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De Loys Ape : An Anthropological Fraud

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The Ape of De Loys was a well-played anthropological ruse

De Loys Ape : Louis François Fernand Hector de Loys was a Swiss geologist who pioneered the exploration of oil fields in Europe, Africa, and America.

Unfortunately, de Loys is now better recognised for a bizarre photography narrative than for his geological expertise.

In 1920, a group of tired men, including de Loys, arrived at the Tarra River, a tributary of the Rio Catatumbo in the Venezuelan-Colombian borders.

They were the sole survivors of the “Colon Development”– mission, which vanished in 1917 while conducting geological fieldwork in the Sierra de Perijeé highlands.

The men didn’t find any oil, but they did have an unusual encounter with an unknown species.

De Loys came across two huge monkeys with reddish fur and no tail near the Rio Tarra’s beaches one day.

Stranger still, the two beasts stood up and slowly approached the expedition, plainly furious, shouting, flailing their arms, and hurling their own excrement at the terrified men.

The males decided to defend themselves and fired a shot at the two apes, killing the female.

De Loys took numerous shots of the body and attempted to preserve the skull because he had never seen such enormous monkeys before.

The bones, however, began to degrade quickly, and all but one image were lost.

De Loys forgot about the only surviving snapshot when he returned home.

Years later, this photograph was accidently uncovered by a friend, Swiss anthropologist George Alexis Montandon.

The species in the photograph had characteristics that were not observed in American monkeys, such as an upright stance, the lack of a tail, and, most notably, its enormous size.

The prospect of an unknown species of giant ape or possibly hominid still existing in South America piqued Montandon’s interest.

However, Montandon’s scientific designation of the species as Ameranthropoides loysi – de Loys’ American human-like ape – was met with fierce opposition.

The shot, according to British naturalist Sir Arthur Keith, merely depicted a type of spider monkey native to the investigated region, Ateles belzebuth, with its tail cut off or hidden in the photo.

Spider monkeys are ubiquitous in South America, towering about 110cm (3.5 feet) tall when upright.

De Loys, on the other hand, had measured his ape at 157cm (5 feet), which was significantly greater than any known species.

Unfortunately, other than a weird box on which the corpse was positioned, the size of the pictured animal cannot be compared to other objects.

Many published versions of the photo were also altered, or the image itself was cropped, exaggerating the ape’s impression.

De Loys himself was apprehensive about publicising the narrative behind the photograph.

The creature or following studies are not included in the expedition’s official report, which was released in 1929.

After being compelled by Montandon, De Loys only acknowledged it once, in a sensationalistic piece titled “Found at Last — The First American” that appeared in the Illustrated London News (not a very reliable journal).

Historians Pierre Centlivres and Isabelle Girod released a paper in 1998 claiming that anthropologist Montandon had concocted the entire account of the odd encounter.

Montandon was swayed by racist theories about human evolution that were common at the time, and he claimed a polyphyletic origin for humans.

Local human races are descended from local monkey species, according to this pseudo-scientific notion.

Africans descended from gorillas, while Asians descended from orangutans, according to him.

A missing link, such as the alleged Ameranthropoides, would have verified his prejudiced theory of human evolution by demonstrating an evolutionary line between spider monkeys and Indians.

The most likely explanation currently is that “de Loys’ ape” is a photoshopped photograph of a common spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth) used by Montandon to promote his theory of human evolution.

A detail in the full view of the photo supports this theory: stumps of non-native, cultivated Banana trees can be seen, which would be impossible if the encounter took place in the middle of the unknown jungle.

Finally, in 1999, the Venezuelan scientific publication Interciencia released a letter written by Doctor Enrique Tejera in 1962 to the editor of the magazine Diario El Universal, Guillermo José Schael:

De Loys continued his promising geological career despite his role in the deception (he donated the photo and the tale and later never concluded the issue).

He joined a Turkish Petroleum Company in 1926 and developed relationships with geologists and scientists all around the world.

In 1928, he was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of London, and he soon travelled to Iraq to explore the local geology and potential oil reserves.

He contracted Syphilis here and moved to Lausanne, France, where he died young on October 16, 1935.

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