8 Animals People Didn’t Think Were Real

Yup—people once doubted the existence of the gorilla.
For awhile, gorillas were the stuff of legend.
For awhile, gorillas were the stuff of legend. / Anadolu/GettyImages

In 1859, French American explorer Paul du Chaillu returned from Central Africa with wild tales of humanoid monsters so massive and strong they could bend the barrel of a gun with ease. The creatures had giant skulls but could walk on two legs; they also had the ability to sound eerily like humans. 

While bones of this creature had made their way to the west in previous decades, it was still unknown to many people. And the stories of this animal du Chaillu brought back with him practically got him laughed out of the scientific community.

Du Chaillu’s reputation was restored the following year when renowned English anatomist Richard Owen invited him to present his stories, skins, and skulls to London’s elite. They were enthralled, and his bestselling book of dubious accuracy brought this creature to the attention of the entire Western world.

The mysterious animal was the gorilla—and it’s not the only (very real) creature that people didn’t think was real.

Humans have doubted the existence of everything from the okapi to the platypus. When he laid eyes on a specimen of the latter animal, George Shaw—who was the keeper of the natural collections at what is now the British History Museum—wrote, “It naturally excites the idea of some deceptive preparation by artificial means.”

Sydney - Taronga Zoo
Scientists didn’t believe the platypus was real. / Steve Christo - Corbis/GettyImages

You can’t blame him for being skeptical—“deceptive preparation” of strange creatures was perfectly in vogue at the time. In the 1800s, P.T. Barnum displayed a mashup of monkey bones, fish parts, and papier mâché and charged people to see “The Feejee Mermaid.” And Cabinets of Curiosities were filled with objects of natural history, often with more emphasis on the curiosity than accuracy.

Watch the video above to find out which other animals people didn’t think were legit, and make sure to subscribe to Mental Floss on YouTube for new videos every week.