|Posted by Jim Bevan on October 8, 2012 at 4:50 AM|
Bats have long been featured in supernatural beliefs throughout the world. Their unique status as the only mammals capable of flight, coupled with their nocturnal nature, have inspired various myths. Many cultures associated bats with death, decay and the afterlife, some even believing that they were the physical manifestation of souls released after death. The discovery of species that feed on blood strengthened their association with dark powers, causing them to be named after the mythical vampires. Other cultures revere them in a more positive light: Chinese, Polish, and Arabian legends associate bats as symbols of good health and prosperity. While most of these superstitions have been swept aside, there is still a primal fear of bats present in many humans. And if certain reports from West Africa are true, there’s a species of bat which grows to such a massive size that it would instill fear in almost anyone – the olitiau.
In 1932, Scottish biologist/naturalist Ivan T. Sanderson was on safari in the Assumbo Mountains of Cameroon, examining various species of wildlife. One night, he had shot at a hammer-headed fruit bat and, upon going to retrieve it from a small steam it had dropped into, tripped and fell into the water. As Sanderson regained his footing, he heard an urgent warning from his colleague, Gerald Russell. Looking up, Sanderson spotted a massive bat swooping down at him. Its fur was pitch black in color, covering a body the size of a large eagle’s, its face flattened and similar to a monkey’s, its lower jaw filled with sharp teeth estimated to be two inches long, and it had tremendous opaque wings (later calculations by Sanderson and Russell comparing its length to landmarks in the area determined its wingspan to be at least 12 feet). Sanderson ducked back into the water as the creature swooped overhead, moving with what he noticed to be a slow, flapping motion like that seen in fruit bats. He recovered his gun, urging Russell to do the same in case the beast returned. It did come back as dawn was breaking, teeth chattering loudly as it flew over them. Both men shot at it, but it was moving too fast for them to land a hit. Eventually the titanic bat flew off, prompting Sanderson and Russell to return to their base camp upstream.
Sanderson related the story of the encounter to his native Ipulo guides through an interpreter, and the story terrified them, causing one of them to shout “Olitiau!” (an Ipulo term used to refer to demons). They gathered up their material and made a swift retreat for their village miles away. The next day, the chief of the village persuaded Sanderson and Russell to not return to the area where they had encountered the “olitiau” for their safety. Sanderson tried to get the chief and other locals to explain why they feared the beast so much, but they would not elaborate. The matter was dropped until Sanderson and Russell left Africa; they would not let the mystery go unsolved.
Sanderson’s encounter inspired him to research similar encounters of strange creatures. He found a case similar to his having occurred in Java in 1927, when Dr. Ernest Bartels encountered a massive bat the island residents called the ahool, named after the howling sound it makes. This led Sanderson to theorize that the olitiau and ahool were species of bats (most likely from the suborder michrochiroptera), still unverified by modern science, that were capable of achieving such massive size and wingspans. He continued to pursue evidence to support his theory, and investigated claims into the existence of other mysterious animals, making him one of the forefathers of modern cryptozoology.
What did Ivan Sanderson encounter on that fateful day? Some have claimed that he simply saw a rather large specimen of an already known species, like a hammer-headed bat or yellow-winged bat, that had grown to larger than average size. But Sanderson was a trained zoologist who would have been able to differentiate between species. Some more idealistic cryptozoologists have said that he had an encounter with a living pterosaur, similar to the Kongamato of the Congo. Sanderson has remained adamant in affirming that what he saw was not a bird or a reptile, but a bat. And while he did falter in judgment on occasion (he was fooled by a 1948 hoax of a giant penguin roaming the beaches of Florida), it’s doubtful that he or Russell would deliberately make a false claim regarding what they saw. There’s a strong possibility that undiscovered species of large bat exist in the jungles of Cameroon and Java. Consider that more than 400 new species have been discovered since 1993 alone, and more are continually found each year. If the olitiau does exist, though, then we must wonder if the Ipulo had a legitimate reason to fear it. Larger species of microbats are known to feed on birds, lizards, and fish, and the order includes the infamous blood-feeding vampire bats. If they grew big enough, would they view humans as a potential food source?
Categories: Manic Expression's Monster Extravaganza