Is there really another kind of humanoid living in remote parts of the world, known by many as the yeti, the abominable snowman or the apeman?
Dr Helmut Loofs-Wissowa at the ANU has long been on the trail of mysterious near-humans and his detective work is starting to close in on these shadowy creatures. Dr Loofs-Wissowa, a retired Reader in Asian History and currently Visiting Fellow in the Southeast Asia Centre, believes that there is more to the genus Homo than just Homo sapiens, or modern Man.
He believes that the long-ago postulated but scientifically disdained Homo ferusor, Homo stupidus, and H. troglodytes or H. sylvestris, named by the Swedish botanist and father of modern scientific nomenclature, Linnaeus, are still alive today.
He has just returned from a mission to the mountains of Laos on the border with Vietnam, attempting to track down evidence of the elusive jungle man, which he believes may be Neanderthal, a member of the Homo genus and believed by many to have died out 30,000 years ago.
On his trip, he was accompanied by a Japanese television documentary crew whose program is scheduled to be aired in Japan this month.
Setting the evolutionary record straight is important to Dr. Loofs-Wissowa."lt is something that should have been done a long time ago," he said.
He said that Linnaeus realized, long before Charles Darwin, that there was room at the top for other creatures alongside modern Man and in the same genus, just as there is a great number of creatures inhabiting the ape side of the tree.
However, in 1789, 11 years after the death of Linnaeus, Johann Friedrich Gmelin, editor of the 13th edition of Linnaeus' systema naturae, decided that it was blasphemous to place other creatures in the Homo genus, as Homo sapiens were supposed to be made in God's image, "and obviously God can't have been an apeman." And so he "corrected" Linnaeus' work to eliminate H. ferus and H. troglodytes, and thus caused centuries of scientific blindness to the possibilities of other types of humans.
Dr Loofs-Wissowa's research to establish the existence of Neanderthal man in modern times has taken some surprising turns.
For instance, the infamous Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, who worked behind Viet Cong lines in South Vietnam during the war, has related a story about a Viet Cong (VC) patrol, which encountered a hairy human-like creature in the Vietnam highlands.
However, frustratingly, the chapter in which this encounter is described in some detail, only appears in the French version of Burchett's book.
Strangely, it is totally missing from the English version, and nobody seems to know why.
Dr Loofs-Wissowa is now corresponding with Burchett's widow, Vessa Ossikovska, to track down the original manuscript, and hopefully some more clues to the creature.
Dr Loofs-Wissowa has been very influenced in his quest by Bernard Heuvelmans, a Belgian zoologist living in Paris who began "cryptozoology", the science of hidden and not yet scientifically discovered animals.
It was Heuvelmans who got the first scientific inklings of the Vietnamese Neanderthals when he visited the United States in the late 1960's and discovered a showman named Frank Hansen who traveled around Minnesota exhibiting a frozen apeman at country fairs.
"Through all sorts of detective work, Bernard Heuvelmans found out that this creature must have come from Vietnam," said Dr. Loofs-Wissowa.
"The showman was a former American Air Force pilot who had connections with former comrades at
Da Nang, which is not far from the mountain area where I have had reports of other such creatures from other sources."
In a still-unknown way, he got hold of the creature to exhibit. Although the showman would not allow Heuvelmans to X-ray or dissect the creature in the ice, he did allow him to take hundreds of photos from all angles. Heuvelman's then-wife, an artist, carefully drew a reconstruction of the creature.
This drawing, of a large, hairy, fearsome-looking beast of about 1.8m (5' 9"tall,) was among the many pictures Dr Loofs-Wissowa took to Laos to show villagers who have reported sightings.
The other pictures included various kinds of apes and primitive man. Without hesitation or exception, all the villagers pointed to the drawing of the Minnesota frozen ape-man as the best representation of what they had seen in the jungle.
Unfortunately, the Vietnam War appears to have driven the creatures further into the jungle and there are no sightings any more.
The combined effect of bombing, napalm and defoliation has devastated not just the Vietnamese Homo sapiens, but the other Homo species as well.
Dr Loofs-Wissowa believes that there may be more than one type of Homo creature hidden out there, some larger and some smaller than the one thought to inhabit the highlands of Vietnam and Laos.
He believes that the reports of yetis and abominable snowmen are most likely correct (although he does not believe there are any Neanderthals in North America, home of the sasquatch).
"You cannot discount the thousands of reports of these things," he said. "The Sherpas in the Himalayas who have seen them are not liars.
"Their only mistake, poor fellows, is that they don't always have their Nikon at the ready when they see them.
What's more, these yetis don't stand still when someone comes and takes photos - they don't say 'cheese'," he said.
Although there have been some reports of these creatures attacking and killing remote villagers, on the whole they appear to be very shy and harmless.
Apart from this, next to nothing is known about their way of life - - do they use tools, do they have sophisticated social organization, do they have any form of language?
These questions remain unanswered.
And what would Dr Loofs-Wissowa do if he encountered one of these near-humans in the jungle?
"I have no idea," he said. "I can't kill it, because it is another type of human.
I can't experiment on it, because that would involve taking it out of the jungle. "I would probably just let it be - hopefully after taking lots of photos."
Source: © ANU Reporter Wednesday 13 March 1996 p.3
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