Bigfoot Encounters


January 2000 [FT130:8-9]



The offer of prize money tempted many into searching for the Chinese yeren.
New government denials show no sign of stopping them.

LAST AUGUST, CHINESE OFFICIALS LOOKING INTO reported sightings of a yeti-like yeren 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 Yangstze 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 vocalisation: 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 5ft and 5ft 6in (1·56 and 1.7m) tall, with long dishevelled 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 (40cm) long, so the creature could weigh as much as 660lb (300kg) and stand more than 7 feet (2.1m) tall. A 30-strong wildman expedition organised 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 judgement 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 faeces [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 440lb (200kg) [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 glaciation. 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 unauthorised 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 'diktat', 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 lies?"

Hunters in northern Russia's remote Kirov region reported two seperate 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.

© Fortean Times

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