Are There Apes in North America?

Everyone knows that the only North American apes are in zoos, right? That the only wild apes are in Africa and southern Asia. That maybe – maybe – North America is home to a population of upright “ape men,” hominids that we know as Bigfoot or Sasquatch. But a population of apes in North America – that is, “normal” apes?

Surprisingly, some cryptozoologists believe that North America does host a population of indigenous wild apes.

The most prominent proponent of the “North American Ape” theory is Loren Coleman. He has dubbed this cryptid the “nape,” a shortened version of “North American Ape.” 

Coleman hypothesizes that these so-called Napes populate the river valleys of the southeastern United States and the southern Midwest. His history with these creatures is longstanding, as he made one of the original casts of a possible Nape in Southern Illinois in the 1960s. The cast is clearly distinct from the traditional Bigfoot print, most notably in its protruding thumb.  The thumb is so notable, in fact, that it has been dismissed as a tell-tale sign that the print was hoaxed. But this begs the question: Coleman’s whole point was that the print had a discernible, human-like thumb.

Of course, there have been several sightings of apes in the wilderness of “Nape territory” through the years: Howard Dreeson’s Oklahoma “chimpanzee” in the late 1960s; the Broward County, Florida chimpanzee animals of 1971; and North Carolina’s “Knobby” in 1979, just to name a few. In fact, on several occasions, sightings have recurred in particular areas over a discrete period of time. 
A wild population of North American apes may explain a substantial portion of the Bigfoot sightings in the Eastern United States – especially the sightings in which witnesses catch a quick glimpse of something apelike.  It could also explain many of the Bigfoot vocalizations in the Southeast and lower Midwest.

One classic Bigfoot-associated cryptid that dovetails quite nicely with the Nape hypothesis is Florida’s legendary Skunk Ape, which, as its name suggests, has long been considered more ape-like than the classic hominid-form Sasquatch.  The Myakka Ape photographs from around the turn of the twenty-first century are some of the most provocative evidence of such a creature.  Likewise, Florida has been reputed to host a population of chimpanzees – which, if true, may in fact constitute a population of some other, native species.   

Some or all of these may stem from released exotic pets, escaped specimen from labs or roadside zoos, or other non-native sources. 

But there is also the provocative possibility of a native species. As Coleman explains in his book, “Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America,” he believes that they may be dryopethcine, a believed-extinct ape that had lived in temperate and subtropical environments.

Could there be an undiscovered species of North American apes? The evidence is far from conclusive – especially given the unfortunate reality of mistreated and released great apes. But it is a tantalizing possibility nonetheless.  As long as amateur sleuths ply the wilderness in search of undiscovered creatures, Napes deserve a place alongside better-known cryptids – whether or not they are actually creeping underneath the dense forest canopies of Southeastern swamps and river valleys.