The offer of
prize money tempted many into searching for the Chinese yeren. New government
denials show no sign of stopping them.
AUGUST, CHINESE OFFICIALS LOOKING INTO reported sightings of a yeti-like
yeren, snowman or "wildman" found giant footprints in the forested
highlands of _Shennongjia Nature Reserve_ in Central Hubei province.
Shennongjia is a natural enclave of more than 1,200 square miles (3,000sq
km), with mountains to the east and west, the Han River to the north and
the Yangtze River's Three Gorges area to the south. The yeren has been
pursued in the Hubei forests since 1959, with more than 200 sightings;
or, if you go with the Xinhua news agency's recent statistics, 114 sightings
in 70 years. However, there have descriptions and drawings of yeren and
various man-apes for more than 2,000 years [FT31:2-5]
The yeren seems capable of remarkable feats of localization: upon being
pelted with stones or otherwise molested, it is said to chirp like a sparrow;
or bark like a dog, howl like a wolf, bray like a donkey, snarl like a
leopard, or cry like an infant.
In 1980, a Chinese scientist dressed up in a gorilla suit and entered
a forest in Shennongjia holding a pouch full of dates. He said he saw
a female yeren gathering food in the 1950s and wanted to return to the
exact spot with "an introductory gift". Another scientist told
the Shanghai Wenhui Bao that he hoped to join a wildman colony. "I
want to go in among them and become one of them." On 3 September
1993, railway engineers encountered three wildmen in Shennongjia. They
gave chase, coming within 30 yards as the creatures fled into dense forest.
The creatures were described as between 5 feet and 5 feet 6 inches (1·56
and 1.7m) tall, with long dishevel red hair, slightly rounded eyes, broad
foreheads and protruding chins. [FT74:48, 79:16]
The Committee for Research on Strange and Rare Creatures was set up on
27 October 1994, numbering among its members several scientists from the
prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences. The committee studied eight hair
specimens, none of which were said to come from humans or any known animals.
The hairs varied from black, collected in Yunnan province, to white from
Tibet, to the reddish-brown of the creatures seen in Hubei. The latter
were thought to be an unknown variety of primate, closer to human beings
than the great apes. The largest cast of a footprint is 16 inches (40
cm) long, so the creature could weigh as much as 660 lb (300 kg) and stand
more than 7 feet (2.1m) tall.
A 30-strong wildman expedition organized by the committee set out for
Shennongjia in April 1995 Previous groups had gone there to hunt for yeren
in 1977, 1980 and 1982. This time, against the better judgment of the
expedition scientists and local government officials who feared a stampede
of bounty hunters, the China Travel Service in Hubei offered provisions
to wildman hunters and various prizes: 500,000 yuan (37,000 pounds) for
bringing in one alive, 3,700 pounds for a dead specimen, up to 2,960 pounds
for photographs and 740 pounds for hair or feces [FT83:18].
The expedition returned to Beijing in July 1995 with more hair samples,
but not the incontrovertible evidence they had been hoping for. A further
search in 1997 found hundreds of large humanlike footprints believed to
have been made by wildmen. "Our preliminary conclusion is that they
were made by two animals walking on two legs," said Wang Fangchen,
the expedition leader. The creatures in this case were believed to weigh
about 440 lb (200 kg) [FT102:7]
"It's possible that apes who didn't evolve into human beings may
be hiding in Shennongjia," said Mr. Wang. "The area had no glaciations.
If plants exist from ancient times, animals should also exist from then.
There's lots of water and fruit for the wildman to eat." Yan Xun,
a reserve official, disagreed, saying: "There are no basic primate
foods such as berries or broadleaf trees in the mountains of Shennongjia.
Last December, perhaps prompted by the damage caused to delicate habitats
by unauthorized expeditions after prize money, China's wildlife protection
service declared via the official Xinhua news agency that the wildman
did not exist. "A number of systematic scientific expeditions have
found that all reported sightings of Bigfoot were actually other wild
animals," asserted Zhang Jianlong of the Department of Forests and
Wildlife Conservation. Whether "Bigfoot" is a faithful translation
of comrade Zhang's expression remains uncertain.
However, it is highly unlikely that the wildman can be killed off by state
'dictate', although the bounty hunters might now think twice about entering
Shennongjia. "I still believe," said a Beijing bartender. "Too
many people have reported seeing the beast. Why would so many tell such
MEANWHILE IN RUSSIA...
Hunters in northern
Russia's remote Kirov region reported two separate yeti sightings in August
this year. "A hairy man-like animal with narrow shoulders and long
arms was chasing wild boar," one group of hunters said. "You
couldn't mistake it for a bear." The creature was spotted by other
hunters near a village, where "the hairy stranger held itself upright,
with its arms hanging below the knees." The creature's footprints
differed from those of a bear, a Russian news agency added.
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