The creature known as “Bigfoot” is said to inhabit mountains in the Pacific Northwest, swamps in Florida, forests in northern Minnesota, and many other areas of the country. But the large hairy humanoid creature that walks on two legs is not exclusively American.
Canadians claim a “Sasquatch” roams their lands. In Russia a “yeti” menaces animals and humans so frequently the Russian government has funded expeditions to find it. In the 1950’s explorer Eric Shipton received worldwide attention when he photographed footprints of the "Abominable Snowman" on Mount Everest. " In Australia there are legends of a “Yowie.” In South America a Mapinguari lurks in jungles. In Malaysia the orang minyak ("oily man" monster) preys on animals and imaginations.
So what’s up with all this? Are these ape like creatures merely part of the collective unconscious of the human race? Or are they actual living beings roaming the shadows of the world? Are they apes? Human? A hybrid species created centuries ago in a murky, mysterious genetic quagmire best left unmentioned?
Perhaps, yet the unmentionable was mentioned last year, when a Texas veterinarian named Melba Ketchum published a study he said proved not only that Bigfoot is real, but that he is part human. Related to us, like the crazy uncle we don’t invite to parties. Or the mad aunt we lock in the cellar when company comes.
Ketchum’s report received national attention, and not just from Bigfoot partisans like The Bigfoot Research Organization (BFRO), and cable TV shows like Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot, a show featuring an intrepid (albeit suspect) quartet traveling across America (and sometimes around the world) looking for Bigfoot. In fact the show could be called Not Finding Bigfoot because in the three year life of the show they have not gotten even a glimpse of the big fella. Is it odd that a seven foot creature with very big feet can be so elusive?
But back to Dr. Ketchum’s study. After examining samples of hair, skin, excrement, and fluid collected by people across America, Dr. Ketchum concluded:
“We have extracted, analyzed and sequenced DNA from over one hundred separate samples... obtained from scores of collection sites throughout North America…DNA analysis showed two distinctly different types of results. The mitochondrial DNA was unambiguously human, while the nuclear DNA was shown to harbor novel structure and sequence ... the data conclusively proves that the Sasquatch exist as an extant hominin and are a direct maternal descendent of modern humans."
In other words, Dr. Ketchum believes that thousands of years ago cryptid creatures mated with human females. The result is our alleged relative, Bigfoot – or Sasquatch - or Yowie – or yeti - or…well you get the point.
Ketchum’s study (available on his website for $30) was criticized by the scientific community for its poorly controlled sample gathering. While Ketchum was careful to avoid contaminating the samples in the laboratory, most of his samples seem to have been contaminated by human contact before reaching him. For instance, Bigfoot enthusiasts who find a hair on a tree or a fence post could easily add their own DNA to the sample by their own skin secretion, or from passing it around to family and friends.
The other problem with Ketchum’s study is that the people collecting the samples didn’t know what animal they were from. They just came across something they thought was weird and speculated it might be from Bigfoot. The whole endeavor was flawed, at least in the opinion of the scientific community, who turned their collective noses up at Ketchum, his study, and the crowd he hung out with, who were derided as “monster hunters” and “cryptozoologists.” The scorn was returned by the Bigfoot believers, who used a more predictable vocabulary.
An olive branch of sorts was extended last year when Oxford University announced they would test any supposed Sasquatch samples that were sent them. Oxford University geneticist Bryan Sykes announced: “I'm challenging and inviting the cryptozoologists to come up with the evidence instead of complaining that science is rejecting what they have to say.”
The floodgates opened. Samples came in from all over the world. Thirty were selected to be subjected to DNA analysis (half of the 30 samples came from America). The results? Drum roll please…the American and Russian samples were matched to a variety of animals: black bears, cows, horse, raccoon, sheep, deer, and canine animals. The most intriguing samples were from the Himalayas.
Two hair samples alleged to be from the Abominable Snowman were genetically matched to a forty thousand year old jawbone from a Norwegian arctic polar bear. Perhaps in his upcoming book, “The Yeti Enigma,” Sykes will explain how parts of a Norwegian polar bear ended up in the Himalayan mountains.
Sykes’ results were published in June 2014 in the weekly edition of Proceedings of the Royal Academy B. It was a perfect opportunity for science to gloat over the monster hunters. But Sykes passed on it. "I don't think this finishes the Bigfoot myth at all," he told NBC News. "What it does do is show that there is a way for Bigfoot enthusiasts to go back out into the forest and get the real thing.”
Professor Sykes has certainly warmed to his task. He is planning to explore the Himalayas himself next year to look for monsters. "That's the next logical step," he said. "We need a live 'Yeti.'" (Doesn’t it sound more scientific coming from an Oxford professor?).
Sykes has also become an ambassador between the scientific community and the Bigfoot crowd, conceding that the monster hunters “have been quite badly treated by scientists over the past 50 years." For his research and kind words, Sykes was named Cryptozoologist of the Year as well as Bigfooter of the Year for 2013. Isn’t it nice when we all get along? Now if only the Bigfoot/Yeti/Sasquatch would cooperate and let us find him, imagine the fun we all will have.