Mysteries, Oddities, and Everything Strange: Ahool


Bridget Vaughan, Staff Writer

Ahool: Stellaluna’s Gruesome Counterpart

Everyone has probably encountered some sort of bat in their lifetime. Just imagine a warm summer night outside with a couple of friends as the sun sets. The sky is beautiful, your ribs hurt from laughing, school is months away, and everything seems utterly perfect. Of course, until a bat the size of a toddler comes crashing in with a 10 foot wingspan and completely interrupts your otherwise lovely evening. This massive night creature is the Ahool, and while it’s not likely to reside in any residential areas, its legend is undeniable. But what is the Ahool, and why does its name sound like a sneeze? All and more shall be revealed.

Most eyewitness accounts denote the Ahool as appearing to be a giant bat, but others claim it to resemble a living pterosaur or other flying dinosaur. It resides in the deepest parts of the Java Rainforest on the Indonesian island of Java and is reportedly twice the size of the flying fox (the largest known bat with a size of 16 inches and a wingspan of 5 feet). It has a large fuzzy head, similar to a monkey or ape, massive eyes, gray fur, and enormous claws. It has muscular and strong arms to support its body with scant legs. Its name is reportedly based on the sound that the bat makes as it hunts for its food, usually large fish or other sea creatures. Eyewitnesses native to the area describe a monkey or other ape with a human face and backward legs.

The first report of its existence came in the form of Dr. Ernest Bartels in 1925 as he was wandering the Salak Mountain, a large volcano in West Java that is southwest of the Indonesian city of Bogor. As he explored a waterfall, he felt a gust of wind as a giant creature swooped over his head. He finished his exploration and departed, only to return two years later on another expedition. During this adventure, he stayed in a house near the Tjidjenkol River when he heard a loud “ahooooool” outside. Startled, Dr. Bartels chased after it until it disappeared into the distance. 

This is the most famous sighting of the Ahool—and the only one. There might be some other local sightings, but if they do exist they went unreported. Dr. Bartels’ encounter is the only known one across the world. Investigation into the creature was picked up by a cryptozoologist known as Ivan T. Sanderson, intent on finding proof of the existence of the Ahool. Sanderson concluded that it might be a relative of another cryptid living in West Africa known as the Kongamato. Even others speculate it could be a miracle, a pterodactyl that miraculously survived 65 million years and managed to reproduce. Of course, anyone is eager to produce strange explanations that create a huge new mystery of a creature’s existence. Or, most likely, it could be an easy and simple reality. And it most likely is.

The wood owl residing on the Island of Java has two subspecies: the Spotted Wood-owl and the Javan Wood-owl. These owls can reach a length of 16-20 inches and have a wingspan of about 4 feet. Its characteristics and descriptions nearly exactly match the Ahool’s reported traits. It is nearly silent when traveling and extremely rare, and it’s a plausible explanation for the Ahool’s existence. Considering most of the Ahool sightings have been reported at night, the confusion between a giant bat and a giant owl is reasonable and the likely explanation. 

The Rainforests of Java have been shrinking in size for years due to overpopulation of the island and global warming. The Island of Java, with a population of 145 million, is the most densely populated island in the world at 2,600 people per square mile. Even if the Ahool does roam the rainforests present on the island, its habitat is shrinking quickly as more and more rainforests are used for wood cutting and residential land. Even if the Ahool does exist, its habitat is shrinking day by day, and if we even want the chance to witness this majestic and horrifying creature, time is of the essence.