In the northern parts of the democratic Republic of Congo is the Bili forest, a secluded eco-system that is very rarely explored and is home to a variety of species of animals. But with all the life that calls the Bili forest home there is one very special and elusive animals that we want to put our attention on, The Bili ape also called the Bondo ape after the nearby town of “Bondo ”but for simplicity we are just going refer to them as Bili apes throughout the article.
Bili apes are a large subspecies of the common Chimp with their closest relative being the eastern chimpanzee. These Bili Apes can grow up to a tall 6ft and can weigh an estimated 400lbs. To put that into perspective a Common Chimp is around 3ft and 100lbs but can easily man handle even the strongest humans. Bili apes at first were thought to be a gorilla-chimp hybrid. This belief came about when a Gorilla shaped skull was found in an area where gorillas are not found, further investigation would lead to finding ground nests but with no other signs of gorilla and with everything screaming chimp. Curiosity struck and the search for this possibly new elusive great ape was on! Native tribes of the Bondo region would tell stories of large apes that would hunt lions, howl at the moon, fish the rivers and even be resistant to poison darts. Scientist would later discover that these “wives tales” had some truths to them.
Locating Bili apes is no easy task, the thick forest makes it hard for modern humans to maneuver in and until 2003 civil war made it very dangerous for researchers to enter the area. After researchers were able to enter the Bili forest safely, they did so. The first team to enter the northern forest of the Congo was in 2003. On this team was primate behaviorist Shelly Williams. During the exploration they came in contact with a group of the elusive Bili ape. Williams describes the encounter as such, “We could hear them in the trees, about 10 m away, and four suddenly came rushing through the brush towards me. If this had been a mock charge they would have been screaming to intimidate us. These guys were quiet, and they were huge. They were coming in for the kill – but as soon as they saw my face they stopped and disappeared.” After this encounter it was clear that these apes were not gorillas but in fact they were a group of unexamined species of chimpanzee. Just one year after the new apes were confirmed a scientist named Cleve hicks took the trek into the thickets to see what he could come up with on the elusive Bili apes. Hicks spent a very dedicated 18 months living near and studying the apes. During his time with the apes he learned that the stories the locals would tell where not that far-fetched. Although he never witnessed them howling at the moon, he did come across a group of male Bilis eating a leopard. Unsure if the Leopard was actually killed initially by the apes they were for sure feeding on its carcass. Hick was approached by a man who was saying he may have found another group of Bilis who have a different culture and would allow the researches to finally observe at closer distances as for the apes they were currently studying were very sceptical of humans. When Hicks and his team moved to locate this new band of apes they were not disappointed. These apes were curious at the sight of humans and would even approach them in an untraditional friendly manor. This new group of Bili’s confirmed that these apes where something special. They would hunt, make tools, fish, and make ground nests. And in the Bili region the natives say there are only two types of apes. “tree beaters and lion eaters”. Even when encountering these more observable apes the researches kept their distance and didn’t let the apes get accustom to being around humans in fear that the apes would think all humans are safe and that is not always the case.
Just like all wild animals Bili apes face serious risk today, with poachers and animal trading coming into the area these apes and many of the native species face a great threat. In 2007 Cleve Hicks returned to the area and stumbled across heart ache walking through the forest and the village streets he found, 34 chimpanzee bodies, and 31 orphaned chimps that have been placed for sale on the black market. With little known about these apes having them already face what could be an early extinction due to human ego is very sad to think about but is there hope for this elusive ape of the Congo? Besides locals protecting the area from poachers and animals traders which is a very dangerous task there is a foundation working on protecting the whole Bili forest you can find more info on them here (HELP THE BILI FOREST)
Stay wild and stay curious
Bili apes eating
A Male bili ape