Expedition To Track Big Foot's Cousin in the Caucasus

By Sydney Rubin, Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) -- A spirited 72-year-old doctor and a filmmaker are teaming up for a summer expedition to track the Almasty, or Snowman of the Caucasus, a huge, hairy beast with glowing red eyes, the hominoid cousin of Yeti and Big Foot.

Dr. Marie-Jeanne Koffmann, a French-Russian surgeon, mountaineer and scholar, has been on the Almasty trail for more than two decades and has collected more than 500 eyewitness accounts and a plaster-cast footprint of the ``forest man of the Caucasus.''

She traveled on horseback through the remote mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas, talking to villagers who had seen the mysterious beast. When she first began, the area was rich with wildlife - bears, foxes, wolves, tigers, leopards, gazelles, hyenas, many of which have since disappeared.

Although skeptical at first, she soon became convinced that the Almasty was another in the vast array of species that roamed the Caucasian wilds.

Retiring in France on a tiny Soviet pension, she never dreamed that one day she'd have the money to mount a full-scale scientific search.

But then, she had not counted on Sylvain Pallix.

Pallix, a documentary filmmaker, was fascinated by two articles Koffmann wrote for Archologia magazine. Tracking her down, he proposed finding sponsors for an expedition that he would film.

The respected French paleoanthropologist Yves Coppens gave the search his blessing. Pallix quickly raised half of the needed $1.8 million.

He's confident he'll find the rest.

``For three weeks the telephone has been ringing off the hook,'' said Pallix, whose previous works have included a documentary on a Harley-Davidson meet in South Dakota and one on Calvados moonshiners. ``People are fascinated by the Almasty.''

A dozen people will leave Paris in June, to be joined by a dozen of Koffmann's scientific colleagues from Moscow. They will conduct their search in the Kabardin-Balkar region of Russia, just north of Georgia.

The Soviets have conducted previous searches, but this will be the first conducted by well-financed foreigners.

Plans call for using three ultralight aircraft, a helicopter, and a fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles to comb a 4,800-square mile area.

Koffmann is a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and president of the Moscow branch of the Society of Cryptozoologists, the discipline concerned with unknown or extinct species.

Born in Paris, she spent most of her life in the Soviet Union and was a captain in the Red Army during World War II. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, she spent seven years in the gulag.

In 1958, she joined a Himalayan expedition to find the Abominable Snowman and soon became interested in the Almasty.

The expedition hopes to find the beast, put it to sleep, take blood and skin samples and a plaster cast of the face and then let it awake in freedom - after putting a band on it so its wanderings can be followed.

Almasty may be unknown in the official world of scientists and academics, but the people of the Caucus know the creature well.

They say it is 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 6 inches tall, with red or black hair covering the body and slanted eyes that glow red in the dark.

Appearing like a cross between an ape and a Neanderthal, the Almasty reputedly can run at up to 37 mph. It is omniverous and sometimes travels with companions and babies.

Peasants say the creature would never harm a soul.

The last sighting of the Almasty was by a zoologist friend of Dr. Koffmann who reported spending six minutes watching one on Aug. 25, 1991.

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