The island of Borneo is large, isolated and covered with dense jungles, so it’s no surprise a fair share of unusual, mythological and cryptozoological creatures are linked to it. New real mammals, reptiles and insects are being found there regularly, but a recent discovery seems to reside on the border between real and cryptid – photos from the Malaysian section of Borneo taken since 2017 show what scientists are calling a “mystery monkey” because it’s not one on the list of known species. Could it be a miniature form of Borneo’s famous Batutut cryptid?
"She appeared to be nursing a baby. We were all in awe, it was quite surreal."
Nadine Ruppert, a primatologist at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (Science University of Malaysia) and co-author of a study on the “mystery monkey” published in the International Journal of Primatology didn’t have the creature positively identified yet in 2020 when she saw a photo but knew it was already reproducing. The creature was first photographed in 2017 near the Kinabatangan River in Malaysian Borneo, but the coronavirus shutdown prevented Ruppert or any other primatologists from searching for it in person. (Photos can be seen here.) While they waited for more photos, they could only speculate what it might be.
Could it be a Batutut or Ujit? The "forest people” or Wild Men of Borneo are said to inhabit the Vu Quang nature reserve and other wilderness areas of Vietnam, Laos and northern Borneo. While some who have searched for it believe the Batutut could be a tiny hidden population of Homo erectus or Neanderthals, others think it’s a variation of the American Bigfoot, while skeptics say it’s a new or misidentified ape or monkey. The bipedal Batutut is said to range from four to seven feet in height and is covered with various colors of hair everywhere except on its feet, hands, face and knees. Diet consists of both meat and fruits and the Batutut has been reportedly seen in groups.
With more photos arriving in 2020, Ruppert and others knew this was a small primate (probably too small to be a Batutut) but it didn’t match any known monkeys. However, it looked a little bit like two of them -- a proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) and a silvery langur (Trachypithecus cristatus). Before you jump to a conclusion, the researchers initially ruled out a probiscus-langur hybrid because they belong to different genera and don’t even look like each other – the proboscis monkeys are larger and famous for their long, fleshy noses, while the silvery langurs are less than half their size with small black faces and even smaller noses. Finally, hybrid offspring from such remotely related species are generally sterile and the photo clearly showed the strange female with a baby. Anyone whose tiny female dog got loose and visited the huge barking beast next door knows where this is going.
"We concluded from the observations that the photographers made that male proboscis monkeys are mating with female silver langurs in the area and that there are mixed groups where female proboscis monkeys even take care of silver langur babies."
The male proboscis monkeys are far bigger than the silvery langur males so they’re winning the alpha male fights over the female silvery langurs. While their natural habitats are separate with just a little overlapping, both are shrinking due to human encroachment and expanding palm oil plantations, so male proboscis monkeys kicked out by the dominant alphas are making due with female langurs. The end result is battles for food, space and mates creating an unusual hybrid species of necessity – not exactly what nature or evolution intended. Humans long ago created the derogatory term “bastardization” for such situations, but Ruppert hopes we’ve evolved beyond that … at least in the jungles of Borneo.
"I hope that people will start talking about her, not as an attraction, but as a 'flagship' animal of the area that needs to be protected, and with her, her two parent species and their habitat."
Good luck with that. In a way, it might have been better if the creature really was a Batutut.