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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LINDSAY SELBY: Ahool Ahoy!

The Ahool is a legendary giant bat. It is named because of its distinctive call: ahooool. It was reported in the rainforests of Java. The island of Java was formed mostly as the result of volcanic activity and is part of Indonesia. Java is a densely populated island with a population of approximately 124 million. It is because of this over-population that the rainforests there have grown smaller, the Gunung Halimun National Park being one of the last examples of lowland forest on the island.

The ahool is described as having an ape-like face with large dark eyes, large claws on its forearms and a body covered in grey fur. It is said to have a wingspan of 10 feet (3 metres), its flattened forearms supporting its leathery wings. It has been reported as seen squatting on the forest floor, and appeared to be the size of a small child; about 4 feet (1.1 metre) in height. The ahool’s habits are to spend its days in waterfall caves, while it spends nights skimming across the jungle waterways, scooping up fish with large claws located on the top of its forearms.

The ahool was first described by Dr Ernest Bartels while exploring the Salak Mountains on the island of Java. In 1925 naturalist Bartels (son of ornithologist M. E. G. Bartels) was exploring a waterfall on the slopes of the Salek Mountains when a giant bat swooped down over his head. Then in 1927, around 11:30 pm Bartels was lying in bed, inside his thatched house close to the Tjidjenkol River in western Java, listening to the sounds of the jungle when he suddenly heard a very different sound coming from almost directly over his hut. This loud and clear cry seemed to utter "A Hool!" Grabbing his torch, Dr Bartels ran out of his hut in the direction the sound seemed to be heading. Less than 20 seconds later he heard it again, a final A Hool! It was the giant bat he encountered 2 years before.


People who have visited the area have questioned the local people about the bat. The people say they have seen it or know of its existence and avoid it as they do other large wild animals. The villages are remote and people do not own cameras etc, so no photos have ever been produced.


Bartels's accounts of the ahool were passed to Ivan T. Sanderson by Bernard Heuvelmans, and Sanderson concluded that the ahool is a form of unclassified bat. Sanderson took an interest in the ahool because he too had a strange encounter with an unknown giant bat in the Assumbo Mountains of Cameroon, in Africa. Sanderson thought that the ahool could be an Oriental form of the giant bat-like creature he witnessed in Africa, called the Kongamato.


The biggest known bat today is the Bismark flying fox, which has a wing span of six feet (almost 2 metres) from wing tip to wing tip. The island of Java is near the flying fox's home of New Guinea, so could it be a relative?

The other theory about ahool is that two large earless owls exist on Java, the spotted wood-owl (Strix seloputo) and the Javan wood-owl (Strix (leptogrammica) bartelsi) (named after Bartels's father) being 16-20 inches (40-50 cms) long and with a wingspan of 4 feet (1.1 metres). However, one would have thought Bartels would have known what the owls looked like, especially as his father discovered one and also the local people would be familiar with them. With the demise of the rain forests, if these creatures exist, they may have been pushed to extinction, which is a sad thought.

See here for the story from Karl Shuker’s book:
http://www.paraview.com/shuker/shuker_excerpt.htm

Holt, Denver W., Berkley, Regan; Deppe, Caroline; Enríquez Rocha, Paula L.; Olsen, Penny D.; Petersen, Julie L.; Rangel Salazar, José Luis; Segars, Kelley P. & Wood, Kristin L. (1999): Family Strigidae (typical owls). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (eds): Handbook of Birds of the World, Volume 5: Barn-owls to Hummingbirds: 76-242, plates 4-20. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-25-3

3 comments:

Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

The fish-eating habits of this bat are, I think, the key to the reports being genuine. Bats echolocate by squeaking, and can squeak only as they exhale. Breathing in bats is tied to their wing flapping when they're flying; they inhale on the upstroke and exhale on the downstroke.

Now, obviously the larger the bat, the larger the wings and the slower the rate of flapping, hence the fewer squeaks per second the bat can easily make. Now, the higher the frequency of sound used in echolocation the smaller the detail which the echolocation can resolve, but the shorter the range of that echolocation.

British bats are small, flap fast and usually echolocate in the 40 KHz to 60 KHz range, which lets them detect insects and navigate in tree cover. Noctule bats are bigger, echolocate at about 20KHz and typically hunt up and down woodland edges for large moths; they do so because they cannot "see" smaller insects nor can they get a good enough picture of dense cover by sound alone, so use eyesight too.

This putative tropical bat will therefore have the same problems greatly magnified. It won't be able to echolocate very well, simply because its squeak rate (determined by flapping rate) will be very slow, and quite insufficient to allow it to hunt in jungles. So, such a bat is forced to fly in uncluttered areas over rivers navigating by vision, and likely hunting at least partly by vision as well, although echolocating to find a fish fin projecting through the surface of still water is also possible (there are a few smaller fish-eating species which do just this) since the bat is echolocating for a clear target in uncluttered surroundings.

For further info on this, I'd recommend contacting Dr John Altringham of Leeds University.

Dale Drinnon said...

Hi there Lindsay! I suppose you KNEW I would show up.

It just so happens that when I was going through Sanderson's files, I happened to go threough Bartel's report transcript and several drafts of Sanderson's chapter. There were some pieces cut out of the final version to make reading simpler and the original took great pains to explain why the Ahool would not be an owl, and what the exact terminology about the flat forearms and the claws on the wings would mean. These were specifications about translating the exact words used in the native accounts.

Sanderson did not refer to the bat he saw as a Kongamato (which in my opinion is something else entirely different) but he said it was called Olitiau. Actually that seems to have been the locals' name for the Christian Devil, according to Heuvelmans: the natives told Sanderson he had seen the very Devil himself. No wonder they thought it best he should leave the "Bad" place where he saw the bat.

There is also a New World analogue to the Ahool, and most sources call it Kamazotz. Depictions of it can be strikingly like the Ahool's description.

Tabitca said...

Thanks for the great comments guys!
I think you are both stars.It is one of the more likely cryptids to exist I think.Unfortunately with the decimation of the forests it may already be extinct.