Is it possible that Bigfoot exists?

Who is throwing pine cones?

What is big-footed trudging through the North American forests? The search for the legendary Bigfoot has been relaunched. Thanks to DNA analysis and thermal imaging cameras, bored millionaires and prominent witnesses.

From Christoph Kummer

They leave their mark all over North America: footprints that are similar to human ones, but twice as large. They also walk upright like humans. They have muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, but instead of bare skin, they have thick hair. They have short necks and flat, broad noses. They have both human and ape-like features. They are called Bigfoot ("big foot") or Sasquatch (Indian for "wild man"). They don't officially exist. But more and more people see them. And those who want to find them are hot on their heels.

A huge, hairy hand

Well-known witnesses have recently come out: "Yes, I saw a Sasquatch," says Alton Higgins, for example. The biology professor observed an unknown animal in Oklahoma in 2002. “The thing ran on two legs, it was black and big. It wasn't a bear and it wasn't a person either. " Another witness is the biologist and ex-UN worker John Bindernagel. “I saw one in 2007,” he says in a mysterious tone. He does not want to hang it on the big bell, since his sighting does not prove anything. Bigfoot met his professional colleague John Mionczynski in the wilderness of Wyoming in the 1970s. Mionczynski woke up one night because something was sneaking around his tent. In the light of the lamp hanging outside, he saw a huge, hairy hand resting on the tent. “The hand was at least twice as big as mine,” says Mionczynski. He went outside. When he was lighting a fire, he was hit by several pine cones. "That's when I knew it couldn't be a bear."

Where are the bones?

Testimony may be enough for a court of law, but not for science. You need a type specimen in order to be able to describe a new animal species. And this is exactly where the problem lies: Bigfoot apparently cannot die. His bones have never been found. A hunter has never shot you or a driver caught you. For skeptics, the giant monkey is therefore a pipe dream. “We have museums full of bear or squirrel skeletons. How can it be that we don't have a single bone from an animal that is two and a half meters tall and weighs a ton? ». asks David Daegling, an anthropologist from the University of Florida. According to Jeff Meldrum, anthropologist and Sasquatch advocate, there are logical reasons for this: "There aren't many Sasquatches." He estimates that only 500 to 750 specimens have survived in North America. This roughly corresponds to the number of mountain gorillas in Central Africa. The animals are very intelligent, extremely shy and incredibly fast. "In addition, they live long, produce little offspring and have no natural enemies." And if a Sasquatch does die, the acidic soil in the forest ensures that the bones are broken down quickly. "The rodents take care of the rest."

Meldrum and his colleagues are aware of the problem of missing bones. You are looking for other ways to solve the puzzle. The most promising has three letters: DNA. The abbreviation stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. All living beings carry it within them, it contains the genetic information. DNA tests can be used to differentiate between species and even individual individuals. To date, no animal species has been recognized by research solely on the basis of its genetic fingerprint. According to Meldrum, however, it has recently been discussed in scientific circles whether an exception should be made for rare and endangered species.

Time and again, hair is seized in connection with Bigfoot sightings. The biologist Alton Higgins plucked several hairs from the bark of a tree a few kilometers from where he met. My colleague LeRoy Fish analyzed it under a microscope and identified it as primate hair, says Higgins. However, no DNA could be obtained from this hair. This is only possible with fresh hair with roots (this contains the DNA). Traces of blood or feces should also be fresh. The DNA provides unequivocal information about who is the carrier. Whether it's a bear or a monkey, a human or a deer. The Sasquatch DNA could be compared with that of known great apes. If it did not agree with any, the case would be clear.

It is said that there are already DNA samples from Bigfoot: One is from Ontario, the other from Northern California. In the first case, Bigfoot researchers found dried up blood on a bear trap, in the second case someone stumbled upon a clump of hair on his property. Both samples were sent to laboratories and DNA could be obtained from both. But the results are inconclusive because the samples were not fresh. “The blood was old, so the DNA wasn't complete. But the tests showed that the carrier has both human genes and a special chimpanzee gene, ”says Doug Hajicek, an American TV producer who found the blood. "You'd have to do more research, and that's very expensive." In the second case, the tests are still running. Bigfoot researcher David Paulides, who received the hair from the finders, is confident: “We have received an interim report from the laboratory. The hair apparently comes from an unknown primate. "

Secret project

Not all Bigfoot researchers want DNA. There are also those who would be content with a sharp photo. Unfortunately, Bigfoot is apparently very camera shy. But here, too, the representatives of the scene can fall back on ever better aids. Thermal cameras, directional microphones, and photo traps are standard equipment for some. There are also those who get attractants from gorillas and hang them on trees to attract the mysterious creatures. The North America Bigfoot Search organization headed by David Paulides is pursuing an interesting approach: They hired the FBI's graphic artist Harvey Pratt to put the descriptions of Bigfoot witnesses on paper.

The upgrade is obviously bearing fruit: Mike Greene is said to have succeeded in filming a Sasquatch with a thermal imaging camera in North Carolina last year. In 2007 a photo trap in Pennsylvania snapped several pictures of an ape-like creature. The Bigfoot community also has a persistent rumor that an extremely successful research project is underway in Kentucky. A US biologist spent several years on a farm that Sasquatch often visits. She is said to have succeeded in high-resolution film recordings of the creatures. However, it is unclear when these videos will be presented to the public.

Even if it doesn't seem like it, money is in short supply in Bigfoot research. Only a few can afford high-tech devices such as thermal imaging cameras. Nothing would work without sponsors, and not everyone has them. Anthropologist Jeff Meldrum is one of the lucky ones: his North American Ape Project received 130,000 francs from a foundation in 2008. The California Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization has almost hit the jackpot: It recently won the US multimillionaire Wally Hersom as a sponsor. But Meldrum thinks that money is not everything: "Time is just as important."

Can Bigfoot Talk?

Time comes DNA. And then also the answer to the question of what the Sasquatch is. Jeff Meldrum and many other Bigfoot researchers suspect that he is a big ape like the gorilla or orangutan. According to Meldrum, he is said to be a descendant of the extinct giant ape Gigantopithecus. "He was the right size and lived in the right place at the right time." Gigantopithecus roamed the forests of East Asia several million years ago - when the continents of Asia and America were still connected, a huge forest stretched from China to Canada.

Other Bigfoot advocates believe that Bigfoot is a prehistoric man called a hominid. He's way too intelligent to be a monkey, they argue. This view was recently given a boost when the American linguist Scott Nelson claimed that Sasquatch could speak. He had analyzed tapes recorded in connection with Sasquatch sightings in the Sierra Nevada in the 1970s. A complex, unknown language can be heard on the tapes, Nelson explained. Meldrum knows the study. He finds it fascinating, but does not share the opinion that the creature must therefore be human. “Even if Sasquatch had a language, that wouldn't mean it couldn't be a monkey. Chimpanzees have shown that they are intelligent enough to talk. They are simply not anatomically capable. Perhaps the Sasquatch's upright gait led to a change in the vocal tract that enables him to speak. "

Swiss monster hunter

A Swiss man once took part in the search for Bigfoot: René Dahinden from Lucerne. "He was partly responsible for the fact that the phenomenon was noticed worldwide," says the American hobby Bigfoot researcher Daniel Perez, who was friends with Dahinden. Dahinden was born in 1930. At the age of 23 he emigrated to Canada and worked on a farm near Calgary. He learns of Bigfoot sightings, and an obsession quickly develops, to which he subordinates everything. He interviews people in Canada and the USA who claim they have seen Bigfoot, examines footprints and exchanges ideas with other Bigfoot hunters. He also purchases 51 percent of the best Bigfoot shots - the famous 1967 film by Bigfoot hunter Roger Patterson. Even today there is controversy as to whether it is fake or not. René Dahinden died of cancer in 2001, he never saw a Bigfoot.

Dahinden was not the first Swiss to go looking for mysterious ape-men. Edouard Wyss-Dunant and Norman Dyrenfurth trudged through the Himalayas in the 1950s to track down the legendary Yeti. They are said to have come across huge footprints. Even earlier, in the twenties, a French-speaking Swiss named François de Loys did something sensational: he took a photo of a dead human-like monkey in the jungle of Venezuela. According to de Loys, it was an unknown species. However, two Venezuelan researchers argue in the book “Ameranthropoides loysi”, published in 2008, that the photo is a fake. It just shows a spider monkey, so their conclusion. And it served to spread a racist theory of evolution.

Addendum dated April 14, 2011

DNA analysis should prove Bigfoot

Hundreds of eyewitness reports and footprints speak for the existence of Bigfoot, as the mysterious ape-like creature is called because of its large footprints. But so far there is no tangible evidence in the form of bones. A US research team is now said to have succeeded in securing Bigfoot genetic material. It wants to prove that the shaggy bipedes really exist.

The Texas veterinarian and genetic researcher Melba Ketchum is leading the venture. "We were able to extract DNA from different samples that we believe came from a Bigfoot," she says. The samples - consisting of hair, blood and saliva - come from private research projects. For example, from a biologist from Kentucky who was allegedly visited by a Bigfoot on her farm. Ketchum is silent about the results so far: “The peer review is currently in progress. I estimate the results will be published in late spring. "

The biologist Michael Krützen from the University of Zurich is skeptical: “I don't think DNA will be enough. Genetics is only one aspect of species description. You also have to take the morphology into account, and for that you have to have bones. " He suspects that Ketchum is comparing the putative Bigfoot DNA with that of known species such as the chimpanzee in order to identify differences. Krützen himself is mainly concerned with the orangutan in Southeast Asia. He doesn't think Bigfoot really exists. "North America is relatively densely populated, so it is unlikely that an animal of this size could live in hiding for that long." But elsewhere, for example in the vast rainforests of Asia, new species of monkeys are constantly being discovered.

Christoph Kummer

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