Bigfoot Encounters

Another Thing No.100: BIGFOOT
by Jim Gilchrist

Mon 13 Oct 2003 ---THAT abominable snowman just won’t melt away. Rare Himalayan ape, missing link, hallucination of altitude-sick climbers or hirsute folklore figure, the fabled "abominable snowman" keeps rearing his hairy head, sometimes far removed from his traditional Himalayan stamping ground.

The latest report came last week from western Siberia where, according to Russian television, climber Sergey Semenov discovered the well-preserved limb of a mysterious furry creature amid permafrost 3,500 metres up in the Altay mountains. Testing showed the bones to be several thousand years old, but scientists have been unable to identify the creature.

The area boasts a tradition of sightings of an abominable snowman-style creature, and locals claim the limb to be that of a local "yeti". However, having examined it, Yuriy Malofeyev, vice-president of a Russian association of veterinary anatomists, said the 24cm-long foot looked very human - although news photographs show what appears to be a furry paw, clawed like an animal’s.

Long established in Himalayan folklore, the yeti - its name is a Sherpa term for "that thing" - first entered western knowledge in 1834 when a Briton at the Nepalese court found his workers had been terrified by something which they said was neither man nor beast. An upright hairy figure was sighted by many members of the 1921 British Himalayan expedition, but it was only when the expedition’s leader, Eric Shipton, brought back photographs of footprints in 1951 that the public imagination was well and truly caught.

Since then there have been numerous sightings, as well as expeditions determined to catch or photograph the disputatious creature, but none has turned up conclusive proof. Many Himalayan climbers claim to have seen yeti-like figures, including one of the world’s greatest climbers, Reinhold Messner, who encountered whatever it was in 1986 and has been keeping his eyes open for another ever since.

A year ago a trio of British explorers announced they were on the verge of proving the existence of "a yeti-like creature" in western Sumatra, following their discovery of hair samples and a footprint. Tests carried out at Cambridge University and in Australia have suggested that the hairs and the footprint did not belong to any known species.

But while the elusive mountain ape maintains our interest in the east, his New World relative, the Sasquatch, took a tumble in the credibility stakes three years ago when analysis of the celebrated home movie footage of "Bigfoot" romping through woodland in northern California showed Bigfoot was a big fake wearing an ape suit.

So the truth is out there, maybe - but sometimes it wears a zip fastener.  

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