"FRANCE: HUNTING THE ALMASTY"
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27 June 1992 -- They're off to find the Almasty - a big, hairy, two-legged creature living in the Caucasus mountains. More than 500 eyewitness accounts of these beasties are said to exist. Local people claim to have fed, touched, and even - on rare occasions - had sex with them.
Now a Franco-Russian expedition, "Almasty '92", wants to get hard scientific proof of their existence. Adult Almasties, it is said, stand about 2 metres (6.5 feet) high. Their arms reach down to their knees, their legs are short and their dark-skinned bodies are covered with coarse, long, reddish-brown hair. The females have long, narrow breasts, which they sometimes throw over their shoulders. Locals say they are nomadic and nocturnal, sleeping by day in caves, stables, abandoned huts or nests made from broken branches in trees. They are said to communicate by booming like bitterns. Until fairly recently, Almasties were unknown to the wider world. Publicity surrounding the Anglo-American search for the Himalayan Yeti in 1956 persuaded the Caucasians, who had previously thought their shaggy anthropoid to be of little interest, to inform the authorities.
The Soviet Academy of Sciences mounted an expedition in 1958, but failed to find its quarry. It did, however, stimulate the curiosity of Marie-Jeanne Koffmann, a French-born surgeon and mountaineer, who had served as an army officer in the Caucasus during the Second World War. She set off to the Caucasus on her own, returning with 40 eyewitness accounts, a fascination with cryptozoology (the study of unknown animal species) and a determination to settle the issue once and for all. With Sylvain Pallix, a journalist and film producer, Dr Koffmann has at last been given her chance. At the age of 72 she is to lead a team of ten Russian and four French scientists.
Mr. Pallix will record their achievements - and, he hopes, their quarry - on film. Their aim is to get close enough to an Almasty to be able to anaesthetize it and take skin, blood, and saliva samples. They also hope to fit their guest with a radio-transmitting bracelet to track its movements. Skeptics fear Dr Koffmann may be disappointed. They point out that, although molds of what is claimed to be an Almasty foot print have been taken, no corpses or skeletons have ever been found. And not all that the locals say about the beast is entirely convincing: glowing eyes, for instance, are rare among primates. Besides, even if the Almasty did exist, it might be on the verge of extinction. Sightings, once fairly frequent, are now rare. The most recent was claimed in August last year by Gregory Pantchenko, a Russian zoologist and one of the expedition's members. He says he watched an Almasty for a minute and a half from about 4 meters away one moonlit night. Unfortunately - you guessed - his camera had no flash. Credit: Paul Cropper
Sources: ECONOMIST 26/06/92
29 March 1992
Kazakhstan: Expedition Goes Hunting Russia's elusive ape man.
By Stuart Wavell, Paris.
Boom, boom, boom. These conversational tones of the elusive Alma, a species of retarded Neanderthal man, will reverberate around the world if a Franco-Russian expedition succeeds in its mission this summer to capture a cousin of the Yeti, Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot in the remote Caucasus mountains of Kazakhstan. Leading the hunt is Marie-Jeanne Koffmann, a 73-year-old doctor who has collected 500 eyewitness accounts of the mythical creature during her 20 years of traversing the sparsely populated wastes of Kabardin-Balkar by horse and jeep. Always one step behind her quarry, she has taken impressions of their huge footprints and studied their voluminous droppings. Her quest has been given fresh impetus by the claim of her colleague, Gregori Patchenkoff, that he observed an Alma in the same region for six minutes last August. "Its appearance corresponded exactly to that of other witnesses," Sylvain Pallix, organiser of the Alma 92 Expedition, said last week. "It was a big primate, a biped that walked perfectly on two feet. It was 5ft 8in-6ft 6in, covered with reddish fur about 6in long. Its face was a mixture of an ape's and Neanderthal man's. "It had to swivel its whole body to turn its head. Patchenkoff found it in a sheepfold where horses were kept. Almas are attracted to horses because they love to make little braids in their manes. Unfortunately, he didn't have a camera." According to Dr. Koffmann, Almas are in the habit of raiding shepherds' huts for food scraps and clothes, which they sometimes wear even though well insulated with fur. This apparent "aping" of human behavior could explain the mysterious disappearance of two ski sticks from Chris Bonnington's controversial Yeti expedition to Tibet in 1988. Yet the Alma has no need of such aids to assist its flight from man. If local peasants are to be believed, it is capable of bursts of speed approaching 40mph on its short legs, carrying a heavily muscled body that can exceed 440lb in a fully grown adult. Its newborn young, according to one witness's testimony printed last June in the magazine Archaeologia, "were exactly like human babies, except that they were smaller. They had pink skin, like human infants, exactly the same head, the same arms and legs. Not hairy." The Alma reportedly mumbles "boom, boom, boom", although Jimmy Tarbuck punchlines are not widespread in the Caucuses. Nomadic, omnivorous and shy, it has reflecting eyes conforming to its mainly nocturnal activity. It lives at heights of 8,000-12,000ft, descending to pillage crops and sometimes seeking refuge at much higher levels, Koffmann claims. All of which adds up to an abominable task for the hunters. The £1m expedition will therefore be carrying a technological panoply which includes infra-red cameras, miniature helicopter "drones" containing cameras, motorized hang-gliders, four-wheel vehicles and motorbikes. Their most important piece of equipment is a gun, which fires hypodermic darts. "Our aim is to capture an Alma with the help of the local population," Pallix said. "We want to take a mold of its face, specimens of its hair, skin and blood all kinds of proof which would be of scientific importance and then set it free with a radio tracer band. There is going to be no King Kong spectacle of bringing it back." But the most likely product of the venture is a film that Pallix, a 33-year-old freelance journalist and documentary director, aims to make of the area and the endeavors of the 10-strong scientific team. Pallix maintains that French money and technology will permit Koffmann, a Franco-Russian surgeon, alpinist and founder of Russian cryptozoology, to accomplish what the former Soviet Union's scarce resources so long denied her. His enthusiasm contrasted with the skepticism of Dr Myra Shackley, once Britain's leading authority on Almas and professor of archeology at Leicester University. She has abandoned her research, which took her to Mongolia in 1969.
"I dropped it because of all the flak I got," she said last week. "I got rather tired of being called a lunatic. Because it attracts amateurs on the fringes of respectable sciences, one cannot be treated seriously by anybody." She grew more skeptical of the Almas' existence. "There was an extraordinary body of folklore, but the bottom line was that not a single piece of hard evidence existed. Unless you have one decent photo you won't get anywhere." She fears the Franco-Russian venture may be doomed to similar disappointment. "The larger the expedition, the more unlikely it is to find anything. But Dr Koffmann is the Grande dame of the Caucasus Almas, and I wish her the best of luck."
Sources:SUNDAY TIMES 29/3/92
11 March 1992
FRANCE: FRENCH, RUSSIANS TO HUNT CAUCASIAN "YETI".
PARIS, March 11, Reuters - Scientists are to hunt for a mysterious creature sighted in the Caucasian mountains which could be an ancestor of man, the French leader of the expedition said on Wednesday. Marie-Jeanne Koffman, a French doctor living in Moscow who will lead the Franco-Russian party next July, said she had gathered 500 sightings of the Almasty, a tall, hairy, stooping creature. Like its Himalayan cousin, the Yeti, a specimen has never been captured. "It could be an ancestor of man," Koffman told radio France Info.
French anthropologist Yves Coppens said he believed the Almasty, if it really existed, was a big ape. But he said it might also be a primitive human being cut off from developing genetic changes. The scientists, who hope to take the first photographs of the Almasty, will be equipped with an ultra-light aircraft and a camera-carrying helicopter.
Sources: REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
30 January 1992
ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN BREAK INTO RUSSIAN BARRACKS - RADIO. MOSCOW, Jan 30, Reuters - Two abominable snowmen have been seen breaking into a military builders' barracks in a northern Russian town, Moscow radio said on Thursday. About 30 people watched as the snowmen entered the barracks in the town of Kargupol, it said. "One was two meters tall (seven feet) and the second was probably a young one, approximately a meter tall", the radio said. Tufts of fur were later discovered on the barbed wire protecting the unit's perimeter. The radio gave no details of what the snowmen did inside the barracks or when the incident took place. There have been many reported sightings in Russia of such fur-covered creatures, which resemble descriptions from Tibet of the mysterious yeti and from North America of the so-called "Bigfoot", but there is no firm scientific proof of their existence. Russian newspapers often publish stories about landings by spacemen and other mysterious phenomena.
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