Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cryptozoological History - The Mountain Gorilla


There are many people outside of the Cryptozoological arena that do not understand the importance of the research that goes on. They do not realize that every day, new discoveries are being made across the globe, or that some common animals started out as legends before they were officially discovered generations ago. One such success story is that of the Mountain Gorilla, who at one time could have been considered - Bigfoot! 

Stories of a large creature living outside the general populace, started pouring out of Africa around the turn of the century. In fact, those reports did not differ much from the reports made concerning Bigfoot or the Yeti today. This cryptid was reported to be large and covered in a thick coat of black fur that was spread out over its ape-like features. After these initial reports surfaced, the country of Rwanda became the focus of researchers. One in particular, Robert von Beringe, made some significant discoveries. 

Von Beringe, a German Captain, made a discovery so important that it added a branch to the family tree of the ape. Rewriting the known history of the species was not his intent as he started out. Together with some friends, von Beringe along with roughly 20 Akaris guides started their journey across the treacherous land in Usumbura on August 19, 1902. 

Their initial stop on their trip would a visit with Sultan Msinga of Rwanda. After the visit, their intentions were to continue north to a row of volcanoes (now Volcano National Park), which marked the boarder of German East Africa. Once the group reached the volcanoes, the party decided to attempt scaling Kirunga ya Sabyinyo, a 3300-meter peak in the region. Von Beringe documented this trip in his journal, recording that he set out on October 16 with Dr. Engeland, several Akaris, and only the crucial necessities for survival. 

The group stopped to spend the night on a plateau about 2500 meters above the dense trees below them at the end of their first day of hiking. The next day, as they continued their journey upward, they noticed a tremendous change in the terrain. The vegetation lessened until the terrain consisted of only rocks, blueberry, and blackberry bushes. In fact, at their next stopping point, the land was almost unsuitable for camping.

After collecting moss to be used as bedding materials and struggling to erect their tents on the extremely narrow ridge, Captain von Beringe sighted something of interest.

"From our campsite we were able to watch a herd of big, black monkeys which tried to climb the crest of the volcano. We succeeded in killing two of these animals, and with a rumbling noise, they tumbled into a ravine, which had its opening in a northeasterly direction. After five hours of strenuous work, we succeeded in retrieving one of these animals using a rope. It was a big, human-like male monkey of one and a half metres in height and a weight of more than 200 pounds [about 91 kilograms]. His chest had no hair, and his hand and feet were of enormous size. Unfortunately I was unable to determine its type; because of its size, it could not very well be a chimpanzee or a gorilla, and in any case the presence of gorillas had not been established in the area around the lakes"

Unfortunately, von Beringe's prized specimen did not make it back to civilization fully intact, losing a hand to the bite of a hyena. Eventually the remains of the animal made it back to Germany, finding its way to a museum in Berlin for further study. This discovery by von Beringe sparked an even greater search into these remote dense regions.

Among these numerous journeys to the colorful continent, one was led by Carl Akeley and headed for the heart of the Virunga Mountains. His objective was to bring back specimens of this newly found primate, named Gorilla g. beringei by a Dr. Matschi after von Beringe, to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. 

Akeley succeeded in his quest, becoming the first person to capture the new species on film. He also succeeded in killing one of the species, a silverback he affectionately named 'The Old Man of Mikeno'. However, after staring at the frozen humanoid face and black, lifeless eyes, Akeley reconsidered.

He and his party eventually returned with five intact specimens. These would be the last specimens he attained as he worked with the Belgian government to set up a sanctuary. In fact, these same five animals remain sheltered beneath the ceiling of that very museum today.

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