Kakundakari

Small Hominid of Central Africa.

Etymology: Konjo, Nyanga, and Kanu (Bantu) word.

Scientific name: Congopithecus, proposed by Charles Cordier in July 1960; amended to Congopithecus cordieri by Heini Hediger in October 1960.

Variant names: Amajungi (Komo/Bantu), KiKCMBA (possibly the male or adult of the species), Lisisingo (Poke/Bantu), Mbatcha (Tembo/Bantu), Niaka-ambuguza (Lega-Mwenga/Bantu).

Physical description: Height, 2—3 feet. Gray skin. Covered with thin hair except for the face. Long, black head-hair shaped in pageboy fashion. No large canine teeth. Short mane along the neck.

Behavior: Bipedal. Strong for its size. Travels alone or in pairs or threes. Does not climb trees. Does not swim but crosses streams by holding on to a floating log or by using a canoe. Horrible odor. Eats crabs, ginger-fruit, millipedes, snails, and birds. Carries a satchel made of leaves to hold gathered food. Sleeps in caves. Makes a bed of leaves. Dodges spears thrown at it. Possibly uses a machete. Gathers wood in the cave as if to make a fire but apparently cannot get it going.

Tracks: Four-toed. Length, under 5 inches.

Distribution: Kivu Region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, north to the equator.

Significant sightings: In January 1957, a nearly dead Kakundakari was found by a hunter south of Kasese, near the Lugulu River. He brought it to a village, where it was kept caged until it escaped. It was seen by many blacks and dozens of whites.

Near Walikale, Charles Cordier found a 5-inch-long footprint close to a cavern said to be the home of a Kakundakari. The big toe was in the same proportion as that of a human print, but there was no trace of a fifth toe.

Present status: Always characterized as rare, it may be severely reduced in numbers or even extinct because of deforestation and warfare in the region.

Possible explanations:

(1) The Pygmies of classical times, possibly the ancestors of the short-statured Mbuti of the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, the Pygmies seem more advanced physically and culturally than the Kakundakari.

(2) Confused folklore about the Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) or Bonobo (Pan paniscus).

(3) Surviving gracile australopith, suggested by Bernard Heuvelmans. Australopiths were a family of hominids known from the Pliocene to the Early Pleistocene, 4.4-1.4 million years ago. More than 2,000 individual fossils are known. Australopiths had apelike skulls, hominid teeth, pronounced cheekbones, and projecting jaws. The molars were heavy, with thick enamel. In Ethiopia and Tanzania, Australopithecus afarensis males probably stood about 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighed over 100 pounds; females stood about 3 feet 6 inches and weighed about 60 pounds. The arms were proportionately longer than those of humans but shorter than those of apes. The chest tapered sharply upward. Cranial capacity averaged 400-410 milliliters. They had an upright, bipedal gait but apparently also climbed trees. They were vegetarians, based on their molar size, and probably ate leaves, fruit, tubers, seeds, and insects.

The best-known specimen of A. afarensis is known as Lucy, found in 1974 at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, and considered by some anthropologists, notably Donald Johanson, to be ancestral to modern humans. Other evolutionary relationships have been proposed, but there is little consensus on this issue; it's likely that generic renamings will occur as relationships are further explored.

Bipedal footprints 3.8-3.6 million years old preserved in volcanic ash at Laetoli, Tanzania, and discovered by Mary Leakey in 1978 may belong to afarensis. The apelike and grasping big toe is in alignment with the others, and the print roughly resembles the sketch of a Kakundakari track drawn by Cordier nearly twenty years earlier.

Sources: Heini Hediger, "Auf der Spur eines neuen Menschenaffen," Das Tier 1 (October

1960): 49; Charles Cordier, "Deux anthropoïdes inconnus marchant debout, au Congo ex-Belge," Genus 29 (1963): 2-10; Charles Cordier, "Animaux inconnus au Congo," Zoo 38 (April 1973): 185-191; Bernard Heuvelmans, Les bêtes humaines d'Afrique (Paris: Plon, 1980), pp. 570-598.

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