May 26, 2015

Is ‘The Cannibal In the Jungle’ A True Story?

Animal Planet’s New Movie Combines Legend & Archeology

As an entry in Animal Planet’s “Monster Week” among such shows as Serial Killer Tiger At Large, it’s easy to wonder if The Cannibal in the Jungle is based on a true story. But surprisingly, the fictionalized TV film takes its inspiration from a variety of sources, both true and fictional. There’s real biological science underpinning the existence of the small humanoids called “hobbits” (more on that later) the movie makes into vicious cannibals. But more directly, The Cannibal in the Jungle is the fictional story of 1977 Indonesian explorer Dr. Timothy Darrow, who was exploring the jungle when two of his men were killed and eaten by what he claims were cannibals. Also floating around Animal Planet’s film is the legendary component of the Indonesian urban legend, based around both the hobbits and other tribes that still live isolated in the jungle. It’s a hodgepodge of reality, history, legend, and pure fiction, and if it works well, it will combine into a seamlessly good-bad production like a more biologically sound version of something on the SyFy network.

Since everything in The Cannibal in the Jungle is such a cross between reality and fiction, I guess the easiest place to start is in prehistoric times, about 18,000 years ago on the island of Flores, where Cannibal is set. The Smithsonian Institute explains how these “hobbits” evolved. In their words, this species was truly significantly smaller than humans of even that time; “the skeletal evidence suggests that adults of this species had extremely small brains…stood only about 1 meter…tall, and weighed around 30 kg.” Flash-forward thousands of years to 2003, when a very significant discovery was made: the first skeleton from the newly christened homo floresiensis. However, by all scientific accounts, these hobbits are now extinct, given the level of archeological excavation that the Smithsonian describes, and there is no evidence of them having been cannibals.

So there are no terrifying cannibal hobbits plaguing Indonesian forests, but cannibalism does have historical/cultural ties to the area. Paul Raffaele is a writer who traveled deep into the Indonesian jungle in 2006 to find tribes that still practice forms of cannibalism, and even brought along a 60 Minutes crew to film his travels into the Korowai tribe, where his crew orchestrated the rescue of a young boy who they believed would have been the probable victim of a culturally condoned form of cannibalism.

However, after the 60 Minutes piece and the release of Raffaele’s book, criticism started surfacing later in 2006 from places such as The Sydney Morning Herald about the validity of his claims. The Herald claimed that the work of Rupert Stasch, the reigning expert on these tribes, contradicts Raffaele’s account, and ”Stasch writes that the Korowai did previously practice ritual killings of suspected cannibal witches, which sometimes involved eating flesh from those witches, but…they have given up the practice.”

In a 2014 interview with Vice, however, Raffaele stuck adamantly to his belief that the cannibalism is real. The consensus seems to be that, as anthropologist Chris Ballard had claimed to SMH in 2006, “most of these groups have 10 years’ experience in feeding this stuff to tourists,” and they simply tricked Raffaele.

And here’s where Animal Planet starts to break completely from reality and begins working on writing a good story. The synopsis of The Cannibal in the Jungle explains that the story of Timothy Darrow, set in the ’70s, is ”is an imaginative leap inspired by real science.” There actually is no Darrow, nor an Indonesian cannibalism court case like the one shown in the movie. It simply uses a documentary format to confuse the line between fact (the existence of Indonesian homo floresiensis) and fiction (the alleged cannibalism).

With the documentary framing and the other, peppered-in bits of real science, it’s certainly difficult to tell where Cannibal In the Jungle is real and where it’s been fictionalized. Turns out that the craziest element of the movie — the “hobbits” living at the same time as humans — is actually the truest, while the seemingly realistic details, like the 1977 court case, are all fiction.


The Cannibal in the Jungle airs again on Thursday, May 28 at 8 PM and 11 PM Central on Animal Planet.

See also:

Hobbits Were Real. Are They Still Out There?
Hobbits Were Real. Are They Still Out There?
Hobbits Were Real. Are They Still Out There?
The Cannibal in the Jungle

#AnimalPlanet #MonsterWeek #CannibalintheJungle #Hobbits

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

Filed under Bigfoot Report, Cryptozoology, Evidence, Expedition Reports, Homo floresiensis, Pop Culture, Television, Videos