By Dr. Elaine Jean Struthers, Ph.D., Coulston Foundation, Holloman AFB, NM
Several articles and
related research projects which have considered the question of the so-called
hybrid ape, or Koolakamba, are available. The initial references appear
to be from the descriptive work of DuChaillu from 1860, 1861, 1867, and
1899; some of which was republished in 1969 (Explorations and Adventures
in Equatorial Africa). There may have been at least one prior reference
to the Koolakamba in a French work by Franquet (1852, as cited by Shea,
between four ape-types in his work, these are the Gorilla, the common
chimpanzee, the nshiego mbouve (Troglodytes calvus), and the Koolakamba
(DuChaillu 1861 and 1969). He provides a detailed physiological description
of each variant species as well as illustrations of the important morphological
features. 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. DuChaillu's summation employed folk taxonomy in
identification of apes in the wild. It has been asserted elsewhere (Shea,
1984) that the system of folk differentiation, unlike the extant European
system embedded in DuChaillu's worldview, identified individual variation
as a type, rather than subspecies variation as a type. Classification
of the Koolakamba as a unique entity, it is suggested (Shea, 1984), may
be due to DuChaillu's misinterpretation of folk taxonomy.
A number of researchers have also investigated the possible molecular identity of the Koolakamba as a true subspecies. Contemporary research methodologies can perhaps allow a more definitive explanation of the status of the Koolakamba. Work done by Ferris (et al., 1981a,b) used testing of serum to identify mitochondrial DNA restriction endonuclease polymorphism patterns which indicated distinctions between chimpanzee subspecies. The Koolakamba was not identified as unique in the Ferris research (perhaps due to not having any designated Koolakambas in the sample pool?). This work was later expanded by other research (Davidson, 1986) examining electrophoretic variation in serum esterases. The sample pool in Davidson's work were all derived from the Holloman colony and included two designated Koolakambas. No discernible differences were noted for the Koolakamba subjects. A subsequent research project initiated by Gene McCarthy (then of the University of Georgia) in 1991 proposed to survey genetic markers, both mitochondrial and protein, in chimpanzees. In particular the project sought to settle, once and for all, the question of whether or not the Koolakamba was genetically distinct. Due to sampling difficulty, which arises from identification problems and small numbers of accessible subjects, the project has not yet come to culmination.
It has been suggested that the Koolakamba type represents a hybrid ape, perhaps a cross between gorilla and chimpanzee. The notion of hybridism between apes has been a quintessential topic of debate for numerous years. Evidence indicates that at least some ape hybridization (lesser apes) is indeed possible (Myers & Shafer, 1979; and Wolkin & Myers, 1980). The Atlanta Zoo housed two female Siamangs with a male Gibbon, and in 1975 one of the females gave birth to a hybrid offspring (Wolkin & Myers, 1980). This "Siabon" was later transferred to Georgia State University. A second hybrid was later born (in 1976) to the same pair, but it did not survive past the neonatal period. That great apes can produce hybrid offspring, then, is probable. That the Koolakamba represents a form of hybridized ape is at least plausible. Though we may not be able to confirm the existence of any such hybrids at present, it may be reasonable to reserve a category for such a hybrid and label that category "Koolakamba".
For many years, the Coulston Foundation Holloman AFB site has been alleged to have Koolakambas among its chimpanzee population. These references have been based on acquisition records, Hill's inventory (1967), and records of the geographical origin of wild caught subjects. Hill published a photo, probably taken around 1964, of what was allegedly a male Koolakamba. Although I have an excellent reproduction of the photo and have worked within the colony for almost 10 years, and while I have conducted thorough anecdotal interviews with the long term staff, no one recognizes the particular individual in the photo. I am quite certain he either died long ago or was moved to some other facility. The animal in the photo is quite distinctive looking, however, and we do possess a female (Jennifer) who was born here in 1970 who looks a great deal like him. Jennifer's dam died in 1979 and was one of the very early acquisitions of the AF, but she was not noted to be a Koolakamba or otherwise unusual. The sire is unknown because at that time the chimpanzees were still housed in the open free-ranging consortium facility. We have often speculated that it might be possible that the male pictured in the Hill article could be Jennifer's sire.
An article by Don Cousins (Acta Zoologica v.75, 1980) specifically identifies two Alleged Koolakambas at the Holloman site; Sevim, and Minnie currently 39 years old. Sevim was a female, she died of natural causes in 1983, but left a number of offspring. Minnie is something of a local celebrity, and has resided here since 1957. She currently is employed as a foster mother after several years as a prominent member of the breeding contract colony. She assists us in raising the infants that for various reasons have had to be reared in the nursery during early infancy. Currently she is raising her own natural offspring, Lil' Minnie, who may represent a Koolakamba type as she looks exactly like her illustrious mother. Minnie certainly fits the description of the Koolakamba both pysically and behaviorally that DuChaillu offers in his works. Minnie frequently likes to walk bipedally, she is extremely gregarious and smart preferring toys that require manual dexterity and finesse to manipulate (e.g. baby activity boards, feeding puzzles, etc.). Minnie also has a well-defined aggressive streak and she traditionally holds an Alpha position in whatever social configuration she is placed.
There have been other chimpanzees among our colony that morphologically and behaviorally (re: DuChaillu) we hazarded might be of the Koolakamba type, but we could not really confirm them as such. It is often difficult to identify the geographical place of origin (based on accession records) for the few remaining wild-caught members of the Holloman founder population. Often such records were intentionally misleading due to irregularities in customs laws prior to the CITES law governing transport of chimpanzees from their native countries. Records sometimes indicate which country the animals were shipped from but that is not necessarily synonymous with the country in which they were actually caught. This further obscures our ability to guess if individuals might be members of the Koolakamba tribe. When an acquisition record indicates place of origin as Gabon or Cameroon, it is worth examining the subject in question to assess morphological features, but the designation of "Koolakamba" remains subjective.
that may be helpful in maintaining records for individuals identified
as Koolakamba is ISIS. Rick Lukens, research associate at ISIS and formerly
network analyst at the Holloman AFB site, is aware of the Koolakamba issue
and is careful to note any references to the subspecies in records he
handles. We at the Coulston Foundation are keenly interested in the Koolakamba
debate and will be pleased to field any inquiries regarding this unique
variation of Pan.
# Cousins, D., 1980:
On the Koolakamba - a Legendary Ape. Acta Zoologica et Pathologica Antverpiensia,
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