The Cryptozoologist



Posted on July 20, 2012 at 12:05 AM

Rock Ape 1


Researched, Compiled, Illustrated and Edited

by R. Merrill



Special "Thanks" to Dave "Doc" Snider for the excellent photographs of Dong-Den and for providing what may be the only existing photograph of an actual "Rock Ape."

Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman has a very interesting post over on his Cryptomundo website. The post is about the "Rock Apes" of Vietnam. You can check out the post here.

Make sure and read all the comments at the bottom of the post as they are every bit as intriguing as the article.

That said, I had already heard of the so-called "Rock Apes" some years ago from a buddy of mine who served in country with 1st Marine Division, 1st Recon Battalion, Delta Company until he was wounded in action on June 21, 1969. While researching details of marine sevice during those years, I came across several references to the Rock Apes and their encounters with Marine detachments, some of which I am going to share here with the intention of adding more to the already existing anecdotal record of these unusual cryptids.



LETTERS; Vietnam Novels

Published: April 18, 2010

To the Editor:

The mountain about which Karl Marlantes writes in his novel Matterhorn (April 4) seems to be the ''Rockpile'' that overlooked the A Shau Valley and was a dominant summit for artillery fire in that portion of the western end of the DMZ in 1966 and '67. How do I know? I was the Marine who did all the daily sitrep (situation report) operational maps and overlays for the Fourth Marine Regiment at that time in the DMZ area.


The Rockpile became infamous when the native rock apes living in caves there attacked the Marines stationed at the top of the mountain. The Marines, of course, returned fire, and the following morning called in their daily ''body count.'' I included a count of the dead apes in the morning sitrep briefing. Hell—everything was against us—even the bloody apes!


Cheney, Wash.


May 8-14, 1968 Observation Post - Dong Den


The next days and nights blurred together, but we did have a hard downpour just before sunset which cooled things down a bit. At night we started hearing noises at the edges of the barbed wire. Could be rats, might be VC. "Poncho", a Mexican American corporal who was with me in the defensive bunker, decided to walk up to the communications bunker at the top of the hill.

Well, off he went and I visually followed him as far as I could see him, then I was alone, on top of a mountain in a foreign land. An eternity seemed to pass before I saw movement on the trail and recognized Poncho coming back. About 100 feet from the bunker, he stopped and bent over slightly, seeming to look at something. All of a sudden, his M-16 cracked off a small burst of fire and he ran like hell back to the bunker.

The Lieutenant was already calling on the radio, wanting to know "Who the HELL is shooting at WHAT down there?". Poncho was laughing so hard that I got on the radio and told the Lieutenant that it was me, I thought I had heard something outside the wire.

So, the Lieutenant chewed a piece of my ass out and then got off the radio. When Poncho got control of himself, he told me that he had been walking back to the bunker when he noticed a bush that hadn't been there before. He bent over to see it better and it SNORTED at him and he fired. What he had encountered was the ubiquitous Rock Ape of Vietnam. I would come to learn that they were nearly everywhere, and quite fearless. That is what we had heard near the wire that night.


To: John Swensson

Re: The Rock Apes

John Swensson:

I received an inquiry last week from some folks who were using the wonderful Pamela Sharp Research Portal at

I am looking for any information regarding a type of monkey or ape the troops called "Rock Apes" The Rock Apes were known for hurling stones or other debris including grenades back at troops. Are you familiar with any stories regarding these? Never having heard of these, I forwarded the inquiry to Mr. Mike Kelley in Sacto, great artist and writer who knows most everything.

His response was so interesting I decided to send it to you. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Thank You,



Date: Sat, 25 Nov 2000

We ran into them frequently and I have a friend whose Recon position on Dong Den was overrun one night by hundreds of them. They made a noise that sounded just like a dog barking. In fact, you'd swear it was a dog. One time on a ridge of Nui Mo Tau, about 15 km S of Hue, about eight of them came walking up a trail and surprised a squad of our platoon while it was stopped for lunch. All hell broke loose because they looked very much like NVA soldiers in khaki (same height, size and color) as they came around a bend in the trail about 10 meters from the unsuspecting GI's. I was with the other two squads of the platoon eating our lunch on the far side of a clearing about 50 meters wide that separated the two elements. The trails wound up the ridge and then through the clearing.

All of a sudden and without any warning, the lone squad opened up with every thing they had...M-16's, M-79's and hand grenades. I grabbed about 300 rounds of gun ammo and my M-60, then ran across the clearing with the platoon Sgt. (everyone else stayed home!) to the cover of a huge, toppled tree that was lying on the far side and close to the point of contact. The Sgt. and I looked at one another, nodded and then came up over the top ready to blast away but what we saw instead blew us away!

The firing had been non-stop and we fully expected to engage a sizeable enemy force, but instead, we found ourselves looking at our men, some seated, some standing, some kneeling, and firing at these ghostly images swooshing around in brush and trees (some off the ground by that point) in all directions. All except one was light brown to reddish brown in color, and about 3 1/2 four feet tall. One dark, almost black, male remained fighting to protect the others retreat and he was flying through the branches and rushing the men with his teeth bared. He was one very brave animal, I'll tell you that.


Then, as if someone had snapped their fingers, they all just seemed to disappear. Zip, the male turned and flashed into the trees and was out of site in a second.

This may sound very strange to you, but although I had no or little concern about killing the enemy, the killing of innocent animals turned my stomach and could enrage me if done without being a necessity. But I searched the site and but found not a drop of blood, which totally amazed me given the amount of firing that had gone on. I wonder to this day if the men were shooting just to scare the Rock Apes away or whether they were really just poor marksman!

The men who'd suffered the surprise looked a bit worse for wear, and I'm sure a few had to wash their shorts out as a result of the unwelcome visit. It really scared the crap out of them, I kid you not!

We, on the other hand, did suffer one casualty. A trooper had an eardrum blown out by the muzzle blast of the first shot fired because the trooper who first saw the apes just picked up his M-16 and fired without saying a word, and the muzzle was right next to this poor fellow's ear when he did.

Apart from that, I have all the same questions your student does and would love to hear just exactly what sort of apes they were?

M-60 Mike


Michael Kelley

D Co 1st/502d Infantry, 101st Airborne Div 69/70





Posted 01 June 2004

We were rolling along the great concrete ribbon of I-95 in south-central Virginia. The sites of the Civil War are all around. We had just stopped at the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, just a couple miles off the road. It is a tranquil place. The wood frame building was not the site of a battle. It had been the office outbuilding to a Great House, and it provided some peace and tranquility for 39-year-old General Jackson.

He had been shot by his own troops by mistake. His arm was amputated, and he had pneumonia, and this is where they brought him to die.

We contemplated the last moments, and climbed back in our rental car and got back on the big road north.

The conversation turned to the monkeys, the ones who would sortie boldly out of the jungle in Subic Bay and steal your golf ball after a particularly good drive. This behavior was legendary and infurating, and despite the best efforts of the Navy Exchange Golf Course, the monkey's were never defeated.

The Americans are gone from the Philippines, and the monkeys remain. Now they are stealing the golf balls of tourists, since they have converted the old navy base to a tourist destination.

Steve Canyon was at the wheel. I was shotgun, and the Corporate Vice President was in the back. Steve Canyon said he had never seen monkeys like the Rock Apes in Vietnam. I'd never heard of them, but the Vice President had.

They used to conduct periodic attacks on troops in Laos and Cambodia. And that was the beginning of the tale of the Rock Apes, the Strange Jungle People. "Rock Ape"' is the common name of a tail-less monkey known as the Barbary Macaques, found wild in Morocco and Algeria. It is not the same creature known to have pelted and surprised troops in Southest Asia.


Steve Canyon said they were light brown to reddish brown in color, and about half the height of an American. They sat on their haunches and were active at night, though some reports indicate they trooped in the day as well, and were sometimes mistaken for patrols of North Vietnamese Regulars. They were normally light red in color, though "In the dark," said Steve Canyon, "they were gray."

There was evidence of them everywhere. Sometimes excrement would be found on a bunker roof in the morning, mysterious commentary in the night.

In 1968, Mike Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines, were in the jungle in the area of Monkey Mountain, just outside of Da Nang. Marines reported that when they were in the mountains, apes would get above them and throw rocks at them, ambushing the ambush teams.

In 1969, Delta Company, First of the 502nd infantry, 101st Airborne Division, was on Nui Mo Tau Ridge, about ten miles south of Hue City. They were eating lunch when about eight apes came walking up a trail and surprised them. They looked very much like NVA soldiers in khaki uniforms as they came around a bend in the trail about 10 meters from the unsuspecting GI's.

Imagine the bizarre scene of about 8 GI's firing madly at seven or eight apes. The alpha male Rock Ape was very dark in color; almost black while the rest were light brown. He was in the trees and repeatedly rushed the GIs and then retreated. He did this several times, apparently covering the retreat of the troop.

The shooting all stopped at the same instant, and we just stood there in shock for a while. Apparently the fire continued after they realized what had arrived, not to harm the animals but to scare them away.

Hill 868 is one of the names of the Rock ape habitat in Quang Nam Province, in what was the I Corps region of responsibility. The Vietnamese have a name for it, of course, and the Marines had a name for it. Since the elevation was 2,847 feet above sea level, or 868 meters, that is what it was called.

Presumably the Rock apes called it something, too.

It is a major strategic feature about twelve statute miles to the west-northwest of the air base at Da Nang, established during the American War. The vantage overlooks Elephant Valley to the North and Red Beach and the air base to the east and southeast.

The Third Marines created the Divisional Outpost/Landing Zone and Radio Relay site by blowing the top off of Dong Den Mountain. The site was initially manned by elements of the 3d Recon Bn, a radio relay team and a naval gunfire forward observation team.



In early 1966 it was the site of the infamous "Battle of Dong Den," when elements of Alpha Company were overrun by several hundred Rock Apes.

Maybe the apes resented what had been done to flatten the top of the hill. Maybe they objected to the human presence in their habitat. In any event, the battle of Hill 868 became legendary in the annals of combat.

The Marines on the Hill called the Captain and told him they had movement in the foliage, a possible large formation of Viet Cong.

The Captain said "stay in place." The fire-base would back them up with, artillery if necessary.

The radio crackled back: "Never mind we have a large number of rock apes all around us."

The Captain reiterated the order to not reveal their position by discharging weapons.

Hill 868: "These rock apes are getting close."

"How close?"

"If he gets the handset he can tell you himself."

"Well, throw rocks at them to chase them away."

Not a good strategy. The Apes have a mean fast-ball.

The Marines on Hill 868 called back: "Shit!! They are throwing back and they throw harder than we do! Request permission to open fire."

There was a loud thump, perhaps that of a sizeable rock impacting the radioman and a scream mixed with curses, growls and various descriptive adjectives in the background.

The Captain: 'No shooting!! Don't give away your position!"

Hill 868: "Were fixing bayonets…"

Then the radio crackled with the screams of pain and anger from Marines and apes alike.

Hill 868: "Were goin' hand-to-hand!"

Before the Captain could respond, he heard the hill explode with a full-fledged fire fight, one sided, the sounds all of American weapons.

The Captain couldn't get any response from the Hill on the radio, and dispatched a squad to reconnoiter the situation. When they got to Hill 868 they found Marines and rock apes strewn all over.

They called the Captain and told him the rock apes were mostly dead, the Marines were mostly pissed, the rest were unconscious. The encounter left four serious med-evacs, none of them apes.

In 1970, Steve Canyon had his personal encounter with the apes. He been out one night to test a new flash and noise suppresser for his unit's AK-47 automatic rifles. The claim was that the noise and muzzle flash were deflected completely, and the people you were ambushing could not determine the axis of the attack.

Why Steve Canyon's unit was carrying AK-47s and not M-16s is another story. But they had need for the capability and they enlisted the support of some Recon Marines to go out in the darkness near Monkey Mountain and see if it worked.

The Marines took their position, and Steve Canyon and a buddy set up a simulated ambush position. Then they noticed they were not alone. Gazing at them was a Rock Ape, grave and not at all afraid. The Ape began to cry a strange guttural sound like the bark of a dog.

The noise would give away their location and ruin the experiment. Steve Canyon's buddy picked up a rock, "No! Don't do it! They throw back!" His buddy ignored him and threw it anyway.

The rock glanced off the Ape, who promptly found one of his own, and threw it back with a curious motion of the wrist on the follow-through. Steve Canyon said it was funny. The Rock Apes throw like girls, only with velocity.

"They'd make great fast-pitch softball players," said the VP in the back. He has a daughter who plays the sport, and I could see he was thinking about applications for the resource.

"Yeah, so all of a sudden there isn't one Ape, there is about twenty of them, all barking and throwing stones at us."

"Why didn't you shoot them?" I asked. Steve looked out the windshield. "I dunno. Didn't seem right. But those Apes started to come at us and we ran as fast as we could and we didn't stop until we were out of the jungle."

The Vice President grunted. "Tough friggin' monkeys."

It is said that withdrawal of American forces over the next two years did not end the matter. The Rock Apes continued to hold their ground.

In 1974, the apes caused so much trouble for the North Vietnamese that a major expedition was sent to Tay Nguyen, in the area they had liberated in Kon Tum Province. There are no reports of success or victory.

As Steve Canyon says, "You don't want to get into it with the Rock Apes. They can throw heat."

Copyright 2004 Vic Socotra


So what exactly are (or were) the Rock Apes? Were they just a common species of tropical ape, such as a species of Macaque, well-known to the indigenous population, and only unique to the non-native U.S. Marines? Were they a heretofore unknown species of ape, different from anything previously known to science. I have been unable to locate any recent reports on these creatures, which raises the possibility that they have either retreated even deeper into the jungle to avoid men and their killing ways, or perhaps they were finally driven to extinction by their encounters with heavily armed humans encroaching on their territory. Until someone actually mounts an expedition with the purpose of determining the status of these creatures, we may well never know.

In the meantime, here's the only known photo of a Rock Ape...admittedly dead and photographed from a dorsal position, but a Rock Ape nonetheless. See what you think!



Regarding the above photograph, I recently contacted Dave "Doc" Snider to ask him some specific questions about the ape he's shown holding. Here are my questions, followed by his answers:

Posted July 19-20, 2012

Randy Merrill: OK, I found several accounts of the "Infamous Battle of Dong Den" as well as several other minor encounters. Then I found a pic I think I saw before of you holding up a dead ape. Can you verify for me that it's authentic and that what you're holding is really one of the so-called "Rock Apes"? If so, is that its tail you've got it by? There was some speculation among my fellow cryptos that they were tailless. Thanks Dave!

Dave Doc Snider: Hi Randy, this is the animal that we all referred to as a rock ape. It stood about 4' tall and was outside the wire on Dong Den down in a tree line. I hit it in the forehead with a M-79 round. It might have been another animal whose name... we did not know. I have also googled rock ape and it appears that there is a conspiracy to make it a distant cousin of 'Bigfoot'. hehehhehe We were on a patrol in Antennae Valley and was awakened early in the morning at first light by a terrific racket coming through the trees. Everyone was grabbing their rifles and and fighting belts ready to fight off the battalion of NVA when we discovered it was just a tribe of rockapes swinging through the trees passing us by...................and we didn't have any time to dig rabbit holes.

Randy Merrill: Dave, can I quote you in my most recent post about the Rock Apes? Also, some folks I showed your photo to think that white thing your holding it by is a tail; I think it's some sort of cloth or something. Can you clarify which? It would make a big difference in identifying the species. Thanks again, my friend!

Dave Doc Snider: Randy, anything I say here, please feel free to use. I am holding the tail of the animal. The upper body was brown with a hint of redness. The ass cheeks and tail were white, the outer cheeks and hips were black all the way down to the feet. The forearms were white with black hands. It is hard to determine the facial features, they were messed up by the round.................

Randy Merrill: Excellent description Dave! And thanks for giving me permission to post your comments!

Randy Merrill: Oh, and by the way, are you saying you hit him between the eyes with a grenade launcher??

Dave Doc Snider: Yes, hit him on top of the head, took off the head. In some of the pictures I am seen holding my 16, but have a distinct memory of using the 79. My buddy in California also remembers the 79..............44 years is a long time.


UPDATE: JULY 20, 2012 



The Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey or Dollman's Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) is a species of colobine endemic to northwestern Vietnam.


Sightings of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey have become increasingly rare. The primate was thought to be extinct until the 1990s when a small population was discovered in Na Hang District in Tuyen Quang Province of Vietnam. Heavy poaching for food as well as the wildlife blackmarket and the destruction of habitat are the main reasons why the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is considered to be one of "The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates."

By 2008, when a small population with three infants was discovered in a remote forest, fewer than 250 of the primates were thought to exist.

Snub-nosed monkeys are a group of Old World monkeys and make up the entirety of the genus Rhinopithecus. The genus occurs rarely and needs much more research. Some taxonomists group snub-nosed monkeys together with the Pygathrix genus.

Snub-nosed monkeys live in Asia, with a range covering southern China (especially Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou) as well as the northern parts of Vietnam and Myanmar.

Snub-nosed monkeys inhabit mountain forests up to a height of 4000 m (13,123 ft), in the winter moving into the deeply secluded regions. They spend the majority of their life in the trees. They live together in very large groups of up to 600 members, splitting up into smaller groups in times of food-scarcity, such as in the winter. Groups consist of many more males than females. They have territorial instincts, defending their territory mostly with shouts. They have a large vocal repertoire, calling sometimes solo while at other times together in choir-like fashion.

The diet of these animals consists mainly of tree needles, bamboo buds, fruits and leaves. A multi-chambered stomach helps them with digesting their food.

The impulse for mating starts with the female. She takes up eye contact with the male and runs away a short bit, then flashes her genitals. If the male shows interest (which does not always occur), he joins the female and they mate. The 200-day gestation period ends with a single birth in late spring or early summer. Young animals become fully mature in about 6 to 7 years. Zoologists know little about their lifespan.

Description – Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is one of the most endangered primates in the world, and indeed was presumed extinct for a time before its rediscovery in 1989. Vietnam’s largest primate species, it is an unusual and distinctive monkey, They grow to a length of 51 to 83 cm (20-32 in) with a tail of 55 to 97 cm (22-38 in). These monkeys get their name from their flat, upturned nose on a broad, flattened face. They have tufted ears, pale blue rings around the eyes, and thick, pink lips, giving an almost comical appearance. The back, outsides of the limbs and hands and feet are black, although the fur between the shoulders may be more brownish, while the underparts, inner sides of the limbs and the elbows are creamy white. The forehead and cheeks are also creamy, with bluish-black colouration around the mouth, and there is an orange throat patch, which is most prominent in adult males. The long tail is blackish-brown, with whitish tips to the hairs, and a white tuft at the tip.

Infant Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys have grey rather than black fur, becoming darker with age, and lack the orange throat patch and the long, whitish hairs of the tail. Compared to other Rhinopithecus species, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is more slender, with more elongated digits, and shows a lesser degree of sexual dimorphism. The calls of this species include a loud, distinct, hiccough-like ‘huu chhhk’, given when alarmed or as a contact call, as well as a softer ‘huu chhhk’, a soft ‘hoo’, and a rapid ‘chit’.

Range – Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is the only Rhinopithecus species found outside of China, being endemic to northern Vietnam. Historically, it occurred east of the Red River, but its range has been drastically reduced in recent decades, and it is now known only from small areas of Tuyen Quang, Bac Kan, Ha Giang and Thai Nguyen Provinces.

Habitat – Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey inhabits subtropical evergreen forest associated with karst limestone hills and mountains, at elevations of between 200 and 1,200 metres (656 and 3,937 feet). The species is largely restricted to primary forest.

Biology – Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey

The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is active during the day, moving through the forest canopy by walking on all fours, climbing, leaping, or even hanging suspended from the branches, although some activity may also take place on the ground. The diet consists of a range of leaves, fruits, flowers and seeds.

Threats – Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey

Massive deforestation and intensive hunting have drastically reduced the range of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, and the species is now known from just five isolated locations. The total population may number only around 200 to 250 individuals, and is fragmented into small subpopulations, which are unable to interbreed. As with many of Vietnam’s primates, hunting is the most immediate threat to this species. Although described as bad-tasting, and not the main target of hunting trips, the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is still commonly shot when encountered, and is either consumed or used in traditional medicine. Groups often do not flee from hunters, making the species particularly vulnerable to being shot.

Habitat destruction, degradation and fragmentation are also major threats, with widespread deforestation occurring as a result of cultivation, development, road construction, legal and illegal logging, gold mining, and the commercial collection of non-timber forest products. More recently, the development of a hydroelectric project on the Gam River in Na Hang has caused an influx of construction workers, leading to an increased demand for meat and resources, as well as resulting in the loss of forest habitat to construction, access roads and flooding. Although the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and its habitat are legally protected, hunting and habitat loss have unfortunately continued throughout its range, even within protected areas.

Conservation – Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey

International trade in the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is prohibited under its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is also protected by law in Vietnam, making it illegal to kill, capture or trade in the species, and is listed as Critically Endangered on the Red Data Book of Vietnam. The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey occurs in at least two protected areas, Na Hang and Cham Chu Nature Reserves, and may also occur in others, although populations in these areas are still under threat and continuing to decline, despite conservation efforts. A population occurring in Khau Ca, an isolated forest within the buffer zone of the Du Gia Nature Reserve, will likely benefit from the creation of a Species and Habitat Conservation Area, while a range of conservation activities have been put in place by Fauna & Flora International for a newly discovered population in Quan Ba District, near the border with China.

A Conservation Action Plan is in place for the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, and conservation measures for the species include further surveys and research, raising local awareness, establishing patrol groups, stricter law enforcement, imposing gun controls, expanding protected areas, habitat restoration, and potentially considering a captive breeding program. Although these measures give some hope for the species, the ongoing threats of hunting and habitat loss, together with its already tiny, fragmented population and range, mean the future of this unusual and highly endangered primate still hangs in the balance.

Find out more – Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey

To find out more about the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey and other endangered primates, see:

Mittermeier, R.A. et al. (2009) Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2008-2010. IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group, International Primatological Society, and Conservation International, Arlington, VA. Available at:

Fauna & Flora International - Tonkin snub-nosed monkey:

IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group:


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: http://[email protected]


Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2012. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed at



There is no question in my mind that the Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey or Dollman's Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) was the species known as the "rock ape" to the marines of 3rd Recon stationed on Hill 488. However, other reports by troops spending more time in the forested areas of Vietnam described creatures with reddish-brown hair, standing 4-5 ft tall and tailless, traveling in groups, and spending more time walking upright on the ground rather than swinging through the trees...a decidedly different description from that of the Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey. This leads me to believe that a second species of ape was involved, which may or may not be extinct today as a result of a combination of circumstances, including the invasion and destruction of their habitat (especially deliberate defoliation) during the Vietnam War, and subsequent incursions by man to claim forested areas for farming, etc.. This second species may be similar to, or even identical to, the cryptid known as Orang Pendek (see: ), one of the most intensely studied cryptids as well as one of those considered most likely to have its existence officially confirmed in the very near future.

The Cryptozoologist



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