The battle to find Sasquatch
Wildlife biologist believes the biggest obstacle is that scientists
won't look at the evidence

By Richard Watts, Times Colonist Journalist


September 27, 2012 -- The Sasquatch is just waiting to be discovered in B.C., Canada but too few want to admit or investigate it, says a Vancouver Island wildlife biologist and author.

"And we have what has to be the best sasquatch habitat anywhere on the planet right here on the B.C. coast," said Courtenay's John Bindernagel, author of the 2010 book The Discovery of the Sasquatch.

"The question for me is no longer 'Does the Sasquatch exist or not?' but 'Why has the existence of the sasquatch been resisted for so long?' " Bindernagel said.

Now 70, he believes enough sightings, tracks and other evidence of the large ape-like sasquatch - Coast Salish for hairy man - have been collected to provide evidence of the creature's existence in B.C. and North America.

Bindernagel has collected casts of massive, human-like tracks from Strathcona Provincial Park and even heard a "whoo, whoo, whoop" call. It's similar to a chimpanzee's call in Uganda, but he believes it is a sasquatch calling out for its own kind.

Bindernagel comes to the investigation of the sasquatch as a scientist. He studied at the University of Guelph and the University of Wisconsin and holds a PhD in wildlife biology. He has worked in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Central America, teaching, conducting research, surveys and preparing and implementing wildlife management plans and conservation measures before returning to Vancouver Island, where he worked as a consultant.

The Discovery of the Sasquatch is Bindernagel's second book on the subject and the most scholarly in its approach. Even he admits his first book, North America's Great Ape: The Sasquatch, was undertaken with a hobbyist's approach to the subject.

But the first book attracted the interest of some of the world's bestknown biologists, including chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall. And after its publication, Bindernagel said something unusual started to happen: People began contacting him with reports of sightings. But before they even began to talk with him, they wanted to know one thing.

"They would ask, 'Are you serious about this?' " said Bindernagel. "That was always the question - 'Are you serious about this?'

"I had to say, 'Yeah, obviously I am.' "

So he began to collect their reports. Bindernagel also began to collect and document details of other reported sightings and bring them together, looking for patterns or repeated details.

But he started to run into what he calls a roadblock of "prevailing knowledge." Too many scientists were unwilling to look at evidence from various sightings. They refused to give much credence to the plaster casts of tracks. "We can't get our papers accepted at professional conferences, so our colleagues have remained ignorant of the evidence," Bindernagel said.

"The scientific gatekeepers keep saying, 'No, no, no, having Bigfoot on our agenda would taint our whole conference.' "

So in his latest book, he attempts to take a scholarly approach, reviewing and summarizing the existing evidence. He also tries to put it in the context of scientists' approach to "the discovery process."

It's a process he contends is taking far longer than it should because of scientific reluctance. "We have scientists demanding evidence, like DNA," Bindernagel said. "At the same time, they are ignoring the evidence we do have.

Not having the evidence you would like doesn't excuse you from examining the evidence that's available."

However, scientists such as Grant Keddie, curator of archeology at the Royal B.C. Museum, take exception to the notion scientists are ignoring the evidence. There just isn't any to study, they say.

Keddie said in the past, he has conducted investigations into several sightings, including one report of a creature running in front of a passenger-filled bus near Errock in the Fraser Valley in the mid 1970s.

He said he went to the site, conducted a methodical, systematic grid search, as used in archeology, and found nothing. Samples of scat turned out to be coyote droppings.

Newspaper reports had described footprints so deep they could only have been made by a creature weighing at least 800 pounds. But Keddie said he made deeper prints running in hiking boots.

Police investigators were called in and turned up four men who had rented a gorilla suit, then waited for a bus, before one ran across the road.

Another report came from a man with no experience in the B.C. backcountry. An interview revealed the sighting came after a stint in a pub, where locals joked the man was heading into sasquatch country.

But Keddie said when stories are refuted, the proven falsehoods don't seem to gain the same traction in the public mind. Nobody remembers them when the next report becomes public. People again start blaming "scientists" for ignoring the evidence.

Keddie said if any evidence was to emerge that was even remotely solid, such as a bone or tooth, the top physical anthropologists in Canada would be on the next plane to B.C.

"So when I get asked, 'Have you ever talked to anyone who is really believable or who has good solid evidence?' I say, 'So far I haven't,' " Keddie said.

But Jeff Meldrum, associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, said it's only a matter of time before such evidence surfaces.

Meldrum said in a telephone interview that within the last 15 years, new discoveries have scuttled ideas of human evolution being a linear process to modern homo sapiens. It now looks more likely that as many as six early humans, or hominin, occupied the world at the same time in human prehistory.

Discoveries like the 2003 find in Indonesia of homo floresiensis, the remains of a one-metre-tall creature dubbed "the Hobbit," have rocked previous theories.

Estimated at 18,000 years old, this creature was clearly living at the same time as early humans.

Meldrum said such discoveries have seen even previous sasquatch skeptics starting to consider more seriously the idea of a North American ape-like creature, another species of hominin living now.

"The prospect that such populations might have persisted into the present is not so far-fetched," he said.

"The scientific community is coming around to recognize that this is a very legitimate question."

A Victoria man who spotted an ape-like creature in the Coast Mountains almost 50 years ago still calls it one of the "misfortunes" of his life.

Ron Welch, now 90, said he has become tired of people forever questioning and doubting what he and his brother both saw.

"They ask you and you tell them and they just stand there and snicker and sneer," Welch said.

"And I don't go around lying because it doesn't pay off."

He said it was 1965 and he and his brother, Lorne, now deceased, were conducting mineral exploration work near Pitt Lake, about 40 kilometres east of Vancouver.

After boating and later hiking to an elevation of about 6,000 feet, he and his brother spotted a large, upright creature. It stood on its hind legs, transferring its weight from one foot to the other, its arms swinging back and forth.

Welch said it was about half a city block in distance away across a small valley. He even had enough time to eat a candy bar and smoke a cigarette until he and his brother left.

He said neither he nor his brother wanted to get close to investigate because the creature was just too big.

"When you are in the bush and you see something that size, you don't go running after it," said Welch.

"All I had was a hatchet."

Right from the start, his brother said it would be best if they said nothing to anybody.

"My brother said, 'Nobody will believe ya on what we are just seeing,' " said Welch. "Then he said: 'But he would make a hell of a basketball or football player - look at the length of the arms on him.'"

Richard Watts

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist Newspaper

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