Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 11th, 2006
Could the “North American Apes” (Napes) have come over from Africa via slave ships?
Napes is the term I coined to gather the names of Skunk Apes, Boogers, Swamp Apes, and other cryptid anthropoids from the SE USA under one umbrella moniker. I see Napes as a form of unknown ape, and not the Neo-Giant, not the classic Bigfoot.
I began talking about these ideas some four decades ago, and presented formally in various public talks even before writing about them in later books and contributed chapters. For example, I gave “The Occurrence of Wild Apes in North America,” as a slide-lecture to the Biogeography Seminar, Zoology Department, University of Illinois, Urbana, in May 1973; and at the Fortfest 73, The International Fortean Organization, Silver Springs, Maryland, in August 1973. This paper later founded the basis of a detailed referenced chapter in Vladimir Markotic’s book and then, with popularized revisions, in several other places.
The ultimate question I was trying to theorize about was “From Where Cometh the Napes?” If I considered it a possibly that a free-ranging, swimming, nocturnal great ape (not a monkey, please note) exists in many parts of the southern United States, how, I asked myself, did it get here? If we consider only the historical written records, the appearance of the ape in these locations may be significant in the context of their possible introduction from Africa, just as the slaves were introduced specifically in the southeast USA.
During the last forty years, I have entertained numerous theories as to the Napes’ origins. But I have most often returned to the under-explored slave ship concept. Did the Napes come over in the 1700s and 1800s, with ships carrying slaves and cargo from Africa? While slave-trading between Africa and the United States began in the early 1600s, it did not become routine until after the invention of the cotton gin in the 1790s.
The peak time of slave ships to the Atlantic passage was between the 17th and 18th century when large plantations developed in the English colonies of North America. Over 30,000 voyages were made from America to Africa to capture slaves. They often returned with more than human cargo.
It is possible that some chimpanzees, or a subspecies, might have been brought over then, since slave ship captains did keep chimps as pets. In fact, the first chimpanzee to reach a zoo in England was brought to Bristol in the autumn of 1834 by a Captain Wood, who had picked it up on the Gambia Coast.
The first four gorillas to be brought from the wild into captivity arrived in 1855, 1883, and 1897 at Liverpool, and in 1883 at Berlin. The first gorilla in Liverpool was thought to be a chimpanzee. The first two gorillas in the United States did not arrive until 1897, at Boston, and 1911, at New York.
Since cryptozoology is so under-funded, I could afford to do only a limited amount of research on the subject of slave ships, chimpanzees, and other animal cargo. I had always hoped that by my bringing it up as a possibility, a budding cryptozoologist with a mutual interest in slavery and cryptozoology might take this research question on as a challenge, and answer some more questions about the transport of unknown apes from Africa to America.
For many reasons, particularly the Napes’ swimming behavior, it is unlikely that the source of the American apes were the known chimpanzees or gorillas brought over on slave ships. Indeed, I think it could be a new ape, an undiscovered species that hitchhiked from Africa on these ships of dishonor.
I found one rather vague case that indicated to me there is a record for just such a swimming ability among an unknown African ape. Vernon Reynolds, the British primatologist, examined that case, writing in The Apes (1967):
A report from Spanish Guinea states that four chimpanzees were observed swimming across the 60 to 65-meter-wide Benito River. They made swimming motions like dogs…I am inclined to think that the “chimpanzees” seen swimming in the above report were some other species. The general response of chimpanzees is universally agreed to be one of avoidance and even fear. I have myself on two occasions helped to pull chimpanzees out of a water-filled moat in which they were quite clearly drowning, and I am convinced they cannot swim.
Plainly, then, as understood from studies, literature, and fieldwork, while some monkeys enjoy the water, while some primates might wade in water, the known species of great apes do not swim. But from all indications, Napes do. Did these swimming African apes described by Vernon Reynolds end up in America thanks to the crew of the slave ships, and today, are known in Florida as Skunk Apes?