Mystery Primate of Central Africa.
Etymology: Mbama (Bantu), either from
n’koula (“chimpanzee”) or from its call “kooloo”
+ kamba (“speak”).
Scientific name: Pan troglodytes koolokamba,
given by W. C. Osman-Hill in 1967.
Variant names: Choga, Dediéka, Ebôt
(Bulu/Bantu), Itsena, Koolakamba, Koulanguia
(Kélé/Bantu, koula “chimpanzee” + nguia
“gorilla”), Koulou-nguira, Kulu-kampa, Kulukanba,
Physical description: Larger than a normal
chimpanzee. Cranium is larger than a chimpanzee’s,
with some cresting. Ebony-black, prognathous
face. Heavy browridge. Wide, flat, fleshy
nose. Small ears. Powerful jaws. Upper and lower
incisors meet squarely. Broad pelvic structure.
Behavior: Frequently walks bipedally. Call is
“koola-kooloo koola-kooloo.” Aggressive. Lives
singly or in smaller groups than other chimpanzees.
Habitat: Primarily high-altitude forests, although
stray individuals are apparently found
elsewhere with normal chimpanzee groups.
Distribution: Gabon; Cameroon; Equatorial
Significant sightings: In the 1850s, Paul Du
Chaillu shot a male Kooloo-kamba in southwestern
Gabon. It was smaller than an adult
male gorilla but stockier than a female gorilla. It
had a round head and face, a small nose, and
large ears. The skull is housed in the British
Museum of Natural History.
A 4-foot-tall female ape nicknamed “Mafuca”
was taken to the Dresden Zoo in 1874 from the
port of Loango in the Republic of the Congo.
Several observers classified it as a young female
gorilla, others were convinced it was a chimpanzee,
and still others thought it could be a
chimp-gorilla hybrid. Sir Arthur Keith in 1899
classed Mafuca with Du Chaillu’s Koolookamba.
Some zoologists now think it likely that
Mafuca was a bonobo, which can be stockier
than some chimpanzees.
Louis de Lassaletta collected a Kooloo-kamba
in the hilly Nsok region of Equatorial Guinea in
Individuals with Kooloo-kamba characteristics
have been maintained in the Coulston
Foundation’s animal experimentation laboratory
in Alamogordo, New Mexico, since the
In 1993, Steve Holmes saw a “wildman” in
the Gamba coastal area of Gabon. It was just
under 5 feet tall and running with its arms held
high above its head. Nearby villagers called it
the Sipandjee and said it was aggressive.
(1) An unknown species or subspecies of
Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), suggested by
Du Chaillu and E. Franquet.
(2) A Lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) with
uncharacteristic individual variations. A
supposed Kooloo-kamba was brought to the
Basel Zoo in 1967, but it turned out to be a
red-backed female gorilla.
(3) A misidentified Bonobo (Pan paniscus),
which was not recognized as a separate
chimpanzee species until 1933.
(4) A chimp x gorilla hybrid. Though these
two apes are closely related, successful
hybridization between them is unknown
either in captivity or in the wild. Individuals
with both chimp and gorilla characteristics
merely reflect this close genetic relationship.
(5) A misidentified large male chimpanzee.
Facial color in chimps darkens with age.
(6) A misidentified small female gorilla, the
equivalent of a Pygm y Gorilla.
(7) An emergent variety or species with
adaptations to a mountainous habitat,
suggested by Karl Shuker.
The Koolakamba or Kooloo-Kamba is purported to be a hybrid species of two different ape species; namely chimpanzees andgorillas. This alleged hybrid ape species has been reported in Africa as early as the mid 19th century though to date no empirical evidence has been found to substantiate the existence of the creature and it has no entry in the NCBI taxonomical database. TheKoolakamba was referenced in the mid-19th century in French work by Franquet (1852, as cited by Shea, 1984) and in some descriptive work of DuChaillu from 1860, 1861, 1867, and 1899; some of which was republished in 1969 (Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa).
DuChaillu refers to the ape as Koolakamba based upon his description of words used by the indigenous peoples (Commi, Goumbi, and Bakalai[sic]) in the region of the Ovengi River of West Central Africa, modernly the areas of Cameroon and Gabon. The people allegedly referred to the ape as "Kooloo" because that is what its unique vocalization, quite unlike the vocalizations of other apes in the region, sounded like to them. "Kamba", according to DuChaillu, is a Commi word meaning to "speak" (DuChaillu, 1899).
The Koolakamba is believed to be larger, flatter faced, larger skulled and more bipedal than a chimp, it may also be a mutation, in which case we are witnessing evolution in action. According to DuChaillu (DuChaillu 1861 and 1869), the physical characteristics described for Koolakamba include a short and broad pelvic structure, large supraorbital ridge, high zygomatic ridges, less prominent "muzzle", dentition in which the upper and lower incisors meet squarely forming a grinding surface, and a larger cranial capacity than that of the common chimpanzee. Much of what DuChaillu records is essentially ethnographic. He includes the indigenous names and lore relevant to the ape, and reveals his own cultural foibles in the writing. His works are classic period pieces with wonderfully descriptive text and presumably accurate illustrations, but limited quantitative (mostly anthropometric) data.
Although there has not been a documented sighting of the Koolakamba or a proof of its existence in modern days, in 1881 Koppenfelds indicated that it does exist indeed: “I believe it is proved that there are crosses between the male Troglodytes gorillaand the female Troglodytes niger, but for reasons easily understood, there are none in the opposite direction. I have in my possession positive proof of this. This settles all the questions about the gorilla, chimpanzee, Kooloo Kamba,....etc.” In November 1996, a picture of an unusual ape (taken by Peter Jenkins and Liza Gadsby at the Yaounde Zoo, Cameroon) was featured in theNewsletter of the Internal Primate Protection League (IPPL). This picture showed a seemingly hybrid ape with wider face and a larger skull than that of a chimpanzee and smaller than that of a gorilla. The ape in the picture had features that seemed to belong to both the gorilla and the chimpanzee.
Scientifically, the Koolakamba has not been determined to be a subspecies of the chimpanzee, a gorilla-chimpanzee hybrid, or perhaps even a representative of an individual variation. Yerkes reported several "unclassifiable apes" with features intermediate between chimpanzee and gorilla in his 1929 book "A Study of Anthropoid Life". In fact most of these are regional races of chimpanzee classified as separate species by over-enthusiastic naturalists.