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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Persisting Giant Lemurs of Madagascar

A summary of the Cryptozoological situation in Madagascar appears on the Fortean Times Message Board
and is reprinted here:

Madagascar is a place that I find fascinating, for various reasons. One such is the possibility – even if slim – of present-day cryptozoological “action” there. Attempted summary, below, of such “just-maybe’s”. These culled from a combination of material from Karl Shuker’s blog; and Heuvelmans’s book “On The Track of Unknown Animals”.

Heuvelmans, writing some 55 years ago, made his Madagascar chapter principally a “lament”, centring on local stories of various creatures not recognised by biological science, but which were then according to the locals still around, or had been around in the measurable past. Heuvelmans’s “take” was that many of these represented, likely, memories of species which had still existed only generations or centuries back – he expressed regret that scepticism on the part of mainstream scientists in the preceding couple of centuries had weighed against investigation of the possibility of still-existing undiscovered creatures, there; and voiced the notion that it would seem appallingly bad luck that every single such, was actually extinct at the time at which he was writing – maybe something still living but undocumented, in the “remotest reaches”?

One gathers that in the time since publication of Heuvelmans’s book, Madagascar – already quite seriously environmentally degraded then – has gone a great deal further down that road, especially as regards deforestation: only a tiny percentage of the island’s one-time forest cover is now left, and that is under threat. None of this process over the past half-century, would seem to have uncovered any new sizeable-and-impressive species in Madagascar. However, Shuker still holds out possible hope for a few “mystery creatures” there. Seeking for relative brevity, am mostly sticking to those for which Shuker sees a chance, however remote.

(Madagascar is one of those places which go in for tongue-twisting and “as-long-as-your-arm” words and names.)

TRATRATRATRA: “Madagascar’s yeti”, if anything deserves that tag. Described by witnesses as “hairy-ape-man-like”, and quite large. Sundry putative giant-lemur species have been identified in Madagascar from subfossil remains, some seen as having lasted as long as up to several centuries ago (seen as exterminated by man). Envisaged “tratratratra” candidates: the sloth lemur Palaeopropithecus ingens, shown from radio-carbon dating of sub-fossil remains to have existed at least until c. 1500 AD. Or the supposedly extinct lemur Hadropithecus, with a relatively flattened ape-like or humanoid face? There is an account from the 1930s (source other than Heuvelmans) of a French forester in Madagascar who “came face to face with an animal sitting 4ft. high, and described it as being unlike other lemurs he had seen. It did not have a muzzle, but was like a gorilla with ‘the face of one of my ancestors’.”

A responder to Shuker’s blog gives brief reports, from Madagascan locals, of a couple of early 1990s brief encounters in remote areas, with possible tratratratra – happened at night, perceptions thus perhaps inexact, but creature reckoned over 2 metres tall. Shuker muses on its being possible, even if unlikely, “that a very small, relict population of at least one species of giant lemur does still persist in Madagascar, highly elusive, nocturnal, and actively avoiding humans whenever possible.”

KIDOKY: like the known lemur the sifaka (the mostly white and highly-agile one) but much larger. Two officially extinct genera, known from remains, are possible candidates; but there is a 1952 sighting report from an educated local, of a possible kidoky.

[A couple of “extreme outsiders”, whose Madagascan names I will spare people: a nocturnal sheep-like and sheep-sized, and white, creature (reported from the centre of the island); and a wild-ass-like creature, supposed by the locals to be extremely “bad juju” and greatly feared by them, reported from the far south. Both seemingly being reported – with some suggestion of footprints – up to the present day. Shuker and Heuvelmans concur on a theoretical possibility of large terrestrial lemurs which could have evolved specially hoof-like claws – while reckoning that these two very probably belong in the “myth” pile.]

TSOMGOMBY / KILOPILOPITSOFY / RAILILOMENA: water-frequenting creature, greatly like a small hippopotamus. Palaeontology holds that not a huge number of centuries ago there lived in Madagascar, alongside the giant lemurs, three species of – smallish – hippopotamus. Mentioned “in passing” in a published work (1829) by Dumont d’Urville, that there were “at the time of writing”, hippos in Madagascar’s rivers. Some recent-ish reports (the latest, from 1976) of sightings of a hippo-like creature – conjectured perhaps to be still-surviving Madagascan dwarf hippo, Hippopotamus lemerlei, estimated to have existed at least up to what Shuker calls “1000 BP” (don’t know what that means in terms of the “BC / AD and alternatives” controversy, and Google didn’t enlighten).

ANTAMBA: as well as the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox), Madagascar’s largest surviving known native mammalian carnivore (“superficially resembles a small long-tailed puma, but is more closely related to the civets and genets” – IMO a lovely animal – at least one specimen is in captivity in the UK, at Marwell Zoological Park in Hampshire); there is known from subfossil remains, a “giant version” , Cryptoprocta spelia, of this creature, some 3 metres long. Thought to have gone extinct several centuries ago; but rumours have continued, up to at least a dozen years ago, of a fearsome “very big cat” seeming to tick the “antamba” box, in the most-inaccessible forests in the north-east of the island. A 1999 expedition unfortunately found nothing conclusive.

KALANORO: if the tratratratra is Madagascar’s “Bigfoot”, the kalanoro is the corresponding “Littlefoot”. Less-improbable accounts of this creature (the more way-out ones have it as at least semi-aquatic, partaking of “merpeople / siren” traits) tell of it as a very small (stature a metre or less) hairy ape-man-like biped. Descriptions have the kalanoro as far more humanoid than lemurine (the kalanoro described as always tail-less – all existing lemurs except for the largest species thereof, the indris, have long and noticeable tails). Kalanoro had a limited amount of (not always harmonious) interaction with One feels, in the Orang Pendek / Ebu Gogo / Nittaewo ballpark. Seemingly, no kalanoro reports in truly recent times (a European in Madagascar, writing in the 1880s, retailed at second-hand or more, local accounts which seemed to suggest that the kalanoro were “up and running” then). Shuker feels that this creature – if it ever was -- is probably no more – no suggestion of the getting sick of them and wiping them out (the people of Madagascar do strike me on the whole, as a more-than-average gentle and kindly bunch) – they’d seem just to have faded out, “not with a bang but a whimper”.

In this case, the caption is probably wrong and should read Tokandia.

Listings are from George Eberhart's Mysterious Creatures (2002) and I have added the entries "Giant Indris" and "Beru" based on other information and to clarify the situation. In Heuvelmans' 1986 checklist, "Kimos" are clearly indicated as being human Pygmies.

See also

Some Reconstructions of Megaladapis


Megaladapis (Greek for "giant lemur"); pronounced meg-ah-LAD-ah-pis


Woodlands of Madagascar

Size and Weight:

About 5 feet long and 100 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; blunt head with powerful jaws

About Megaladapis:

One normally thinks of lemurs as shy, gangly, big-eyed denizens of tropical rain forests. However, the exception to the rule was the prehistoric primate Megaladapis, which like most megafauna of the Pleistocene epoch was significantly bigger than its modern lemur descendants (over 100 pounds, by most estimates), with a robust, blunt, distinctly un-lemur-like skull and relatively short limbs. As with most large mammals that survived into historical times, Megaladapis probably met its end from early human settlers on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar--and there's some speculation that this giant lemur may have given rise to legends of large, vaguely human-like beasts on the island, similar to the North American "Bigfoot."

Lingering populations and oral tradition

Recent radiocarbon dates from accelerator mass spectrometry 14C dating, such as 630 ± 50 BP for Megaladapis remains and 510 ± 80 BP for Palaeopropithecus remains, indicate that the giant lemurs survived into modern times. Moreover, it is likely that memories of these creatures persist in the oral traditions of some Malagasy cultural groups. Some recent stories from around Belo sur Mer in southwestern Madagascar might even suggest that some of the giant subfossil lemurs still survive in remote forests.[47]
Flacourt's 1658 description of the tretretretre or tratratratra was the first mention of the now extinct giant lemurs in Western culture, but it is unclear if he saw it.[28] The creature Flacourt described has traditionally been interpreted as a species of Megaladapis. However, the size may have been exaggerated, and the "round head and a human face" would not match Megaladapis, which had an enlarged snout and eyes that did not face entirely forward. Megaladapis had the least forward-facing eyes of all primates. The facial description, and the mention of a short tail, solitary habits, and other traits better match the most recent interpretation — Palaeopropithecus.[7] Likewise, Malagasy tales recorded by the 19th-century folklorist Gabriel Ferrand describing a large animal with a flat human-like face that was unable to negotiate smooth rock outcrops best match Palaeopropithecus, which would also have had difficulty on flat smooth surfaces.[26]
In 1995, a research team led by David Burney and Ramilisonina performed interviews in and around Belo sur Mer, including Ambararata and Antsira, to find subfossil megafaunal sites used early in the century by other paleontologists. During carefully controlled interviews, the team recorded stories of recent sightings of dwarf hippos (called kilopilopitsofy) and of a large lemur-like creature known as kidoky; a report of the interviews was published in 1998 with encouragement from primatologist Alison Jolly and anthropologist Laurie Godfrey. In one interview, an 85-year-old man named Jean Noelson Pascou recounted seeing the rare kidoky up close in 1952. Pascou said that the animal looks similar to a sifaka, but had a human-like face, and was "the size of a seven-year-old girl". It had dark fur and a discernible white spot both on the forehead and below the mouth. According to Pascou, it was a shy animal that fled on the ground instead of in the trees. Burney interpreted the old man as saying that it moved in "a series of leaps",[48] but Godfrey later claimed that "a series of bounds" was a better translation — a description that would closely match the foot anatomy of monkey lemurs, such as Hadropithecus and Archaeolemur.[47] Pascou could also imitate its call, a long single "whoop", and said that kidoky would come closer and continue calling if he imitated the call correctly. The call Pascou imitated was comparable to that of a short call for an indri, which lives on the other side of Madagascar. When shown a picture of an indri, Pascou said kidoky did not look like that, and that it had a rounder face, more similar to a sifaka. Pascou also speculated that kidoky could stand on two legs and that it was a solitary animal.[48]

Another interviewee, François, a middle-aged woodcutter who spent time in the forests inland (east) from the main road between Morondava and Belo sur Mer, and five of his friends, reported seeing kidoky recently. Their description of the animal and François's imitation of its long call were virtually identical to Pascou's. One of the young men insisted that its fur had a lot of white in it, but the other men could not confirm that. François and his friends reported that it had never climbed a tree in their presence, and that it flees on the ground in short leaps or bounds. When Burney imitated the sideways leaping of a sifaka moving on the ground, one of the men corrected him, pointing out that he was imitating a sifaka. The man's imitation of the gallop kidoky used was very baboon-like. The men also reported that imitating its call can draw the animal closer and cause it to continue calling.[48]
Burney and Ramilisonina admitted that the most parsimonious explanation for the sightings was that kidoky was a misidentified sifaka or other larger living lemur species. However, the authors did not feel comfortable with such a dismissal because of their careful quizzing and use of unlabeled color plates during the interviews and because of the competence demonstrated by the interviewees in regards to local wildlife and lemur habits. The possibility of a wild introduced baboon surviving in the forests could not be dismissed. However, the descriptions of kidoky, with its terrestrial baboon-like gait, make Hadropithecus and Archaeolemur the most plausible candidates among the giant subfossil lemurs. At the very least, the stories support a wider extinction window for the giant subfossil lemurs, suggesting that their extinction was recent enough for such vivid stories to still survive in the oral traditions of the Malagasy people.[48]



Hadropithecus (Greek for "stout ape"); pronounced HAY-dro-pith-ECK-us


Plains of Madagascar

Historical Epoch:

Pleistocene-Modern (2 million-2,000 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About 5 feet long and 75 pounds


Plants and seeds

Distinguishing Characteristics:

Muscular body; short arms and legs; blunt snout

About Hadropithecus:

During the Pleistocene epoch, the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar was a hotbed of primate evolution--specifically, the lithe, big-eyed lemurs. Also known as the "monkey lemur," Hadropithecus seems to have spent most of its time on the open plains rather than high up in trees, as evidenced by the shape of its teeth (which were well-suited for the tough seeds and plants of the Madagascar grasslands, rather than soft, easily plucked fruits). Despite the familiar "pithecus" (Greek for "ape") in its name, Hadropithecus was very far on the evolutionary tree from famous hominids (i.e., direct human ancestors) like Australopithecus; its closest relative was its fellow "monkey lemur" Archaeolemur.
[The nearest descriptions we have to Hadropithecus refer to some unidentified flat-faced monkeylike lemurs including a small kind mentioned in the book A World Like their Own, which was described as resembling an African guenon monkey. This was also possibly still only a juvenile-DD]

Giant Indri
[The older Natural History books used to speak of different indris besides the known species, the "Giant Indri" was larger, stockier, and more colourful than the usual
 lemurs, and it could be as large as an average human being.
  This is possibly related to Paleopropithecus among the extinct lemuroid genera--DD]
Black indri, SG Goodrich, The Animal Kingdom Illustrated, AJ Johnson & Co, NY, 1885, p119
There was also a kind of all-dark Indri, not so large.-UPDATE: This has been confirmed as the dark colouration phase of the more common indri and there are still specimens of it around.

It is thought that some of the rumours of apelike creatures on Madagascar are references to the Paleopropithecus, and the reports are of creatures described as being like chimpanzees.
The giant aye-aye (Daubentonia robusta) is an extinct relative of the aye-aye, the only other species in the genus Daubentonia. It lived in Madagascar, appears to have disappeared less than 1,000 years ago, is entirely unknown in life, and is only known from subfossil remains.[1]
As of 2004, giant aye-aye remains consisted of 4 incisors, a tibia, and postcranial material.[2] Subfossils of this species have been found in the southern and southeastern portion of Madagascar, outside of the range of extant aye-aye.[3] Giant aye-ayes are believed to be very similar morphologically to the aye-aye, but 2 to 2.5 times larger, based upon jaw and incisor measurements.[3]
Archaeoindris fontoynontii

Posted Image

Archaeoindris is an extinct species of giant lemur, and the largest primate known to have evolved on Madagascar, comparable in size to a male gorilla. It belonged to a family of extinct lemurs known as "sloth lemurs" (Palaeopropithecidae), and because of its extremely large size, it has been compared to the ground sloths that once roamed North and South America. It probably became extinct only very recently, around 350 BCE.

Archaeoindris was first described by Herbert F. Standing in 1909 based on subfossil fragmentary jaws, although Charles Lamberton later discovered a complete skull. Only six bones from the lower skeleton have been found, and excavations in the 1980s offered no leads for new finds. Its remains have been found at only one location: Ampasambazimba, a subfossil site in central Madagascar.

Size estimates based on the limited remains have varied widely, ranging as high as 244.1 kg (538 lb), but the most thorough statistical investigation using regression analyses predicts a mass of 160-187 kg (350-400 lb).

Limited remains have resulted in varying opinions about the way Archaeoindris moved in its environment, ranging from tree-dwelling to ground-dwelling. Its skeleton suggests it was a deliberate climber that visited the ground to travel.

The diet of Archaeoindris was mostly leaves, and its habitat—prior to human arrival—was a mix of woodlands, bushlands, and savanna, rich in lemur diversity. Today, the region is dominated by grasslands and lemur diversity is very low in the nearest protected area, Ambohitantely Special Reserve. Although it was a rare lemur, it was still extant when humans first arrived on Madagascar, and it would have been vulnerable to hunting and habitat loss.

[Archaeoindris was indeed most likely the basis for the Tratratra tradition as well as the more recent "Bigfoot-like" and "Ape" reports coming from Madagascar-DD]

 Posted Image

The Thanacth was thought to have been a displaced giant lemur from Madagascar by Heuvelmans. A black four-footed creature sighted by the European travellers of the 16th century. It had the body of a big cat with black fur and no tail. Its head was that of a human with frizzled hair. It had human like hands with the feet of a tiger. The Thanacth was described in the book Cosmography and in Ambrose Pare’s (1517 – 1590) On Monsters and Marvels. Some Indians caught this beast and took it to the Red Sea where it was documented by Andre Thevet. (The Indians might have visited Madagascar rather than bringing the creature with them from India) If so, then it was likely originally a Tratratra.
[Along with the surviving giant lemurs are two other cryptozoological creatures of note:]
Recently extinct animals:
Giant Fossa (Cryptoprocta spelea)
The giant fossa was a low-slung puma-like carnivore that, judging from the size of its jaws, was a formidable predator. It is thought to have survived until historical times, and probably preyed on some of the large lemur species that are also now extinct. Étienne de Flacourt, French governor of Madagascar during the mid-seventeenth century, described an animal called the ‘antamba’ which might represent a living giant fossa in his ‘L’Histoire de le Grande Île de Madagascar’(1658).
Recently extinct animals:
Giant Fossa (Cryptoprocta spelea)
The giant fossa was a low-slung puma-like carnivore that, judging from the size of its jaws, was a formidable predator. It is thought to have survived until historical times, and probably preyed on some of the large lemur species that are also now extinct. Étienne de Flacourt, French governor of Madagascar during the mid-seventeenth century, described an animal called the ‘antamba’ which might represent a living giant fossa in his ‘L’Histoire de le Grande Île de Madagascar’(1658).

[Current reports refer to a "Malagassy Lion" which is probably the same animal-DD]
Roy Mackal mentions that he had mention of a continued survival of  "The smaller kind of Elephavnt birds" on Madagascar in his book Searching for Hidden Animals (1981). That would be Mullerornis and looking much mnore like a conventional ostrich (indeed current "Modern" reports seem to speak of them as being just ordinary ostriches]

 Larger Elephant bird and Ostrich to scale: Mullerornis is about the same size as an ostrich.
From Wikipedia:

The elephant birds, which were giant ratites native to Madagascar, have been extinct since at least the 17th century. Étienne de Flacourt, a French governor of Madagascar in the 1640s and 1650s, mentions an ostrich-like bird said to inhabit unpopulated regions.[2] The explorer and traveler Marco Polo also mentions very large birds in accounts of his journeys to the East during the 12th and 13th centuries. These earlier accounts are today believed to describe elephant birds.[3] Aepyornis, believed to have been more than 3 m (10 ft) tall and weighing close to 400 kg (880 lb),[4] was at the time the world's largest bird. Remains of Aepyornis adults and eggs have been found; in some cases the eggs have a circumference of more than 1 m (3 ft 3 in) and a length up to 34 cm (13 in).[5] The egg volume is about 160 times greater than that of a chicken egg.[6]

Aepyornis maximus is commonly known as the 'elephant bird', a term that apparently originated from Marco Polo's account of the rukh in 1298, although he was apparently referring to an eagle-like bird strong enough to "seize an elephant with its talons".[10] Sightings of eggs of elephant birds by sailors (e.g. text on the Fra Mauro map of 1467-69, if not attributable to ostriches) could also have been erroneously attributed to a giant raptor from Madagascar. The legend of the roc could also have originated from sightings of such a giant subfossil eagle related to the African Crowned Eagle, which has been described in the genus Stephanoaetus from Madagascar,[11] being large enough to carry off large primates; today, lemurs still retain a fear of aerial predators such as these. Another might be the perception of ratites retaining neotenic features and thus being mistaken for enormous chicks of a presumably more massive bird.
The ancient Malagasy name for the bird is vorompatra, meaning "bird of the Ampatres". The Ampatres are today known as the Androy region of southern Madagascar.[10] Indeed, in 1659 Étienne de Flacourt wrote: "vouropatra - a large bird which haunts the Ampatres and lays eggs like the ostriches; so that the people of these places may not take it, it seeks the most lonely places".

And an additional note:
Supposed remains of "aepyornithid" eggs found on the eastern Canary Islands represent a major biogeographical enigma.[18] These islands are not thought to have been connected to mainland Africa when elephant birds were alive. There is no indication that elephant birds evolved outside Madagascar, and today, the Canary Island eggshells are considered to belong to extinct North African birds that may or may not have been ratites (Eremopezus/Psammornis), or even Pelagornithidae, prehistoric seabirds of immense size
[I would opt for the last suggestion, and this might also have a bearing on other very large isolated eggs in other parts of the world-DD]

Strange Ark’s online regional guide to cryptids has a list of African cryptids at this location.

For Madagascar, sorting through Chad Arment’s list, the following cryptids are noted:
Lemurs: Unknown species, giant species [indefinite number of species, possibly four]
Reported from Madagascar
Heuvelmans 1986; Shuker 2000a; Shuker 1998d
Lemur: unknown miniature species
Reported from Tsingy de Bemaraha reserve, Madagascar
Shuker 1998d
Giant Fossa
Folklore from Madagascar
Discover article [DD's listing, original specified vol and number]
 Heuvelmans 1986
Feline: “Lions”
Reported from Madagascar
Shuker 1989  [ex Heuvelmans]
Madagascan dwarf hippo: Kilopilopitsofy
Reported from Madagascar
Shuker 2000a [ex Heuvelmans]
Giant tortoise
Reported from southwest Madagascar
Eberhart 2002
Long-snouted Moth
Hypothesized from Madagascar

[This blog has separately noted the possible survival of different species of Pygmy Hippos, Robust crocodiles and giant tortoises on Madagascar. Best Wishes, Dale D.]

ADDENDUM: Markus Buhler insists that I add that the so-called 'Giant' Fossa of Madagascar was larger than the usual fossas, they would not be the cause of reports of "Lions" which are otherwise much the same as reported "Alien Big Cats" the whole world over. Such reports would more commonly based on formerly captive imported big cats, such as pet leopards, released into the wild, and accompanied by the usual mistaken reports of feral dogs. The situation is much the same as the reported marsupial "Tigers" in Australia. Markus also writes that he has identified the sheeplike Habebe as  a wooly type of Megaladapis  when out foraging on the ground: this is also indicated because of the skulls in that genus resembling the skull of an ungulate more than that of a lemur or monkey. That does sound likely and Markus does deserve the credit for that particular identification.

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