Matthew Kruchak, CanWest News Service
Thursday, January 31, 2008 -- Courtenay, British Columbia - The narrow sidewalk passes a white picket fence to a set of wooden stairs. At the top of the landing, a makeshift museum is set up in front of a modest home. Objects are neatly displayed on wooden TV trays and drawings posted on bulletin boards.
The material on display, according to its owner, proves that a mysterious and elusive creature lurks in the forests, valleys and ravines of the Pacific Northwest. The message is that one of North America's greatest mysteries is neither myth nor hoax. The sasquatch exists.
So says John Bindernagel, 66, a tall, lean man with dishevelled hair and a wild grey beard who proudly shows off his findings.
What lies on the trays before him is not the carcass of a hairy humanoid, a clump of hair or even a scat sample.
Instead, there are plaster casts of giant footprints and hand-drawn witness accounts. For him, that's all the proof you need.
Bindernagel is not just some guy who stumbled across a set of giant footprints. He's a wildlife biologist with a PhD who has become a world-renowned expert on the elusive sasquatch.
Bindernagel has more than 40 years of sasquatch experience. He says he's actually seen one.
Bindernagel was studying wildlife biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario when his fascination with the sasquatch began. It was 1963.
He was flipping through an outdoor magazine when he came across an article about a sighting in northern B.C. Reading it changed his life.
He was puzzled as to why the animal wasn't discussed in his outdoor management class. He wanted to know more, so he raised his hand and asked his professor.
"What about this animal that sounds like it's an ape? Do we know anything about this animal?"
"No, no, it's not a real animal, it's just something someone's made up or imagined," the professor replied.
And the class cracked up.
In 1970, Bindernagel left Canada for the University of Wisconsin to do a PhD in wildlife parasitology, the study of parasites. But a giant was lurking at the back of his mind.
In 1975, after completing his PhD, Bindernagel moved to B.C. with his wife Joan. He started work at a wildlife consulting company in Nanaimo and, in his spare time, began seriously researching sasquatch.
After spending 13 years looking for tracks he found nothing. He'd almost given up when, one day, on a hike with his wife and a school group in Strathcona Provincial Park, he stumbled on a set of prints at the side of a trail. He made plaster casts and has been showing them off ever since.
The 38 centimetres of plaster he holds in his hands, dried into the shape of a giant foot, is proof the animal exists, he says.
"Because as a biologist, this now becomes documented evidence of an animal having made a track," he says.
"They are quite different than humans, quite different from the carved, hoaxed feet we've been shown," he says, standing at the top of the steps, as if on a podium giving a lecture to a first-year biology class.
Holding the plaster cast, he points out various anatomical characteristics of the sasquatch foot.
"There is a human-like pathological condition called hallux varus (when the big toes begins to deviate away from the foot). This should be of interest to primate anatomists, 'Why is the sasquatch foot looking sometimes like this pathological condition hallux varus in humans?'
"It also looks like the great ape foot, where the big toe sticks off to the side, which is quite interesting."
He's passionate and totally serious. His approach is purely scientific.
And if he actually taught a university course, his first book - North America's Great Ape: The Sasquatch - would be required reading.
And when his second book, nearly completed, is published, it also would be added to university bookstore shelves.
He writes these books, he says, not to make money, but rather for the record. He's seen other serious sasquatch researchers die without recognition, but one day their work will be highly regarded, he says.
"This is kind of the ironical thing, scientists one day may thank the handful of us who have done this. I feel we've saved their bacon.
"When people say, 'How did scientists miss it?', they can say, well, you know, the whole scientific community did not miss it."
Without a cadaver, most people won't believe it lives, he says.
Then Bindernagel's bushy brow furls and his eyes shift quickly. His muscles tense. He leans forward and blurts out in a whisper, "I've seen one."
It was earlier this year somewhere in the United States, he says, frantically. It was about six feet tall and walked through the backyard of the home where he was staying. Video will be released shortly by the people with whom he was staying, he says, hesitating.
But he won't say more. Nothing else. Zero.
"How do you know what you saw was real?" "How did it walk?" "Why didn't you chase after it?"
He becomes agitated and upset the more he's pressed for information.
"It's not my project to discuss," he says.
After 40 years of waiting, he's keeping his close encounter a close secret.
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