What mystery lies behind the Loys’ ape?

The strange creature resembled a hominid, lacked a tail like a monkey, had 32 teeth, and stood between 1.60 and 1.65 meters tall.
What mystery lies behind the Loys' ape? 1

The loys’ ape, or Ameranthropoides loysi (unofficial), was a strange creature similar to a monkey shot dead by Swiss geologist François de Loys in 1917 on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. The creature resembled a hominid, lacked a tail like a monkey, had 32 teeth, and stood between 1.60 and 1.65 meters tall.

The rare version of the complete photography of de Loys´ ape – “Ameranthropoides loysi”, from 1929
The rare version of the complete photography of de Loys’ ape – “Ameranthropoides loysi”, from 1929 © Wikimedia Commons

François de Loys was leading an oil exploration expedition near the Tarra and Maracaibo Rivers when two creatures approached their group. François de Loys fired at the creatures in an attempt to defend themselves. The male fled into the jungle, and the female was killed by a car. The creature was photographed, and de Loys saved the images.

When François de Loys returned to Switzerland, he told no one about the creature. However, in 1929, anthropologist George Montadon discovered the photo while looking for information in Loys’ notes on indigenous tribes in South America and convinced Loys to publish it in an English newspaper.

Several papers about the mysterious creature were later published in France, and George Montadon proposed its scientific name to the French Academy of Sciences.

A Speculative Interpretation of the Event, the other primate depicted at the back with holding a Tool (art by Kosemen)
A Speculative Interpretation of the Event, the other primate depicted at the back with holding a Tool © Fandom

However, Montandon’s scientific description of the species as Ameranthropoides loysi – de Loys’ American human-like ape – was met with harsh criticism. According to British naturalist Sir Arthur Keith, the photograph only depicted a species of spider monkey, Ateles belzebuth, native to the explored region, with its tail intentionally cut off or hidden in the photograph.

Spider monkeys are common in South America, standing nearly 110cm (3.5 feet) tall when upright. De Loys, on the other hand, had measured his ape at 157cm (5 feet) – significantly larger than all known species.

Montandon was enthralled by the ape. He proposed the name Ameranthropoides loysi in three separate articles for scientific journals. However, scientists were sceptical.

Historians Pierre Centlivres and Isabelle Girod published an article in 1998 claiming that the entire story of the strange encounter was a hoax perpetrated by anthropologist Montandon due to his racist view of human evolution.

Francois de Loys (1892-1935) probably before Venezuela expedition 1917
Francois de Loys (1892-1935) probably before Venezuela expedition 1917 © Wikimedia Commons

Who was this de Loys guy, and what proof did he have that the ape wasn’t just a spider monkey? Was he even sure the photograph was taken in South America?

That is one of the mysteries. Aside from the question of what kind of primate de Loys’ ape is, if it is an ape, is it a South American ape? There are no native apes in the Americas, only monkeys. Africa is home to chimps, gorillas, and bonobos, while Asia is home to orangutans, gibbons, and siamangs. If de Loys did discover a previously unknown ape in South America, it would fundamentally alter our understanding of ape evolution.

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