The Bigfoot Show, Episode 54: Further adventures in the land called X

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

[Note: The following essay was written by Brian Brown as the opening monologue for Episode 54 of The Bigfoot Show podcast.]

*****

The title of this episode, “Further Adventures in the Land Called X,” is, I will admit, somewhat misleading. It is indeed a furthering of the accounts and experiences members of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy have had as they conducted their work this past summer in a remarkable little corner of the Ouachita mountain range (Cole & Marston, n.d.). It is, as you probably already know, called “X” by the group. You will hear some astonishing things. Possibly you will find some of these things to be unbelievable. As always, you have my assurances that everything you hear is true. I know these guys and, crazy as some of them may sound, this is true.

Paul Bowman, Daryl Colyer, Brad McAndrews, and Brian Brown discuss field work plans at the Bowman Lodge before heading to Area X. Photo by Chris Buntenbah.

But no, this show is not actually about random bigfoot encounters in X. It is actually about a group of dedicated individuals going about the work they feel is necessary to bring “bigfoot” out into the light of science and reality. In short, this is about collecting the wood ape holotype (Green, 1978). Members of the NAWAC have not been shy about their intention to collect as complete a wood ape specimen as possible. However, this is the first time you’ll hear about what that endeavor is actually like. It’s not, as you probably expect, easy work.

Mark McClurkan monitors the new surveillance system on a slow, quiet night. Photo by Rick Hayes.

Now, you either agree with the point of view of the NAWAC or you don’t (Higgins, 2011). Regardless, the position of the group, and the thing that drives them, can be summed up by explaining what’s called the “50/500 Rule” of conservation biology (Traill, 2010). Basically, about fifty individuals of a particular animal need to be present in any given area to prevent a destructive rate of inbreeding. If these fifty are cut off from more of their kind, or are the last of their kind, their chances of survival are questionable. Around 500 individuals are required to maintain an acceptable level of genetic variation; numbers lower than that can make the animals susceptible to being sucked into the terrifyingly named “Extinction Vortex” ("The Extinction Vortex, n.d.).

Ape crossing.  NAWAC investigators have had at least two visual encounters with wood apes as the apes crossed this area of a creek in Area X.  Photo by Rick Hayes.

The extinction vortex is a series of models used by biologists to understand and predict animal extinction rates. Besides genetic diversity, other factors include habitat pressures and habitat fragmentation (“Arkansas Files Appeal to Join Clear-Cutting Suit,” 1991). Of course, no one knows for sure how many apes there are in the Ouachitas, or North America, for that matter, but we know that the region has been and continues to be harvested of trees using practices that promote the development of monoculture forests. We know that the relatively untouched areas of the range are becoming fewer and farther between. When applying that knowledge to what we understand about large primates worldwide, and the group’s own observations of wood ape behavior over the past several years, we would expect “bigfoot” to be social animals that live in groups inhabiting established territories. Each group, whatever its social structure, would require a finite amount of land upon which to thrive. Some of the big unknowns are how big is that territory? Are monoculture environments acceptable wood ape habitat (Expertsvar, 2013)? How many eligible areas are left in that part of the country? In short, are there less than fifty apes left, or more than 500, or somewhere in-between? And do they know where they can find more of their kind? Essentially, how many factors found in the extinction vortex are already at work and affecting wood ape populations?

The team has had several visuals along this mountain face.  Photo by Chris Buntenbah.

The NAWAC feels the only way to know how many apes there are in X or how many “Xs” there are in the Ouachitas or the Ozarks or the Sierras or the Olympics, or anywhere, is to put qualified and numerous boots on the ground to find out. The only way to put those boots on the ground is to establish as an absolute fact that there is an actual animal to be protected. The most efficient and expeditious way to establish as an absolute fact that the animal exists, is to collect a specimen (“Collection of voucher specimens,” n.d.).

As Brown says, it's going to take boots on the ground.  Photo by Mark McClurkan.

There are more than a few people in the community of sasquatch enthusiasts who feel the best course is to leave these animals alone.

“They’ve been just fine all by themselves so far, and they’ll be just fine in the future.”

But that train of thought is tantamount to putting a bag over your head as a way to better understand the world around you. All one has to do is look at a satellite map of any wild and wooly area in North America to see how truly wild and secluded parts of it are under constant pressure. They’re shrinking. If you think this situation is tolerable to an animal like sasquatch, you might as well ask yourself how many can you balance on the head of a pin (Radford, 2008).

All one has to do is look at a satellite map of any wild and wooly area in North America to see how truly wild and secluded parts of it are under constant pressure.

I suppose we could wait for an acceptable DNA sample to be collected and confirmed, or for an unsuspecting bigfoot to step in front of a logging truck with bad brakes, or for an old portly one to succumb to cardiovascular disease while raiding a campground dumpster, but nothing like that has happened in more than fifty years of looking and, at least in my opinion, it’s unlikely to happen in the near future. So, we can either keep waiting, and hoping to get lucky and pretending like the animal we’re talking about here has all the time in the world, or we can show some initiative and try to protect them and their habitat sooner.

Perhaps tomorrow.

And that’s what the NAWAC is working towards.

Today.
 



[Listen to Episode 54 here.]

References:

Arkansas files appeal to join clear-cutting suit. (1991). Retrieved from http://newsok.com/arkansas-files-appeal-to-join-clear-cutting-suit/article/2361067

Cole, S. R., & Marston, R. A. (n.d.). Ouachita Mountains. Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma State University. Retrieved from http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/o/ou001.html

Collection of voucher specimens. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.animalethics.org.au/policies-and-guidelines/wildlife-research/voucher-specimens

Expertsvar. (2013). Mixed forests more productive than monocultures. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2013/01/130109081141.htm

The Extinction Vortex. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mongabay.com/09vortex.htm

Green, J. (1978). Sasquatch: The apes among us. Hancock House: Surrey, B. C., Canada. [The particularly relevant Chapter 26, “Sasquatches, Humans, and Apes,” can be found at http://woodape.org/index.php/about-bigfoot/articles/219-taking-a-stand-with-science-and-reason-sasquatches-humans-and-apes]

Higgins, A. (2011). A word from the Chairman. North American Wood Ape Conservancy. Retrieved from http://woodape.org/index.php/news/news/191-wordfromchairman

Radford, B. (2008). How UFOs and Bigfoot could save Earth. LiveScience. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/2253-ufos-bigfoot-save-earth.html

Traill, L. (2010). Minimum viable population size. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/154633


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