By Paul Sieveking, Editor, Fortean Times
Monday May 27 1996

OVER THE past three decades in the American north-west, there have been hundreds of sightings of a furry, muscular primate known as "Bigfoot"; but physical evidence for the creature's existence - blurry video footage, recordings of howlings, and casts of large footprints - has been ambiguous and less than convincing. A possible breakthrough might now be in the offing.

Last summer, odd screams were heard up in the Blue Mountains round Walla Walla in south-east Washington state. Cattle and wildlife began behaving oddly, as if disturbed by something. On August 4, Wes Summerlin, a local resident, drove up into the mountains with Paul Freeman, a veteran Bigfoot hunter, and Bill Laughery, a former game warden.

They hiked in off Mill Creek Road and started climbing. Then Summerlin got a "whiff of something, like somebody skinning muskrats". They were in an area where they had seen Bigfoot tracks before. Summerlin and Laughery reached a clearing, where they found a number of small trees twisted and broken, so fresh they were still dripping sap.

There were large clumps of long hair, some black, some dark brown, caught on the trees where they were broken. They both caught sight of a seven-foot ape-like creature and heard the screams of two others. The creature was observed through binoculars at a distance of 90 feet, eating yellow wood violets. The trackers also found droppings two to five inches long, full of half-eaten carpenter ants, and fallen trees that had been pulled apart for the ants inside.

The hair clumps have been given to Frank Pourier, chairman of the anthropology department at Ohio State University, who is using a DNA test developed by the FBI for analysis of hair strands that lack the roots normally needed for identification. If the clumps turn out to come from an unknown primate, Pourier will compare them with a single hair reputed to be from the Chinese "wildman" given to him by Chinese peasants during a 1989 expedition. The latter does not match any known primates, according to a chemical analysis performed at Shanghai University.

The China Travel Service in Hubei offered 500,000 yuan (stlg37,000) for bringing in a live wildman.

The hunt for China's wildman has been pursued since 1959, with more than 200 reported sightings. Footprints, samples of hair and faeces have been obtained, but no creatures captured or photographed. The latest publicised sighting was in September 1993, when a group of Chinese engineers saw three of them roaming the trails of the Shennongjia
National Forest Park in western Hubei province.

On October 27, 1994, the Chinese government set up a new body, the Committee for the Search of Strange and Rare Creatures, one of whose aims was to investigate wildman reports. Its members included scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The largest cast of a supposed wildman footprint is 16 inches long, leading to the assumption that the creatures could weigh as much as 660lbs (47 stone) and stand more than 7ft tall. The committee has studied eight hair specimens, believed to have come from animals ranging throughout China and Tibet. None, they say, comes from humans or any known animal. The hair varies from black, collected in Yunnan province, to white from Tibet, to the reddish brown of the creatures seen by Hubei villagers.

A 30-strong expedition to find a wildman set out for the mountains of Hubei on April 7, 1995, led by Professor Yuan Zhengxin, chairman of the new committee. "I am certain that within three years we will have captured one of these wild men," he blustered. The China Travel Service in Hubei offered 500,000 yuan (stlg37,000) for bringing in a live wildman, stlg3,700 for a dead specimen, up to stlg2,960 for photographs or video recordings, and stlg740 for hair or faeces.

On July 11, the news agency Xinhua announced that most of the expedition members had returned to Beijing empty-handed, but stated: "There are clues that the mysterious animal is still roaming in the forest. The evidence is under analysis." As with the Ohio tests, the results of the expedition have yet to be published.

Paul Sieveking is editor of Fortean Times
London (UK) Telegraph
Posted IVBC, 2-l-1999

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