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North Carolina Thermal Video

One of the primary tenets of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy regards the importance of being skeptical while keeping an open mind regarding the existence of the sasquatch. We critically evaluate reports and seek to determine validity of purported evidence, understanding that failure to debunk something does not mean it is necessarily genuine.

For example, at conferences and symposia over the years, TBRC Board Chairman Alton Higgins has presented evaluations of numerous photos purporting to show sasquatches. The vast majority turn out to be hoaxes or misinterpretations of natural features. Sound recordings, videos, hair, scat, casts and other forms of putative evidence, with exceedingly few exceptions, also fail to pass muster.

A few of the more prominent examples of purported evidence that were discredited soon after they were introduced to the public include the so-called Sonoma Video, the Biscardi “sasquatch hand” in a jar, the “Jacobs creature” from Pennsylvania, and the Georgia bigfoot body in a freezer.

However, an exception to this trend came in the form of thermal imaging video obtained in North Carolina by BFRO affiliate Mike Greene. While there are some questions regarding certain aspects of the subject in the video, nevertheless, TBRC investigators posit that the thermal footage may be legitimate and could be representative of a sasquatch.

The TBRC proposes that size, heat signature, and movement comparisons—using a human for example—be conducted for purposes of further solidifying the footage as validated evidence. We realize that Mr. Greene is firmly convinced that what he filmed is a sasquatch, but we suggest, in order to convince others in the scientific community who may be on the fence regarding the phenomenon, that documentation be demonstrated that leaves little or no doubt as to the identity of the film subject.

The video can be viewed at this link.

   

Take to the woods and you might find a hidden neighbor

The wildlife biologist was used to being alone in the woods.

His studies required him to spend weeks high up in the mountain solitude. So when a large upright figure collapsed his tent one night in the early 1970s, John Mionczynski knew it wasn’t another human.

He was studying bighorn sheep in the Wind River Mountains. From inside his tent, Mionczynski could see a distinct open hand with an opposable thumb, about twice the size of a human hand.

Mionczynski crawled outside and built a campfire. He could hear the creature breathing but couldn’t see it in the darkness. For 45 minutes it threw pine cones at him.

The biologist reported his experience to his boss. At least 25 stories of encounters with a large primate had come into the office that year.

Mionczynski’s boss asked: Do you believe in bigfoot?

I don’t think I do, he replied.

Mionczynski didn’t know what he encountered. It wasn’t a bear and it accurately threw pine cones, as a human would do. Mionczynski’s boss suggested he interview people who had made reports and start a file.

He would do so for the next 30 years, now spending eight to nine months of the year in the field studying the potential existence of a large North American ape. And Mionczynski isn’t alone.

To those who study the existence of bigfoot, or sasquatch, their dedication isn’t about belief. It’s a matter of science, evidence and objective research.

“To ignore data that’s coming in saying something is here, to ignore it is unscientific,” Mionczynski said.

The researchers

Before Mionczynski and Dr. Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University even met, their research crossed paths. They had visited some of the same people, a mountain man and a U.S. Forest Service patrolman in Washington who had encountered a sasquatch and found footprints in the woods. The researchers had the same approach to their studies; they worked in facts, not emotions, Meldrum said.

Mionczynski has worked as a government wildlife technician and as a consultant and instructor. Habitat studies are his expertise, and he has extensively researched both grizzlies and bighorn sheep. He has worked with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team and developed the concept of goat packing to transport scientific equipment into remote research areas.

Meldrum is an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University. He is an expert on primate evolutionary biology, the evolution of human locomotor adaption and bipedalism, the way in which we walk on two feet. He co-edited the book “From Biped to Strider: the Emergence of Modern Human Walking, Running, and Resource Transport.”

In 1996, Meldrum was visiting family in Boise, Idaho, when he decided to make a trip up to Washington with his brother to visit Dr. Grover Krantz, an anthropologist and leading sasquatch researcher. Meldrum examined Krantz’s collection of alleged sasquatch footprint casts, which Krantz would eventually give to Meldrum for his research years later.

On the way home, Meldrum made a surprise visit to Paul Freeman, once a Forest Service patrolman, who claimed to have encountered a sasquatch and made footprint casts.

Freeman said he had just found fresh tracks, too. Would Meldrum like to see them?

“The coincidence of it was disconcerting at first,” Meldrum said. Did Freeman somehow find out they were coming?

But Meldrum was astounded by what he saw. The tracks were fresh and clear. They were either the real deal or a clear hoax, he thought.

Meldrum and his brother got supplies to make casts. They remain some of the strongest prints in Meldrum’s collection of 200 casts and some of the most compelling evidence, Meldrum said. What he had captured was skin ridge detail. Just as we all have individually unique fingerprints, we have distinct footprints.

“There are a few other mammals that have texture to their pads, but typically that’s a primate characteristic,” Meldrum said.

What he captured was a real print, he believes.

“It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.”

One of Meldrum’s students was familiar with Mionczynski’s research and suggested they meet. The two spoke on the phone and met in Meldrum’s office. Meldrum knew footprints; Mionczynski knew habitat. They’ve been working together for the past ten years.

Sasquatch, a profile

Meldrum and Mionczynski’s research, often under the title of the North American Ape Project, has taken them from Canada down to Texas, including the Pacific Northwest, northern California and even Wyoming. Meldrum has also travelled to China, where he compared casts there to those taken in North America. The dermal ridges followed the same pattern, suggesting the existence of sasquatch in the mountains of western China.

The researchers have interviewed countless numbers of people who have reported sightings, but they don’t rely on that testimony alone.

“Visual sighting of brown and black fur isn’t a credible sighting,” Meldrum said.

Based on field research, Meldrum’s footprint expertise and Mionczynski’s studies of animal habitat and behavior, they’ve developed hypotheses about the North American ape:

  • Meldrum and Mionczynski hypothesize the population size in North America to be 500 to 1,000 individuals. They guess that an individual male has a 1,000-square-mile home range, which overlaps with several females and their young, who have smaller home ranges. The researchers have observed a repeated appearance of the same footprints in the same home area.
  • Males are estimated at 8 to 9 feet tall in stature, when standing upright on two feet. Females would be about 7 feet tall, adolescents 4 to 6 feet tall. Weight is estimated at 700 to 1,000 pounds, based on a model for grizzly bears. Mionczynski hypothesizes that the creature travels on both two legs and all fours. Meldrum has made casts of 16-inch footprints.
  • The North American ape is likely an omnivore, eating fish, meat and plants. Sightings increase around elk season, which suggests to Mionczynski that the animal is particularly drawn to elk meat left behind by hunters. Mionczynski also believes it is a hibernating creature.
  • No evidence suggests the use of tools or structured living space. They have language and are reclusive and highly intelligent. Mionczynski said the researchers have found evidence of sasquatches covering their tracks, literally brushing over their footprints with pine bows so as to stay hidden.

Perhaps the most interesting research lies in the food. Mionczynski identified a plant he believes attracts the animal. The berry-producing shrub is not common in Wyoming and is unique in the fact that it occurs after the first hard freeze of the year, in September. (He said he would not identify the plant for fear people would start looking for it.)

Meldrum found a distribution map for the plant. They overlaid it with a map of credible sightings from September and the following months.

“We found a correlation,” Mionczynski said.

Doubt

Both Mionczynski and Meldrum have caught flak for their work.

Mionczynski went underground for a period of time. After Meldrum appeared in the Discovery Channel documentary, “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science,” for which he also wrote a companion book of the same title in 2006, an Associated Press article quoted Idaho State University professors who lambasted his research. One even asked if Meldrum intended to research Santa Claus, too.

It upsets Meldrum when other scientists won’t even examine the evidence.

“As scientists, we’re obliged to consider this,” Meldrum said.

Funding for their research can be a challenge. Mionczynski said they will receive money from individual academics who recognize their research, but “much of the time we’re working on our own time and funds. … If we’re all out (of money) for the year and we get a compelling report, we’re not going to leave that alone.”

Yes, the two researchers encounter hoaxes. But they can usually dismiss them outright. People will often use woodcuts to make footprints, but Meldrum can see they are not anatomically correct. Some have even used casts of potentially legitimate prints to make tracks, but Meldrum can spot those, too.

In Meldrum’s book, which is endorsed by Dr. Jane Goodall on its cover, he explains the field of cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals. Some creatures — the unicorn, griffin, mermaid — have proven to be legends. Others once thought to be imaginary are now commonplace, including the leopard, giraffe and crocodile.

The concept of sasquatch can’t be considered total myth. Man did once live alongside a giant ape, Gigantopithecus blacki, which has been estimated at 10 feet in height and 1,200 pounds in weight. Actual teeth and a mandible have been found in Southeast Asia. The extinct species existed for 1 million years, up to several hundred thousand years ago.

Where are the bones?

If sasquatch exists, then where are the bones? Why has a body not been found?

Meldrum asks you to stop and think for a moment. He has two reasons for you to consider.

Birth and death are rare events for an ape. If the animal lives more than 50 years on average and females only have a few young in their lifetime, your chances of finding a body are pretty rare, Meldrum explains. And animals that die naturally tend to hide themselves away, following instinct, he said. They don’t plop dead in the middle of an open field.

Consider the habitat, too. Wet, coniferous forests where sasquatches may live have acidic soil — soil that is not kind to bone, Meldrum said. Bone that hasn’t corroded away would draw the attention of small animals, which gnaw on bone for the calcium.

If that’s not enough for you, let’s return to Gigantopithecus. It lived for 1 million years, that much is fact.

“And yet what do we have to show?” Meldrum asked. “We have a few jaws and a few isolated teeth.”

Meldrum and Mionczynski continue their research, most recently in Canada earlier this month. It will take DNA evidence to unequivocally prove the existence of sasquatch, and the scientists continue to search.

A Charles Darwin quote that hangs in Meldrum’s office serves as a reminder of the need for their work: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Copyright 2010 trib.com. All rights reserved. This material was published on the TBRC website with express permission of the Casper Star-Tribune. Any other organization or individual may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this article without the express permission of the Casper Star-Tribune.

Link to original story.

   

The Discovery of the Sasquatch According to Bindernagel

 

As anyone with more than a passing interest in the subject knows, of the many books addressing the sasquatch phenomenon, few have been written by Ph.D.’s, much less Ph.D.’s who accept the possibility of a species of great ape inhabiting North America. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to the release of one of those rare tomes, written in this case by wildlife biologist John Bindernagel, a man of unimpeachable character and exemplary qualifications.

Read more: The Discovery of the Sasquatch According to Bindernagel

   

Skookum Film Crew Coming to Conference

 

The TBRC is pleased to announce that a crew from MDM Productions LLC will be attending the 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference to interview and possibly film witnesses. The independent motion picture, entitled Skookum, is currently in pre-production.

Read more: Skookum Film Crew Coming to Conference

   

Area X Field Research Operation Report from March 2010

 

From 16 to 23 March 2010 the TBRC had one or more members present at a remote mountainous location in southeast Oklahoma. Wildlife biologist John Mionczynski—at the behest of the TBRC—traveled from Wyoming specifically to join the team during the field research operation. TBRC investigators present included Alton Higgins, Paul Bowman, Chris Buntenbah, Jerry Hestand, Mark Porter, Ken Stewart, Mark McClurkan, Alex Diaz, Bob Yarger, Bill Coffman, Phil Burrows, and Brad McAndrews.

Read more: Area X Field Research Operation Report from March 2010

   

2010 Conference Lineup and Schedule

The 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference will be held in Tyler, Texas, October 30, 2010, 8:30 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. To pre-register and pre-pay for the Conference, click here. The conference will be at the Caldwell Auditorium, located at:

300 S. College Ave.
Tyler, TX 75702
(903) 262-2300

The fundraiser banquet dinner will be from 7:00 P.M to 9:00 P.M. with a special presentation by Bob Gimlin, who was with Roger Patterson when the so-called "Patterson-Gimlin footage" was taken in 1967. The dinner will be held at the Tyler Discovery Science Place, located at:

308 N. Broadway Ave.
Tyler, TX 75702
(903) 533-8011

General admission is $15.

The schedule for the 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference:

Doors open at 08:30.

08:30 – 09:30: Meet and greet

09:30 – 09:40: Brian Brown – Official Greeting, Announcements

09:40 – 10:25: Daryl Colyer – TBRC Investigator

10:30 – 11:15: Alton Higgins – TBRC Investigator, wildlife biologist

11:20 – 12:00: Chad Arment, author

Noon – 1:30: Lunch Break

01:30 – 1:50: Robert Swain – Artist

01:55– 2:35: Jimmy Chilcutt, primate dermatoglyphics specialist

2:40 – 3:15: Daniel Falconer – Artist

3:15 – 3:25: Break

3:25 – 4:10: Kathy Strain – Anthropologist, Author; Bob Strain – veteran researcher

4:15 – 5:00: Jeff Meldrum – Anthropologist, primate anatomist

5:00 – 6:00: Panel discussion, featuring all conference speakers, moderated by Brian Brown

7:00 – 9:00: Banquet with featured speaker Bob Gimlin

The TBRC is funded by membership dues, fundraisers, and the annual Texas Bigfoot Conference, in addition to donations and grants. The TBRC desires to enhance the credibility of bigfoot/sasquatch research and facilitate a greater degree of acceptance by the scientific community and other segments of society of the likelihood of a biological basis behind the sasquatch mystery.

The host hotel for the 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference is the Tyler Sleep Inn and Suites, located at 5555 South Donnybrook Avenue in Tyler (903-581-8646). For those planning to attend, it is recommended that hotel rooms be reserved well in advance. In order to qualify for the discount price, the hotel needs to know that the person or group is in town for the 2010 Texas Bigfoot Conference. The Sleep Inn and Suites will provide a complimentary hot buffet breakfast and a meeting room for Conference attendees. The overflow hotels are: Comfort Suites (903-534-0999); and Holiday Inn Select (903-561-5800).

Refund Policy: If you are unable to attend the conference after submitting your advance registration, we humbly and regretfully must acknowledge that there is a no refund policy and will be considered donations made to the organization in support of the advance planning and preparation that is being put into this event.

We reserve the right to refuse admittance to anyone.

Rude, disruptive, or confrontational behavior will absolutely not be tolerated and will result in immediate removal from the premises by law enforcement.

For additional information, contact us here.

   

Low Energy Output Documented in Orangutans

altA recent article on the ScienceDaily website discusses the results of a study on the activity level of orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). It seems that Homo sapiens sapiens is not the only species to have “couch potato” tendencies.

The article, written by Neil Schoenherr, looks at a study conducted by Washington University, located in St. Louis, in which researchers studied the activity levels and energy output of orangutans living in a large indoor/outdoor habitat located at the 230-acre campus of the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. What they observed was fascinating. The researchers found that these captive orangutans used less energy, relative to body mass, than nearly any other eutherian mammal ever measured. This would include comparisons to sedentary humans. What makes the results even more interesting is that the activity level of the orangutans studied is very similar to that of their cousins living in the wild.

Herman Pontzer, PhD, is the assistant professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University and was the lead author of the study. He is quoted in the article as saying, “It’s like finding a sloth in your family tree. It’s remarkably low energy use.”

Dr. Pontzer and his team studied the daily energy expenditure of these great apes for two weeks and discovered an extremely low rate of energy use not previously observed in primates. The results seem to dovetail nicely with the slow growth and reproductive rates of orangutans. Dr. Pontzer speculated that this low metabolic rate might be an adaptation in response to severe food shortages in the orangutan’s native habitats. It is pointed out that the rain forests of Southeast Asia, Borneo, and Sumatra all go through periods where the availability of ripe fruit—the orangutan staple—drops drastically. The study suggests that orangutans have adapted over time to become the ultimate low-energy specialists, decreasing their level of activity, and thus, the number of calories required to function, to avoid starving during these forest cycles when food is scarce.

Once again, a discovery regarding a known great ape species may make an argument moot that is often proposed by skeptics to refute the existence of the sasquatch. These skeptics have a pretty standard arsenal of talking points which they use to refute the existence of the species. They claim that if the sasquatch were real it would have to spend nearly every waking minute eating in order to sustain its huge bulk. This study should surely give pause to those who subscribe to this theory. If the sasquatch is a type of great ape, it is not outlandish to think that they could share certain characteristics with their orangutan cousins; maybe this ability to slow down metabolism and limit energy output to the bare minimum is one of them. The ability to do so would be very valuable and could explain occasional sightings of the sasquatch in atypical locales, like the arid scrub land of West Texas, where food would be much more difficult to come by than regions where rainfall and vegetation are more plentiful.

Another typical argument used by skeptics is that if the sasquatch were real the species would be seen more often. The findings of Dr. Pontzer and his team might help explain the paucity of sightings as well. If the sasquatch does possess this low energy output trait then they probably are not moving around much at certain times of the year when food is harder to come by. The less an animal moves around, the less likely it is to be seen by humans. Also, it is implied in the study that the low-energy output seen in orangutans helps explain their slow rate of growth and low reproductive rate. If true, and if the sasquatch shares the same trait, then it is reasonable to assume that it has a low reproduction rate as well. This would keep the population of this rare animal low. Obviously, the fewer of them there are the less likely they are to be seen.

It seems the more we learn about the documented species of great apes, the less fantastic the possible existence of the sasquatch becomes.

This article was originally published at the Texas Cryptid Hunter blogsite. It has been modified for the TBRC website.

Read the ScienceDaily article here.

   

Jerry Hestand and the Bigfoot Bounty Hunters

Jerry Hestand dropped a 25-pound sack of plaster of paris over his shoulder and set a brisk pace for the Red River. The Bigfoot Bounty Hunters had no problem keeping up on an early spring day. They were a pack of kids on mission: Search for the legendary beast and along the way capture footprints of the many critters inhabiting the rolling hills of North and East Texas.

Biologist and science teacher Jerry Hestand teaches kids in ways that they will not soon forget.

The tasks of the day were to make plaster casts of as many different animals as they could find, retrieve pictures from a camera trap, and replace the camera’s batteries and memory card. The 16 fourth grade students, some parents and younger siblings hiked a mile or so into the field for the operation.

Hestand is a 14-year veteran fourth grade science teacher at Bells Elementary School. And this is not your typical science club. When Hestand uses the words field trip, he’s being literal. These young scientists sport boots and jeans, or camo, and heft buckets of plaster and sacks of sardines (bait not snacks.)

Hestand carried eco-scientist type high-tech gear in a backpack. A giant smile on his face and binoculars draped around his neck, Hestand watched as his students explored the nature as they came upon it. Periodically, one would exclaim “Wow!” “Look!” or “Ehew, yuck!” and an excited group would form around him or her to examine the find.

The more traditional science and math takes place back in the classroom where the students will measure their specimens and calculate the critters’ sizes. They also research what type of animals’ tracks they’ve captured and information about their habitats and habits.

Before loading the outdoor-skids into cars for the trip to the field, Hestand gathers them into his classroom. This is the scene for the ever-necessary lecture on rules of safety in the out of doors.

“What are the rules?” he asked.

“Stay together. Stay within a grownup’s sight. Wear long pants (some didn’t heed this warning and were sorry). Take water and a snack.” “Watch out for poison ivy.”

And he asked them what were they were looking for?

“Animal tracks!” the students yelled.

“And where will we find them?”

“In the mud,” came their reply in unison.

“Any other rules?”

“Don’t climb over any fences.”

They chose companions for the car trip to some land along the Red River, just a little north and east of their school. A private property owner allows Hestand and his young scientists to use his land. On this field trip day, someone forgot to unlock the gate, so the hike in was a lot longer than planned. That might have meant some anxious moments for parents who expected to meet their children an hour or so later.

The event was closer to three hours. Some of the parents who helped with the transport left early to return students who had siblings in track meets or other events themselves — and reassure other parents that everything was fine, just an unavoidable delay. The remaining team seemed relieved when a dad showed up at the end with a truck and empty flatbed trailer to drive them back to the main road.

But first the group fluttered across the landscape, finding tracks, carcasses, ant hills and many prickly plants. They hit the mother lode when they reached the Red River. They found a place where the animals gathered to take a drink where the river slowed but wasn’t stagnant. The wildlife had worn away the plants and provided the perfect mud field. Hestand demonstrated how to mix plaster of paris to the perfect consistency for casting tracks.

They mixed the white slop enthusiastically, so much so that their clothes were decorated with it.

Their excitement obvious by the hopping up and down and nervous chatter, the youngsters contained their enthusiasm enough to keep from stepping on tracks at the edges. By the end of the day, they successfully had cast “beaver, raccoon, possum, turkey and large water birds, probably blue heron,” Hestand reported in an e-mail Monday.

Students on the field trip were far too busy exploring the wonders of nature to submit to any interviews. But their interest was evident.

After their exercise of casting prints by the river, the group hiked east across a field to a ravine that held a tributary creek to the Red River. This was the site of their first camera trap. Hestand and some of the fathers helped students negotiate the steep bank, about 25 feet high, to reach the camera location. Some found it necessary to test their waterproof capability of their field boots in the creek. Others explored “better” routes up the embankment.

Students who had picked up skeletons and poked at carcasses, showed total disgust as they opened the tins of sardines used to bait the camera traps. The bait has drawn families of wild hogs, a large boar and a doe and her fawn in front of the camera’s lens, Hestand said.

Bigfoot Bounty Hunters came about when students found out Hestand had appeared on the television show “Monsterquest” which airs on the Travel and History channels. The series features scientists investigating mythical creatures and tales. Hestand said he has been a Bigfoot investigator since 2001, when he became a member of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy. His non-fiction interest grew from his love of classic horror tales, in this case “Legend of Boggy Creek” and “Creature from Black Lake.”

When students heard of his television fame, they often asked him about what he had seen on his trips into the woods and swamp lands.

“I told them a few stories during free time and some of them started to look up some of my investigations and contributions to the TBRC,” Hestand said. “Some of them wanted me to take them on an investigation, so I decided to have them meet me after school one afternoon so they could start their own group with my help.”

About 25 students showed up for the first meeting and they’ve gathered every Monday ever since. The students named their group The Bigfoot Bounty Hunters. They had a contest to design a logo, which now appears on T-shirts. The Bounty Hunters set some goals: They want to find an undiscovered animal, be on television, go on campouts and visit different places where Bigfoot sightings have been reported, learn to hike and canoe.

“We want to learn how to use a GPS, use the Internet to research, learn animal sounds and learn how to make a fire,” Hestand said.

Some of the students have accomplished almost all of their goals — and more. On numerous field trips, they have collected dozens of plaster casts of animal prints. They have set up camera traps (digital cameras with night vision lenses that capture images of animals drawn to the area with bait.) They have watched and helped replace batteries and download pictures from the cameras to laptop computers.

“Three students went with me on a trip to Fouke, Arkansas (Bigfoot sighting central and the setting of Legend of Boggy Creek.) and traveled the bayou at night,” Hestand wrote recently. "We found two huge alligator carcasses that poachers had probably shot for fun (lesson in ecology). We have started a skull collection and we go to the Internet to identify the animal. So far we have found coyote, deer, cow and horse.

“We are working on a Facebook page and we plan to have an end of year camp out.”

Parents support the effort with seven accompanying one field trip and others designing the T-shirts. One father on the field trip said he is just so happy to see his kids out in the fresh air and excited about learning.

The students are selling their T-shirts and field guides called “Critters of Texas,” pocket-size books picture animals and their footprints. The funds go to buying camera equipment and other implements for their scientific inquiries.

“We are planning to award ‘merit badges’ next year, example: Bone patch for finding and identifying bones,;(a) track badge, casting excellent track and identify animal; report badge, write an interesting report about a subject related to our research including pictures or illustrations,” Hestand wrote in an e-mail.

Hestand said the fourth graders, as they prepare for promotion to fifth grade, were worried they could no longer be Bigfoot Bounty Hunters.

“I assured them the group would be open to students interested in nature and they would continue to be junior investigators as long as they were willing to spend their time learning about the world around them,” Hestand said.

What are the limits to learning when the whole world is your classroom?

Original article in the Sherman Herald Democrat.

 

   

Bigfoot's Big Foot

National Geographic has produced an interesting video piece featuring TBRC Advisor Dr. Jeff Meldrum.

You can watch the video here.

It is unclear whether or not this video is to be part of a more comprehensive program on the subject. At any rate, it is always refreshing to see the subject receive serious treatment.
   

Where the Wild Things Are

The rubber Sasquatch head stared with glassy eyes from atop its pedestal. Beneath its gaze, Bigfoot Conference attendees milled about Tyler’s Caldwell Auditorium. Children peeked at the hairy visage from around parents’ legs. A pale man wearing black cowboy boots crossed his arms as a friend snapped a picture with his cell phone. Three teenage boys gave mocking thumbs-ups. Like the elusive or mythical creature that inspired it, the rubber Bigfoot was indifferent to the awe, curiosity and ridicule it provoked.

This was the vendor’s section of the ninth Texas Bigfoot Conference, held annually in the East Texas Piney Woods. Hosted by the nonprofit Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy, the conference is dedicated to the large ape Gigantopithecus blacki that purportedly crossed from Siberia to North America via the Beringia land bridge during the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. The ape’s descendants—usually described as bipedal, hairy and standing 7 to 9 feet tall—are most often sighted in rural forested areas receiving large amounts of rainfall, like the Pacific Northwest. Bigfoot also is said to roam the 65-million acre forestland along the Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana borders.

The conference aimed to separate fact from fiction. Mentions of the 1987 schlock film Harry and the Hendersons—in which John Lithgow takes a bumbling Bigfoot into his Seattle home—were met with tight grins by conservancy members.

“A lot of us like to joke around, but we never play in the field,” said member Mike Street.

Attended by about 500, the conference mixed scientific presentations with folks hoping to make a buck off the creature’s legend. In the auditorium, American Museum of Natural History primate biologist Esteban Sarmiento lectured on great apes he’d studied in Africa, Sumatra and Borneo. National Book Award-­winning naturalist-author Peter Matthiessen described a possible Yeti encounter in Tibet and said academia needs to keep a skeptical, but open, mind on undocumented species.

In the adjoining vendor area, a former standup comedian sold Sasquatch-themed hiking DVDs. Nearby, a Hollywood production designer hawked the Sasqwatch, a timepiece enclosed in a large, brown plastic foot.

“Everyone’s always real nice at the conferences,” Sasqwatch-creator Yolie Moreno said. “I’m just happy that Bob Gimlin is wearing one.”

She nodded to a tan man with a white mustache, turquoise eyes and straw cowboy hat. He sipped from a McDonald’s coffee cup, talking with people. Along with Robert Patterson, Gimlin is famous for the only known filming of a Sasquatch. Shot on 16mm film in 1967, the footage shakily depicts a hairy creature walking upright like a man near a creek in Northern California. A regular feature on the History Channel’s Monster Quest, 78-year-old Gimlin is the Mick Jagger of Bigfoot conferences.

“I took so much ridicule over that for 40 years,” Gimlin said. “For a while I was really sorry that I’d ever been down there to see it. But since I’ve started meeting people at conferences like this one, I’ve enjoyed doing them.”

Another Bigfoot celebrity, Smokey Crabtree, scouted locations and starred as himself in the 1970s Bigfoot feature film The Legend of Boggy Creek, shot in Fouke, Arkansas. The movie’s YouTube trailer is replete with grainy Texarkana forestland footage and a Charlie’s Angels-style soundtrack. Crabtree self-published an account of the production, as well as the story of his real-life encounter with Bigfoot, Smokey and the Fouke Monster … A True Story.

“My son shot him three times with a shotgun,” Crabtree said, adjusting his cowboy hat and bolo. “It didn’t do him no harm at all, though. My son was 60 feet away and using squirrel shot.”

Crabtree pointed to a framed picture of a four-toed, 8-foot-long possible Bigfoot skeleton he discovered decomposing on a bed of Arkansas pine needles. “That’s not human,” he said.

He and his wife sold copies of his books and spoken-word CD, The Legend of Smokey Crabtree, next to a poster board covered with faded newspaper clippings. They depicted Crabtree’s other grapples with nature: a 200-pound alligator gar from the Red River in 1958, a 575-pound wild boar and a ­37-pound bobcat trapped with grandson Skeeter.

“One of the biggest mistakes was making that movie,” he said. “I used to shoot ducks in my underwear from the back porch. When the movie caught on, 5 million people came beating down my door. I had to give my property away.”

A young hipster couple next to Crabtree promoted their Web site, BelieveItTour.com. Their logo—“As a child you believe. What happens then?”—depicted a cartoon Bigfoot attempting to hitch a ride alongside a white-sheet ghost and a green alien.

Conservancy members do not appreciate having Bigfoot ridiculed.

“There is a stigma attached to saying you’ve seen a Bigfoot or are interested in the subject,” said conservancy President Craig Woolheater. He squinted through rectangular glasses. “People will laugh at you. It’s lumped in with the paranormal—ghosts, witchcraft, UFOs, voodoo. That’s where the Bigfoot books are in the library.”

It takes a certain type of person to earnestly study a creature that’s largely been dismissed by the mainstream scientific community. And, judging by the conference, men seemed more likely than women to possess that perfect mix of curiosity, stuborness and a predilection for elusive hairy primates. “My sweet wife won’t ever come to these things,” said Gimlin, who had sighted the creature along rural back roads. A few spouses worked the ticket booth with the resigned tolerance that might be shown for ­nascar or wrestling.

I understood their feelings. My wife Catherine had agreed to accompany me to the conference. In an Austin boutique, she’d bought a T-shirt depicting a Bigfoot holding an American flag among pine trees. At the last moment, fearing conference attendees might take her shirt as mockery, she decided to wear her jacket and scarf as cover.

“You don’t seem like a believer,” one man told her. “Did somebody drag you here today?”

Like Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts wary of a meathead jock, Bigfoot conference attendees and conservancy members sometimes hesitated to be interviewed. When I told them I was originally from Henderson, just down the road from Tyler, they became more at ease.

“Did you grow up hearing stories?” was a typical question.

I truthfully had to answer no. Most Bigfoot sightings occur around Texarkana and in the Big Thicket. Henderson falls between these two regions. I could think of only one person who, out of boredom, had spent nights searching for Sasquatch without ever discovering even a footprint.

Many conservancy members claim to have sighted the creature. Woolheater said he and his girlfriend saw Bigfoot walking beside a remote highway while driving from New Orleans to Dallas in 1994. Daryl Colyer sighted Bigfoot near the Trinity River in 2004, claiming the creature smelled “like a sweaty horse.” The conservancy maintains the creature has the population size of the jaguarundi (a medium-sized wild cat whose Texas population is estimated at less than 50) and the intelligence of an orangutan, and lives in the forest’s most remote sections.

“In my lifetime, I’d like to see credible evidence of this animal brought to light and public acceptance,” Woolheater said.

Representing a scientific organization that is largely shunned by academia, Colyer spoke indignantly about this treatment during his slideshow, “Bigfoot 101.” He mentioned University of Florida anthropologist David Daegling’s 2004 book, Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist Examines America’s Enduring Legend. Fellow believers in the audience grumbled. Among other debunkings, the book states there is no scientific proof supporting the creature’s existence and that its recent resurgence is mostly because believers share stories over the Internet.

“My question to Daegling is, ‘Who’s been looking?’ ” Colyer told the crowd. “Do we have any teams out there right now heavily funded by a university? TBRC members do the best we can, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to go back home and put food on the table. We need funding. Money talks.”

Until a Bigfoot is killed or captured, believers hope for other evidence. Bill Dranginis sold his “EyeGotcha” surveillance video equipment at a vendor’s table. Cameras covered in metal grates could be fixed to trees. “Hair snares”—triangular-shaped metal tubes whose inner walls were lined with stiff steel brushes—could be baited and hung from branches to snag a section of Bigfoot hide for DNA study. During one presentation, conservancy wildlife biologist Alton Higgins said the group had spent over $50,000 for surveillance equipment in the Piney Woods. So far they had procured many images of black bears playing with hair snares.

“Do you think Bigfoot can smell the batteries in the camera?” a man asked Dranginis.

“That’s a good question,” he replied.

Believers blame the lack of evidence on the creature’s remote habitat, seemingly nocturnal nature, and the fact that most animals crawl into a crevasse or tucked-away spot to die. “We have 40 cameras out now,” Woolheater said, referring to a Texas-Oklahoma-Arkansas-Louisiana forestland roughly the size of Oregon. “Do the math. It’s very unlikely we’ll get a photo.”

As Dranginis explained the “Eyegotcha” method, American Museum of Natural History primate biologist Sarmiento began his afternoon presentation on the world’s great apes. With shoulder-length black hair, Sarmiento resembled Tarzan’s urban cousin. His slides, displaying many great-ape genitalia, resembled a college lecture. He said species were dying out as human populations encroached on their habitats. Neither negating nor confirming Bigfoot’s existence, Sarmiento said the Patterson-Gimlin footage was not of a great ape.

“The depicted creature’s large mammary glands are hairy, whereas those of humans or chimpanzees,” he said, clicking onto a new slide, “are clearly not.”

Squirming in their seats, a middle-aged couple glanced at each other over their young boy’s head.

Matthiessen, the keynote speaker, is a tall thin man with sunken eyes and gray hair. As late-afternoon attendees sat outside discussing college football or sightings, he leaned against a railing, scribbling on a legal pad. His 1978 National Book Award-winning travelogue, The Snow Leopard, recounts how Matthiessen saw what he believed to be a Yeti in the mountains of Tibet. He had been brought to the Texas Bigfoot Conference by his friend, John Mionczynski, a wildlife biologist who in 1972 encountered Bigfoot in the Big Horn Mountains, which stretch from Wyoming into Montana. Contemplating whether to write a book on the subject, Matthiessen paused to muse on Bigfoot and his worldwide brethren.

“People have a need for story and myth,” Matthiessen said, watching a crowd form around Gimlin. “Most scientists are very skeptical. And they should be. But they shouldn’t have a completely closed mind about it. Remember the coelacanth, a so-called fossil fish? It was believed to be 200,000 years extinct and then turned up 20 years ago off the Madagascar coast. I saw some myself in a tank while visiting the Comoros Islands. So, you know, stranger things have happened than Bigfoot.”

Matthiessen squinted into the humid afternoon sun. Two men with gelled hair, camouflage T-shirts, and fanny packs walked past.

“I’m all for mystery,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very dull world when there’s no more mystery at all.”

Feeling trampled by Bigfoot, my wife decreed we put an end to the proceedings. After a stop at Starbucks, we sped away from Tyler. Office buildings and chain stores gave way to thick forest and red-dirt back roads. As Catherine unbuttoned her jacket, the T-shirt Bigfoot emerged from its hiding spot to stare at the quarter moon ascending the dashboard.

See the original article at the Texas Observer.

   

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