Tuesday 25 May 2010

The Ahool, the howling giant bat of Java.

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 overpopulation 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 gray fur. It is said to have a wingspan of 10 feet (3 metres), it’s flattened forearms supporting its leathery wings. It has reported as being 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 it's days in waterfall caves, while it spends nights skimming across the jungle waterways scooping up fish with large claws located on the top of it's forearms.
The Ahool was first described by Dr. Ernest Bartels while exploring the Salak Mountains on the island of Java. In 1925 naturalist Dr. Ernest 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, Dr. Ernest Bartels was laying 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 it’s 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 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 wingtip to wingtip 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 father)being 16-20 inches (40-50 cms) long and with a wingspan of 4 feet (1.1meters).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:

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

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