,” and was executed during the war for betraying his home country of France.

Considering all of this, it seems clear that the story and photo of Ameranthropoides loysi was an elaborate hoax perpetuated by Montandon, very likely for a racist agenda, and that the photograph is a cleverly crafted and manipulated illusion that shows merely a dead, tailless spider monkey arranged to make it seem more mysterious than it really is. Unfortunately, despite all of the evidence that points to this being an obvious hoax, as well as the denouncement as such by such eminent cryptozoologists as Loren Coleman, Karl Shuker, and Ivan T. Sanderson, there are still those who truly believe that the photograph could be of a new type of South American ape, and that De Loys’ account was possibly true, with Tejera's testimony unable to be proven as true. Indeed, it is still discussed by some cryptozoologists as being a possible real cryptid, perhaps a specimen of a large extinct species of spider monkey called Protopithecus brasiliensis, or of a large South American primate-like cryptid called the Mono Grande. However, although there are those who wish to keep the mystery alive and discuss De Loys’ mystery ape as a real potential cryptid, the vast majority of evidence seems to clearly show that this is a hoax, and shows just how enduring these deceptions can be. The debate has continued right up into the present, despite the general consensus, even among cryptozoologists, that this is a clear hoax, and whatever De Loys really found out there, if anything, will remain something that will likely always remain something with the concrete answer locked away in the mists of time, the potential evidence long gone and only a single photograph to go on.

Brent Swancer
Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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