Vietnam’s Rock Ape
By Sara Fawley
With the coming of the War in the 1960’s and 1970’s and the influx of American Soldiers into the jungles of Vietnam tales begin to emerge of encounters with strange ape like creatures that came to be known as “Rock Apes”. The creatures are said to be 5 to 6 feet tall, covered mostly in reddish brown fur except for certain areas such as the face,knees, palms of hands and bottoms of feet. They are bipeda with no tail, travel either alone or in small groups. The natives referred to them as Nguoi Rung or “jungle people” and had long known of them. To the locals they were just a fact of life and part of living in the interior jungles.
In fact tales of the same or very similar creatures have long been around the area. Not only Vietnam but Laos, Camnodia and Northern Borneo as well. The creatures have other names besides Nguoi Rung and Rock Ape as it was dubbed during the war. They are also known to locals as Batutut and Ujit. They are all similar in appearance though the ones in Borneo are said to have grayish hair and an aggressive nature with a tendency to attack humans with no provocation.
Although they were well known to the locals these humanoid, hairy bipeds were something new and frightening to the soldiers. While patroling the jungles, fighting off the Viet Cong as well as mosquitoes and other jungle life, stories of encounters with these “Rock Apes” began to become common place.
There are numerous tales ,one of the most well known is told by Veteran Kregg P.J. Jorgenson in his book Very Crazy G.I,.- Strange But True Stories Of The Vietname War. In his book, Jorgenson relates the encounter had by a 6 man unit of the 101 Airborne Division while they were on patrol in the mountainous jungle terrain of Vietnam. It was an arduuos hike carrying heavy packs through an unforgiving environment so the group stopped to take a rest. Although they were exhausted and resting they were still alert and attuned to their surroundings since they were aware that the enemy was everywhere. As they sat there some trees about 15 yards uphill began to violently shake. Assuming it was the enemey the men readied their weapons and sat waiting, watching the trees. But what emerged from the underbrush was not the Viet Cong as they feared. What they saw was a strange creature covered in matted reddish hair. The creature had a muscular frame with an oblong head, large mouth, deep set eyes and stood about 5 feet tall on two legs . The creature seemed to stand just observing them. The soldiers started speculating as to what it was, at first assuming it was an orangatuan until one of them pointed out that orangutans are not native to Vietnam. As they sat arguing, trying to assimilate what they were seeing the creature apparently became bored and slipped back off into the jungle.
There are other tales , many of much more violent than Jorenson’s account. Several of these involve a strategic position known as Hill 868 in the Quang Nam province. Alllegedly this particular site was so overrun with the “Rock Apes” that it became known among soldiers as “Monkey Mountain”. One of the encounters is related by Veteran Steve Canyon. According to Canyon a unit of Marines was out in the jungle of Hill 868 at night testing out a new muzzle flash and noise suppresser for their weapons. As they were getting set up to begin testing they noticed a Rock Ape staring aggresively at them from the nearby vegetation. After sitting there glaring at them for several moments the creature let out a loud barking sound. One of the soldiers threw a rock at it to scare it off. He hit it dead on with the rock, at this point the Rock Ape picked up it’s own rock and hurled it back at the soldiers. The group then noticed that while they were watching the single creature several more , about 20, had gathered around them in the jungle. The creatures began letting out howls and screeches and throwing rocks at the soldiers. The unit made a hasty retreat out of the jungle and back to the hill without engaging the creatures. When asked why they did not fire at the creatures, Canyon stated that “it just didn’t seem right to fire at them with their weapons”.
Now when reading these accounts you may think these were young men taken from their homes and families to fight an unknown enemy in a strange country and environment nHe ew to them so of course theses accounts were probably encounters with misidentified know species native to the area. These would be reasonable assumptions if not for the fact that encounters were not only had by the Americans but there are also tales from the other side of the lines as well. So much so in fact that in 1974 the North Vietnamese party Secretariat ordered a scientific expedition to find definitive proof of these Rock Apes. Professor Vo Quy of the Vietnam National University headed the expedition. They did not see any of the creatures but did find some curious tracks in the deep jungle. Casts were made of the footprints and sent to be analyzed. The analysis found that the print was wider than a human but much to large to be that of an Ape. There were other expeditions including one led by North Vietnamese General Hoang Minh Thau which were also unsuccessful.
Adding weight to the possibility that these tales are more than just campfire stories coming from the overstressed minds of young men fighting for their lives in unfamiliar surroundings are the claims of noted zoologist Dr. John McKinnon. In 1970, Mckinnon claimed to have found tracks of the creature which locals told him came from what they called Batutut. Mckinnon believed that the tracks he found were of hominid origin, possibly similar to the Maganthropus. The tracks were said to have human looking toes but about the size of an Asiatic black bear which are not native to Vietnam. Mckinnon wrote of the findings in a 1978 book, In Search Of The Red Ape. Although he never found solid evidence of the existense of Batutut , Mckinnon did discover several new species of large mammals in the Vu Quang Mountain rainforest in 1992, proving that the region was indeed capabale of hiding and sustaining large unknown species .
So do the Rock Apes exisit and if so, what are they? There are several theories that have been proposed over time. One theory being that the tails are a misidentification of a known species, the Tonkin snub-nosed Monkey. On the surface the snub-nosed monkey sounds like a good candidate. They live in mountainous areas in groups of up to 600. Show little fear of humans and have a wide range of vocalizations including one that sounds remarkably like a bark. Unfortunately this is where the similarities end. The snub-nosed monkey is active in the daytime, is exclusively tree dwelling, has a long prominent tail, is not bipedal and is nowhere near the 4-5 foot stature of the Rock Ape. Rock Apes conversely are bipedal, ground-dwelling, tailess nocturanl creatures.
Another theory is that the American soldiers were well known for imbibing in illict drugs including hallucenogentics and these encounters were just the product of over stressed drug-hazed minds in a stressful situation. There are a few problems with this theory. One being that stories of Batutut, Ujit or Nguoi Rung were known among the natives well before the war and American Soldiers. Also the fact that stories come from both sides of the conflict. Add in the fact that while the may have been some recreational drug use among the soldiers it is highly doubtful that this was happening during combat situations and there are numerous stories or Rock Ape encounters during combat. To believe this theory one would also have to believe that both sides of the conflict spent the entire war in a drug induced haze.
The most logical theory to my mind is that there is some as yet undiscovered species of ape hidden deep in the mountainous jungles of Vietnam. The fact that numerous new species of mammals have been discovered in this area in recent years just solidfies this theory to me. As always, do the research and reading and you decide. For me I will not be surprised if and when a new primate is discovered in the jungles of Vietnam.