The tratratratra (French: trétrétrétré) was a cryptid lemur originally reported from southern Madagascar. Reported by early French visitors to Madagascar, and distinguished by its human-like face, it has attracted interest from cryptozoologists and mainstream zoologists alike as a possible late-surviving giant lemur such as Palaeopropithecus. More recent sightings of giant lemurs in the north and east of the island have been lumped together with the tratratratra.
In his work Histoire de la Grande Isle de Madagascar (1658), the French Governor of Madagascar Admiral Étienne de Flacourt (1607 – 1660) recorded "scrupulously accurate" descriptions of a number of Malagasy animals, including three now often identified with subfossil species; the vorompatra, antamba, and tratratratra, the last of which he believed resembled the tanacht, a creature of unknown provenance.
"Lipomami" or "Lipomamy" is now regarded as the name of a local tribe rather than a body of water, but the region was probably in the southeast of the island, between Fort-Dauphin and Berenty. Given that Malagasy peoples often name lemurs after their vocalisations, Elwyn L. Simons theorises that the name tratratratra was onomatopoeic, representing an alarm bark similar to that of the indri (Indri indri) or Milne-Edwards's sifaka (Propithecus edwardsi): as noted by primatologist Alison Jolly, "its name was what the human hunters heard as the frightened tretretretre watched them coming with their spears."
During the 1990s, Fortean researcher and cryptozoologist Arnošt Vašíček travelled to northern Madagascar, where he collected accounts of giant lemurs seen in recent times. Vašíček referred to these animals as tre tre tre, and they have been lumped together with the tratratratra. Jolly has also collected stories of a lemur the size of a chimpanzee, with black-and-white fur and a flattened face.
According to Jane Wilson, who has participated in scientific expeditions to Madagascar, during the 1930s, a French forester encountered a tratratratra-like lemur unlike any he had seen before, sitting 4 ft (1.2 m) high. It did not have a long muzzle, but had a gorilla-like head and a "face like one of [his] ancestors".
Arnošt Vašíček collected a sighting which allegedly occurred in the foothills of the Tsaratanana Mountains, in northern Madagascar, in 1991. Two Betsimisaraka men were camped out in the forest at night when their food attracted an animal to their campfire, initially revealing itself only by "an intense animal odour," heavy breathing, and tongue clicking.
After an indeterminate period of time, the men overcame their fear and tossed some foot towards the lemur, which disappeared when the fire died down. Another sighting allegedly occurred, at an undisclosed time, by the Masora River, which flows through a lightly wooded plain on the central east coast of the island. Vašíček was told that a group of girls had seen a giant lemur enter the river, possibly while trying to cross the water or wash itself, and become caught in the strong current. It was dragged downstream until it managed to grab onto a boulder near the girls, revealing a "face with broad flat nose and protracted jaws" and "deep eyes under big brow ridges ... full of fear." The lemur's distressed wailing scared the girls, who returned to their village, where local shaman organised a rescue party. However, when they arrived at the Masora, the lemur had disappeared.
Since the first giant lemur subfossils were discovered in the late 19th Century, it has been suggested that Flacourt's tratratratra was a contemporary description of a late-surviving example of one of these animals, all of which are believed to have gone extinct more than 500 years before the present. Initially, it was often identified with Megaladapis, one of the best-known and earliest-discovered of the giant lemurs, an identification supported by some zoologists into the late 20th Century. However, Megaladapis possessed a distinctive and very large snout which may have supported a bulbous nose or even a proboscis, and certainly would not have been described as having a human face.
Bernard Heuvelmans and Elwyn Simons have extensively argued that the best candidate for the tratratratra is a species of the arboreal sloth lemur Palaeopropithecus. Unlike Megaladapis, Palaeopropithecus had a roundish skull, and its forward-facing eyes and small face could make it appear more human-like. Furthermore, Flacourt had described the hair of the tratratratra as curly, frizzy, or wavy, a characteristic found mainly in the indriids, to which Palaeopropithecus is believed to have been closely related. Based on a subfossil sacrum discovered in 1983, it is also thought that sloth lemurs must have possessed very short tails. Simons notes that Palaeopropithecus was not quite as large as the calf-sized tratratratra, but suggests that this discrepancy can be explained by a combination of exaggeration, and the small size of Malagasy cattle. Some studies of Palaeopropithecus subfossils have yielded radiocarbon dates of around 1407 to 1567, only a century before Flacourt's time, although most remains are much older.
Although this is the most widely-accepted theory, some cryptozoologists contest the identification with Palaeopropithecus. Dale A. Drinnon suggests that the large and gorilla-like Archaeoindris is a better fit for the tratratratra, a theory previously supported by Louis Lavauden. Karl Shuker argues that the snout of Palaeopropithecus, though not so large as that of Megaladapis, is still too pronounced to be described as human-like. Shuker's preferred candidate is the smaller Hadropithecus, a "monkey lemur" or "baboon lemur" which had a flat, ape-like face, and which may have had a more terrestrial lifestyle. Hadropithecus and its relative Archaeolemur are also candidates for the kidoky, another cryptozoological giant lemur.
Notes and references
- Flacourt, Étienne de (1658) Histoire de la Grande Isle de Madagascar
- Heuvelmans, Bernard (1955) On the Track of Unknown Animals, Routledge, ISBN 978-1138977525
- Simons, Elwyn L. "Inferences About the Distant Past in Madagascar," Lemur News, No. 15 (1997)
- Shuker, Karl P. N. (2013) Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History, Anomalist Books, ISBN 978-1-938398-05-6
- Richard-Vindard, G. & Battistini, R. (2013) Biogeography and Ecology in Madagascar
- Tattersall, Ian (1982) The Primates of Madagascar
- Jolly, Alison (2004) Lords and Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings with Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar
- Vašíček, Arnošt (2005) Planeta Záhad: Tajemná Minulost, Mystery Film, ISBN 9788023954845
- Drinnon, Dale A. (2009) "Amended Cryptozoological Checklist"
- Jolly, Alison (1980) A World Like Our Own: Man and Nature in Madagascar
- Wilson, Jane (1990) Lemurs of the Lost World
- Trouessart, Édouard "Recent Researches in Madagascarian Palæontology: Glimpses of the Earlier Animal Life of the Island," The Antananarvio Annual and Magascar Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1893)
- Eberhart, George M. (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, ABC-CLIO, Inc., ISBN 1576072835
- Simons, Elwyn L. "Lemurs: Old and New," Natural Changes and Human Impact in Madagascar (1997)
- Drinnon, Dale A. (16 July 2013) "Persisting Giant Lemurs of Madagascar" frontiersofzoology.blogspot.com [Accessed 29 April 2020]
- Lavauden, Louis "Animaux Disparus et Légendaires de Madagascar," Revue Scientifique, No. 69 (1931)