Over Memorial Day Weekend, Animal Planet debuted it’s movie “Cannibal In The Jungle” as part of the channel’s annual “Monster Week”, which is described in the following way based on the network’s synopsis:
From Animal Planet:
“Dr. Timothy Darrow is a scientist who is convicted of eating and killing two of his workmates in the Indonesian jungle back in 1977. Dr. Timothy Darrow blames the murders of his workmates on an ape/human-like creature during his trial. The case becomes known worldwide as The American Cannibal case. Could Darrow’s claims be true? Is he an innocent man convicted of murder or is he a delusional killer? Tune in to Animal Planet tonight at 9/8c.”
“Cannibal In The Jungle” follows the story of American scientist Dr. Timothy Darrow, who was convicted of the murdering and cannibalizing a fellow American scientist and a local guide while the three were on a mission attempting to locate a thought-to-be-extinct bird species in the thick jungle of the Indonesian island of Flores in 1977, for which he was sentenced to life in prison. Darrow has always claimed that he was innocent, and that his colleagues were killed by small hominid creatures that were tracking his research team through the jungle, which helped convict Darrow as a murderous paranoid schizophrenic cannibal. The mystery deepens with the discovery of the bones of homo floresiensis on the island of Flores in 2003, a small species of hominid which once lived alongside humans, and which scientists estimate went extinct 10,000 years ago. However, native tribes tell of a cryptozoological creature called the Ebu Gogo, a small bipedal creature which used to steal crops and children until the tribesmen eradicated the creatures with fire about over a hundred years ago. The scientist who discovered the bones believes that homo floresiensis could still survive today in the deep jungles of Flores, and if he can prove that homo floresiensis still exists, that he can prove Dr. Timmothy Darrow was innocent of his horrific crimes in 1977.
The problem with this movie was, much like previous Animal Planet programing such as “Mermaids: The Body Found” and “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives”, “Cannibal In The Jungle” is a fictional story which is presented as fact with actual scientific evidence used as the backbone of a fake story. There is no Dr. Timothy Darrow, and no scientist was convicted of murdering and eating his colleagues in the jungles of Flores in 1977. There is no modern-day scientist that went on a crusade upon discovery of the bones in 2003, to prove that homo floresiensis still exists in order to get a murder conviction overturned. All of the video evidence of homo floresiensis used in the film is dramatizations of events which never happened, the entire plot and characters in “Cannibal in the Jungle” are 100% fake, and the movie is pure fiction.
The factual part of this story revolves around bones that allegedly belonged to a small hominid, which was dubbed homo floresiensis or “Flores Man”, nicknamed “The Hobbit”, were discovered in 2003 on the isle of Flores in Indonesia. The bones were dated to 10,000 years ago, making homo floresiensis the longest hominid to survive other than modern man (the last Neanderthal is thought to have gone extinct around 39,000 years ago) and confirming that homo floresiensis lived side by side with modern humans for a long period of history. It is also fact that the native tribes on the isle of Flores and surrounding Indonesian islands tell stories of a small forest dwelling hominid called Ebu Gogo, a creature which resembles what modern scientists project the homo floresiensis looked like, although the creature is now folklore used to scare small children into behaving (like the local Indonesian version of “The Boogeyman” ) and has not actually been seen by the native people in generations. The scientific community believes that the homo floresiensis has long been extinct, and that native tribes on Flores have passed down the story of the Ebu Gogo for generations, a story which was once based in fact when humans interacted with homo floresiensis thousands of years ago.
There is plenty of debate around homo floresiensis today, as some scientists do not believe that the bones discovered in 2003 on Flores are those of a separate species of hominid, but a group of humans which evolved with island dwarfism (like an extreme example of the modern day pygmy). Due to the harsh conditions of the Flores rainforest, any humans who would live there would likely become malnourished, causing the population to physically shrink over generations to make survival easier. A smaller body means that less calories are needed to feed it, and since food was so scare, this population of humans physically shrunk as an adaptation for survival. This can be observed in many other species, including the stegodon, a tiny elephant which also lived on the island of Flores until around 10,000 years ago and lived side-by-side with Flores man. This theory claims that homo floresiensis was actually a population of modern humans (genetically exactly the same as humans), which shrunk over the years due to lack of nourishment on the island of Flores, and that it was not a separate species of hominid. Scientists have been unable to extract DNA from the bones which were discovered in 2003, so testing this theory and confirming that homo floresiensis is a separate species than modern humans has been impossible to date. The smallest existing humans, which inhabit the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia (Malaysia), reach an average height of 4’6” while homo floresiensis is estimated to reach an average height of 3’7”. If homo floresiensis is confirmed to be a population of modern day humans, it will be the physically smallest population ever discovered.
Another theory is that the bones of homo floresiensis are actually those of an extinct primate, possibly related to the orangutan, which is native to other islands in the Indonesia archipelago but is not found on Flores. Scientist argue that the skeletal structure and skull are much closer to humans than any surviving apes, and that homo floresiensis was bipedal and stood upright, characteristics that are not exhibited by apes and are specific to hominids. Other scientists theorize that the remains of homo floresiensis discovered in 2003 is actually physically ill or deformed modern day human, once again, until DNA is extracted from these bones these theories are unable to be tested.
Scientists who have examined the bones of homo floresiensis claim that it is impossible the specimen was the same species as a modern day human, and confirm that the skull and skeletal structure are much closer to those of early hominids than they are to modern humans, of course early (and all other) hominids were thought to have gone extinct thousands of years earlier.
While the plot and characters of “Cannibal in the Jungle” were entirely fictionalized by Animal Planet, there are some interesting facts that were used as the backbone of the story, and the mystery around homo floresiensis is real. Were the bones discovered in 2003 human? Are the bones of homo floresiensis those of a previously undiscovered hominid, which once lived alongside humans, and with which humans shared a common ancestor? Are the bones of homo floresiensis those of the Ebu Gogo, a creature thought to be part of Indonesian folklore, which was terrorizing natives? Could the homo floresiensis have existed in the dense jungles of Flores much more recently than scientists think? Could it still exist today in the remote and impenetrable jungles of Flores?
I personally think that a pure documentary on the actual mysteries of homo floresiensis would have been far more interesting, and while the fictional story of Dr. Timothy Darrow made “Cannibal in the Jungle” an entertaining watch, it is important to know which elements of the story are based in fact among all of the fiction.