May 09, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Extinct Or Not Extinct? Ancient Animals That Just Might Still Be With Us

Is it possible there are large animals in our world that we presume died-out thousands of years ago? Maybe even longer than that, but that are still with us? The answer to that question is: Yes! There is a good chance some such creatures are still with us. Let's take a look at China's version of the United States' Bigfoot. Its name: the Yeren. Next to the legendary fire-breathing dragon, it’s China’s most famous monster: the Yeren, a huge, unidentified ape that almost certainly – in terms of its close proximity – has connections to the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, and the various, large and similar animals said to roam the huge mountains, such as the Nyalmo. While Yeren have been seen in a number of areas of China, certainly the one area – more than any other – that is a hotbed for sightings is Hubei, a province located in central China. It’s a vast place dominated by numerous mountains – including the Daba Mountains and the Wudang Mountains – and the Jianghang Plain. Hubei is also a province through which flows the massive, near-4,000-mile-long Yangtze River.

It’s specifically the western portion of Hubei in which the Yeren has been spotted – an area noted for its dense forest and treacherous mountains. As for what the Yerens are, that is the big question: at the top of the list is Gigantopithecus, a massive, presumed extinct, ape that certainly dwelled in China hundreds of thousands of years ago – and which, perhaps, may not be quite so extinct, after all. Coming in at a close second is the theory that the animal represent some form of huge, and unacknowledged, kind of Orangutan. Interestingly, just like Bigfoot in the United States, the Yeren comes in a variety of colors. Its hair has been described as red, brown, black, and even – on a few occasions – black. As for its height, while most reports describe creatures of around the average height of an adult human male to about eight feet, there are a number of cases involving colossal mountain monsters in excess of ten feet. Despite their imposing appearances, however, the Yeren are said to be relatively placid, quiet creatures that shun humankind. Now, we come to the theme of this article. It's almost certain that the Yerens are really surviving pockets of huge, ancient apes called Gigantopithecus. 


In terms of what is known about Gigantopithecus, we have to travel back in time to a relatively recent period: the 1930s. The immense beast has the thorny problem of nothing less than male impotence to thank for its discovery. For years, Chinese herbalists and doctors (some accredited and some not) have utilized fossilized teeth to create cocktails that, so they claim, can cure the embarrassing ailment of being unable to “get it up.” Since the Chinese landscape is rich in fossilized bones, people have made significant profits from selling such items to apothecaries all across China. It turns out that in 1936 a German man named Ralph von Koenigswald came across a huge fossilized tooth – specifically a molar – in a Hong Kong apothecary. It was highly fortuitous that von Koenigswald was the man that made the discovery, since he was a paleontologist, and instantly recognized the significance of what had fallen into his lap. Not only was the molar giant-sized, von Koenigswald was able to determine it came from a primate – and a large one; a very large one. In the immediate years that followed, von Koenigswald found further such examples and coined the term Gigantopithecus blacki – the former word standing for “gigantic ape” and the latter a reference to a deceased friend Davidson Black.

Von Koenigswald was temporarily, and disastrously, interrupted at the height of the Second World War when he became a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Nevertheless, he was not deterred, and, when the hostilities were over, he continued his quest to understand the true nature and life of Gigantopithecus. As did several other people. One of them was an anatomist named Franz Weidenreich. In his 1946 book, Apes, Giants, and Man, Weidenreich made the controversial assertion that Gigantopithecus may have been far more human-like than ape-like. Chinese scientists also got hot on the trail of Gigantopithecus during this same time frame. Then, in 1956, a massive jawbone of the huge ape was unearthed at a cave in Liucheng, China. The result was that, in a relatively short time, a great deal was learned about this previously unheard of hairy giant. And, today, we can make a very good case that Gigantopithecus does still live, but that it now goes by the Yeren.

Now, onto a huge, vicious monitor lizard that is known as Megalania. As my good friend, cryptozoologist, and zoo-keeper, Richard Freeman, says: "“I would pretty much stake my life on the fact that Megalania still exists – or did until very recently – in the large forests and lagoons of Australia, and that also roamed New Guinea. This was a huge, killer-beast; a massive monitor lizard that exceeded thirty feet in length. In literal terms, this was a classic dragon-type animal." The creature in question went by the official name of Megalania prisca, a huge, vicious, monitor lizard that roamed Australia at least as late as 40,000 years ago. It got its name thanks to one Richard Owen, a paleontologist of the 1800s – a man who has gone down in history as coining the term Dinosauria, or, in English, “terrible reptile.” Generally referred to as just Megalania, its title very appropriately translates to “ancient giant butcher.” Many might consider it utterly absurd to believe that packs of thirty-foot monster-lizards could still exist in stealth, in the wilds of modern-day Australia, and not be found. But, Australian monster-hunter, Rex Gilroy, has been able to put together an extensive dossier of such accounts.

The Australian Museum says of this immense monster – that moved as easily and effortlessly in swamps and lagoons as it did on land – that: “Megalania prisca, the largest terrestrial lizard known, was a giant goanna (monitor lizard). First described from the Darling Downs in Queensland by Sir Richard Owen in 1859, Megalania lived in a variety of eastern Australian Pleistocene habitats - open forests, woodlands and perhaps grasslands. Megalania would have been a formidable reptilian predator like its relative the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia, and may have eaten large mammals, snakes, other reptiles and birds.”

Moving on, there are the words of Following the Nerd: “In 1890 in the village of Euroa, Victoria, a thirty foot lizard terrorized the villagers, resulting in a squad of forty men armed to the teeth going out to hunt it down only to find it had disappeared. They called it a monstrous goanna, something that the Aborigines recorded in their history as the horny-skinned bunyip goanna and it goes right back to the Dreamtime. Now a goanna is a name for a monitor lizard, but nothing the size of these things. Settlers to Australia were warned by the native people to beware of this variety of goanna. These could grow to thirty feet in length and had powerful jaws. To the people these really were dragons come to life and a threat like nothing they had ever faced.” Now and again, a story of a huge lizard in the areas noted above will surface. These huge, deadly lizards were not dinosaurs. But, they just might be surviving pockets of Megalania. With that said, let us take a journey to Loch Ness, Scotland.

One of the theories for what the Nessies of Scotland might be is that they are still-living pockets of ancient marine reptiles known as plesiosaurs. Here's where I veer away from my views above. In this case, I don't think the Nessies are plesiosaurs, but something has lived in Loch Ness for centuries. Whatever they are, we don't know. No doubt, it would be amazing if the Nessies were found to be plesiosaurs, but the available data doesn't suggest that. There’s no doubt that this is the most popular and engaging theory for the Nessies, and one which the Scottish tourist industry, Hollywood, and the media love to promote whenever possible. Unfortunately for those willing to put their money on this admittedly likeable theory, the bad news is that the chances of the Nessies being plesiosaurs are slim to the point of being almost impossible.

First, there is the not insignificant fact that the plesiosaur surfaced around 250 million years ago and died out around 66/65 million years ago. Plesiosaurs, the fossil record has conclusively shown, lived in saltwater environments: our planet’s oceans. Loch Ness, however, is a freshwater loch. Yes, there is evidence of the occasional plesiosaur in a freshwater environment, but the bulk of the cases are not suggestive of entire colonies of the beasts inhabiting freshwater bodies. It’s far more likely and plausible that they wandered into them and died there. And, yes, there are both a freshwater crocodile and a saltwater crocodile. But, the comparison is meaningless without evidence that plesiosaurs were 100 percent comfortable in both freshwater and saltwater.

Still on the matter of extinction vs. non-extinction: let’s take note of the fact that – as the fossil-record shows – there is not a single bit of evidence to suggest plesiosaurs (anywhere on the planet) survived beyond 60-plus million years ago. Yes, we have fossilized examples of plesiosaurs. But, no, they don’t date from – for example, and hypothetically – 20 million years ago, or even 5 or 1 million years ago. They all date from the precise period in which science tells us they came to an end. And even if plesiosaurs did survive – against just about all the odds conceivable – into the modern era, they could not have made their way into Loch Ness until around the end of the last Ice Age. For one simple reason: Loch Ness didn’t exist until then. Up until that time, the area (the Great Glen) was – for all intents and purposes – a vast block of ice. So, if they didn’t enter the Loch until approximately 10,000 years ago, up until that point they must have lived in the ocean waters. But, then there’s the problem of why we haven’t found any ocean-based remains of plesiosaurs dating back – for example – 13,000 or 20,000 years.

If evidence had been found of plesiosaurs off the coast of Scotland, and just before the end of the last Ice Age, each and every one of us should be even a bit impressed. But, nope, the evidence is always tens of millions of years old. If the plesiosaur survived beyond 65 million years ago, why is the evidence to support such a scenario 100 percent absent? Because there is no evidence, that’s why. And, now, we come to the final observation on this monster-matter. Plesiosaurs, despite what some might assume, were not fish. They were reptiles. That means they had to surface to take in oxygen. Crocodiles – which, of course, are also reptiles – can remain underwater for up to around 2-hours at a time. So, keeping that in mind, how about a bit of hypothesizing? 

If the Nessies are plesiosaurs, then let’s say that at any given time there are around twenty of them in the loch, ranging from (a) young and small to (b) large and old. That would be a reasonable figure to ensure the continuation of a healthy herd. Let’s also say they, like crocodiles, can stay submerged, and without taking in oxygen, for up to 2-hours at a time. This means that in any one-day, each plesiosaur would have to surface around twelve times. Twenty plesiosaurs, surfacing twelve times a day (at a minimum, I should stress), would equate to 240 surfacing events every single twenty-four-hour-long period. Multiply that by a week and the figure is elevated to 1,680. Then, multiply that by fifty-two weeks in a year and the figure becomes a massive 87,360 annually. Even if ninety percent of the surfacing events went unnoticed or unreported (for fear of ridicule, perhaps), that would still mean in excess of 8,000 reports per year of every year. But, the fact is that the number of sightings reported per annum equates to barely a handful. And let’s say there are only around ten plesiosaurs at any particular time in the loch (rather than my suggested twenty), well, that still means a potential 43,680 cases of the animals surfacing across 365 days. Finally, there is the matter of Nessie’s famous, long neck. A study of fossilized remains of plesiosaurs has demonstrated that the animals simply were not built to raise their necks high out of the water in the proud and prominent fashion that has been attributed to the Loch Ness Monsters.

So, what can we say about all the above? Well, I think we can dismiss the Nessies as being plesiosaurs. But, something has allowed these mysterious beasts to live for millennia. The same also goes for the Yeren/Gigantopithecus. And, for Megalania, too. Yes, there are ancient creatures still living in our world. We just need to find them.    

Nick Redfern
Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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