Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
Great red ape
Red gorilla enlarged

Fernand Wilmet's "red gorilla" photograph.[1]

Category Cryptohominid
Proposed scientific names
Other names Gila mukosé, red gorilla
Country reported Democratic Republic of the Congo
First reported 1931
Prominent investigators Attilio Gatti
Chad Arment

The great red ape was a cryptohominid reported from the rainforests of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, specifically the Tchibinda Rainforest west of Lake Kivu, and the Ituri Rainforest. It was originally described by Attilio Gatti, who distinguished it from the black-and-white mulahu of the Ituri.[2] Different accounts variably described it as either a giant red gorilla or a large bipedal homininan.[3][4][5]


Most information concerning the great red ape was collected by Italian explorer Attilio Gatti, who allegedly first heard of it during a gorilla-hunting expedition to the Tchibinda Rainforest, where several record gorillas (Gorilla beringei) have been shot, in 1932. A local Twa witch-doctor named Katumbele told him that a piece of hairy red hide in his possession belonged to a giant red gorilla, which had been killed by his father in the remote rainforest. Katumbele was eventually convinced to lead Gatti to the area where the red gorilla had been killed, but Gatti was obliged to abort the expedition due to illness.[6] After further enquiries, Gatti regarded the giant ape as significantly less gorilla-like, and according to his later account, other Twa informants described the animal as an obligate biped "more man than gorilla." The Twa regarded it as both extremely strong and highly intelligent.[3]

The Mbuti of the Ituri Rainforest also gave Gatti detailed accounts of "a gigantic man covered with long red hair" dwelling in the deep rainforest. Gatti distinguished this primate from the giant mulahu of the Ituri, which reportedly had long black-and-white hair, reddish-black in Gatti's own claimed sighting.[3]



A longtime European resident of the Lake Kivu region told Gatti that a red ape of the homin variety had been killed about twenty years beforehand. It had attacked a party of Twa hunters, who shot it to death with poisoned arrows. The local Belgian administrator reportedly saw the carcass, which, in his absence, was quickly burned by a missionary "who feared that it might be considered a proof of the Darwin theory."[3]

Before 1932[]

Gatti first learned of the red ape in 1932, while examining the possessions of a Twa witch-doctor, Katumbele, at his camp in the Tchibinda Forest.[6] Gatti claimed that he had discovered an unidentifiable piece of hide among various specimens owned by Katumbele. The skin itself resembled that of an ordinary gorilla, as did the length and coarse consistency of the hair, but the colour was described by Gatti as "the vivid shade of red of a red-haired man".[3] Gatti, who was unable to match the hair to any known animal, eventually prevailed upon the reticent Katumbele to explain the specimen's provenance.[6]

According to Katumbele's account, in his youth, his father had led a hunting expedition into the rainforest to the west, a region unexplored by the Twa. Here, they reportedly encountered a family of gorillas feeding in a small bamboo thicket. They were significantly larger than any gorillas previously seen by the hunters, and were covered in "brilliant red" hair. The hunters decided to kill one of the red gorillas, and each man retrieved a piece of its skin; Katumbele inherited his father's piece upon the latter's death.[6]


According to his memoir L'Appel de la Brousse (1948), Belgian colonial administrator Fernand Wilmet killed a giant red gorilla near Walikale, in the Kivu Province. During an official visit to this territory, Warega villagers informed him that "mahogany-red" gorillas, known locally as gila mukosé, were devastating their banana plantations. Knowing that such animals would be completely new to zoologists, Wilmet initially planned to capture a young specimen alive. However, when, after several failed attempts at searching for the gorillas, he encountered an adult male, he shot it in what he perceived as self-defense, and his Warega guides speared it to death.[1]

Wilmet claimed that his specimen measured 2 m 10 cm (6 ft 8 in) from head to toe, 15 cm (6 in) taller than the record gorilla, which was shot at nearby Alimbongo in 1938. It was covered in red hair, which was particularly long on the head and shoulders. Although he photographed it – in monochrome – and retained the skull, the humid rainforest climate made it impossible for him to preserve the skin.[1]


Gatti claimed that, on first hearing reports of red apes, he assumed they referred to aberrant gorillas of the known species, analogous to extremely rare white albino gorillas.[3][6] The occurrence of unusual red pigmentation in animals is known as erythrism. However, he later expressed his belief that the red ape was a distinct taxon, distinguished from the gorilla by its larger size, red coat, and bipedalism.[3]

Based on Gatti's original account, primatologists Geoffrey H. Bourne and Cohen Maury wrote that the red ape is "[p]resumably a red gorilla," and therefore "a variety or species completely unknown," which they believed is very unlikely to exist.[7]

See also[]

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wilmet, Fernand (1948) L'Appel de la Brousse
  2. Arment, Chad "Profiles in Cryptozoology: Commander Attilio Gatti," BioFortean Notes, Vol. 6 (2018)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Gatti, Attilio "Pygmies' Fear of Mysterious Forest Creatures," The Meccano Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 3 (March 1935)
  4. Makin, William James (1934) African Parade
  5. Green, Lawrence George (1954) White Man's Grave: The Story of the West African Coast
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Gatti, Attilio "Old Man Gorilla: Thrills in a Central African Forest," The Meccano Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 3 (March 1933)
  7. Bourne, Geoffrey H. & Cohen, Maury (1975) The Gentle Giants: The Gorilla Story