Tuesday, January 15, 2008 -
Aaron Achtenberg is used to shooting bass, with a video camera. He is not accustomed to mysterious ape-men lurking near his campsite in the Indonesian jungle. Gorillas in the midst, if you will.
The wildlife photojournalist from New Leipzig went to Sumatra recently on a trip of a lifetime. His job: Capture on film an animal that probably doesn't exist. Do it in two weeks. In the jungle.
For the History Channel.
Achtenberg followed researchers across Sumatra as they tracked the extraordinarily elusive orang pendek - a half-man, half-ape creature first reported way back when Marco Polo was bopping on by. Reported, but never documented.
The orang pendek is one of the enigmatic creatures chronicled on the History Channel's "Monster Quest" series. Achtenberg's account will air at 9 tonight on cable channel 64.
A 1999 University of Mary graduate, Achtenberg hooked up with the TV series through Ron Schara Enterprises, his employer in Minneapolis. Typically, he shoots hunting and fishing shows that Schara hosts. Flying to Indonesia in search of the unknown was somewhat of a departure. He camped in the jungle, hiked up mountains and lost a microphone when one of the canoes swamped.
"It was awesome, I loved it," Achtenberg said Tuesday from his Minneapolis office. "I love going new places and seeing new things. For a kid from New Leipzig, North Dakota, to be on the opposite side of the world doing something like this was pretty incredible."
The tale of the orang pendek has been around for hundreds of years. The critter is supposed to be a 3-foot tall ape that looks like a man, walks on two legs and is covered in short hair. Its name, in Indonesian, means "short person." Several people have claimed to lay eyes one of the creatures, and researchers in Achtenberg's group even uncovered what they said were "O.P" footprints.
But no one's got the thing on film.
National Geographic wasn't up to the task during an expedition in 2006. Jeremy Holden, a wildlife photographer from Britain who joined Achtenberg in Sumatra, reported seeing an orang pendek a dozen years ago. But he's never captured the creature's image.
"We were prepared to not see anything," Achtenberg said. "People have spent years looking and not seen it. Our time is pretty expensive to go and kick around the jungle. We had two weeks to try and find something that realistically we had a very slim chance of seeing."
Achtenberg's group struck out, too, but he said they came back with some pretty compelling video. After trekking through Sumatra, he believes Holden saw one of the "monsters."
"I do believe he saw something,"Achtenberg said. "He's a very rational human being. He's a smart guy, he tells the story with conviction, and not to convince you. Whether they're still out there, I think even he's skeptical."
The researchers with the History Channel team came back with casts of four footprints they say could have been made by the orang pendek. But as Achtenberg noted, those prints may no longer lead anywhere.
Or, as the poet e.e. cummings noted about goings, they could be "a recent footprint in the sand of was."
Source: Bismark Tribune, North Dakota -
(Reach reporter Tony Spilde at 250-8260 or tony.spilde@;bismarcktribune.com)
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