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Bigfoot: To Kill Or To Film

- C H A P T E R   T H R E E -

The Great Debate

Before saying good-bye to René Dahinden in 1972, I gave him a copy of a memorandum with the subject: Some thoughts on how to get in touch and on best of terms with Mr. Sasquatch, which was an elaboration of the method suggested by Boris Porshnev, as quoted in the previous chapter. "Nobody knows," I wrote, "how the first specimen will be obtained. It may be just a chance event, with no method involved. But I am sure that sooner or later the 'blaring bait' method proposed here (or its modifications) will become standard for the study and preservation of these creatures." I tried to convince René, who craved both money and glory, that by habituating and filming a hominoid, he would be sure to make good money and would avoid all risks and adverse consequences connected with a killing one of the creatures. I was sure then, and I am sure now, that it is the way of filming which may bring one both fame and fortune in hominology. A killing is sure to bring a person infamy, and as to a fortune, it is much in question.

Dahinden wrote back that he found the idea interesting and added that he was not sure what he would do (shoot with a cine-camera or with a rifle) if he chanced to meet a Sasquatch, thus implying that it would depend on the latter's behavior. That admission showed that he didn't take my idea seriously enough because the method I suggested excluded the combination of a camera and a rifle.

We continued to touch on the question occasionally but in a low key, until John Green's publication of The Sasquatch File (1973), a paperback which, on the one hand, had some good things to say about Dahinden's visit to Moscow and carried photographs of Porshnev, Koffmann, Bourtsev and myself. But, on the other hand, fired a salvo at the opponents of killing. Here are some pertinent quotations from Greenís work:

I have few qualifications as a hunter and no expectation of being the man to bring a Sasquatch in. I do, however, have some very strong words to say on the subject. There seems to be a considerable tendency for people who take an interest in the Sasquatch to weave romantic fantasies of possibilities of communication with them.

There is not one thing in all I have learned of Sasquatch behavior to indicate that their relationship to humans extends beyond their manner of walking. One of the ways that the Sasquatch will be studied is by dissection, and to do this adequately science will require not one cadaver but several, probably dozens at least. All these facts point in only one direction. What is required at this stage is physical evidence. A movie won't help. We already have one. The man with a gun may rightly pause to determine whether he is looking at some idiot masquerading in a fur suit. He may also wisely consider whether the gun he has is adequate to kill a huge animal whose physical capabilities are unknown. But if he is satisfied on these points, he should not hesitate further. Gun it down, cut off a piece you can carry, and get out of there. We have enough people now who claim to have shot a Sasquatch but can't prove it. There may be hassles to be sorted out afterward, but your first-person story alone is bound to sell for many thousands, and the scientists can collect the second one their way.

I'm sorry to have to sound so bloodthirsty. It goes against the grain. I don't kill anything much bigger than mosquitoes. But there is too much nonsense being spouted on the other side of this argument. It needs an answer.

The day may eventually come when man decides that it is not his right to do as he chooses with the other inhabitants of the planet, but that is not the situation now. (The Sasquatch File, pp. 70,71)

In fact, the situation was such that among those spouting "too much nonsense" on the other side of this argument, there happened to be Bayanov and colleagues whose photos were published in the book but not their views on the issue. Green's outburst also needed an answer. However, I much appreciated my newly established relationship with Green and did not want to sour it right away by stressing our differences. That is why I wrote him rather evasively stating:
As for your views in the new book, I find certain weaknesses and contradictions in them, but since you write you are tired of this argument I abstain from offering my comments and counter-arguments for the time being.
Green in reply stated:
As to killing, it's a problem with people over here, but couldn't you and I agree that the creatures in Russia are likely to be Neanderthal man and shouldn't be shot, but the thing over here is a monstrous ape and a fit specimen for dissection? That's very probably the true situation, and it would save a lot of wasted breath.
To which I responded:
Unfortunately, I can't bring myself to accept your, "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's," kind of formula in this case. And not because I'm sure that all or any of our homis ("professional" jargon for "hominoid") are Neanderthal (I am not), but because I'm absolutely positive that your Sasquatch is not an ape. You know that, loosely speaking, that word is even applied to humans, and very painfully at that. Who knows, one day Sasquatches might learn to read and take you to court for calling them that. But seriously, such loose employment of words is no use in our efforts to define the creatures, even preliminarily.
The argument smoldered during 1973 and 1974 and then turned into flame in 1975 when I invited René Dahinden, John Green, George Haas and Gordon Strasenburgh to participate in a full-fledged debate on the issue. My opponents, Green and Dahinden, are known to the reader through my previous books. George Haas was a staunch ally and deserves a separate chapter. Gordon Strasenburgh was my American colleague who participated in the Current Anthropology discussions, insisting that Sasquatch and other hominoids were relicts of Paranthropus. The following are some pertinent or more colorful exchanges from the "great debate" along with commentaries. (Dahinden refused to take part in the new round of discussion and the quotes that follow are taken from my earlier exchanges with him.)
Green (to Bayanov): In this exchange of opinions we are not trying to change what you do over there, you are trying to change what we do over here.

Bayanov: In reply to a grim charge made by John of what amounts to my interference in the internal affairs of another country and mindful that attack is the best kind of defense, I want to say the following. It is not I, but John and René who want to change the situation — the status quo of man's relationship with the homi in every country concerned. Nobody has ever killed a Sasquatch for the sake of science, and if what they advocate should really happen, it would be a precedent — and a precedent is serious business indeed. To cite a dictionary, it's a previous act or action taken as an example or as justification for later acts. Secondly, Sasquatches are not yet (regrettably) Canadian citizens and therefore their defense is still a free-for-all. Thirdly, John mentioned my name and published a photo of me in the same chapter of his book in which he says, "there is too much nonsense being spouted on the other side of this argument," never saying however that I happen to uphold this other side or that I find his side not quite sensible either. Of course, treated as a guest of honor I was not supposed to kick up a row on the pages of John's book, but at least I might have been warned what speeches would be made at the party I was invited to. In view of all the above I plead innocent to John's accusation.

Dahinden: I respect living things more than most men, since I see so much of them in the wild. They are busy staying alive and I admire them for it. But there is a place and a time for that. Let me tell you that if we could hear the screams of all the creatures which are killed every minute of the day by other creatures, we would go crazy with the noise. This is nature at work, and it seems to be working well for nature.

(Aside: Then, referring to my call to learn from nature, René implies there is nothing terribly wrong with the idea of killing a Sasquatch.)
Bayanov: Yes, René, you're right, animals are busy staying alive, and it is to stay alive that they kill other animals. They never kill for money or glory. To do it nature's way, a Sasquatch killer would have to devour his quarry, which might not be easier than to eat one's hat.

Dahinden: The question is not just to shoot or not to shoot a Sasquatch, but goes way deeper than that. The question is, do we have the right to kill any living thing on earth? Anything at all, however small or big it is. Do we have the right to cut down a tree or pick a flower? So, in my view, the Sasquatch is just a small part in the whole question. Let's not single out the Sasquatch for the argument. Since you and others want to single out the Sasquatch for special protection, I don't see why you don't take all the other animals under your wings. It just isn't logical at all, but damn emotional.

Bayanov: The reason, René, why I don't take all the animals under my wings is simply because I can't. I wish I had wings as mighty as that. My dream is that mankind will grow itself such wings some day. But I must say that, on the whole, your last argument, René, sounds interesting indeed, and a full answer to it will take a lot of space.

Let me begin by saying that neither I nor any of my allies in the discussion were the first to single out the Sasquatch, or any hominoid for that matter, among the animals. In this case the credit really goes first and foremost to Mother Nature, while humans, including René Dahinden, just followed suit. Is it not Sasquatch, and no other animal, that you have been searching out for twenty years with the stubbornness of a maniac (and I use the word with approbation). Your deeds, René, speak louder than your words, showing that you do set the creature aside and put special value on it, along with all of us.

Paradoxically, Green also tries to play down the uniqueness of Sasquatches, though he has done a lot to make it known. He believes, "the thing over here is a monstrous ape and a fit specimen for dissection, and when live Sasquatches are caught they will end up in the zoo alongside the gorillas. Or maybe alongside the grizzly bears, since the apes are usually indoors and well heated. Certainly there is no jot of evidence that they are more than animals."

More than what animals? The grizzly bears and the gorillas? There are enormous jots of evidence, John, in your very books to indicate that the Sasquatch are more than any known animals. (Examples from Green's books followed.)

Green: To take the silly side of the argument (as I see it) if it were decided these things were human they would have to be counted in the census, given the vote, made to send their children to school (and summoned to parent- teacher conferences when the kids couldn't learn their algebra), paid daily allowances, put on welfare, and finally locked up in homes for the mentally retarded. If they were able to understand all that and express an opinion, I expect they would prefer to be apes and take their chances about getting shot.

Bayanov: I grant the possibility of Sasquatches deciding to avoid orthodox schooling at the risk of being shot. I certainly would if I had their power of survival in the wild. But the issue is not whether they decide to be shot, but whether we decide to shoot them. There's a hell of a difference between someone deciding to take his life and someone else doing it for him.

Looking at the matter from a different and more optimistic point of view, I can imagine young Sasquatches doing very well in a school especially designed for them. If a chimp brought up and taught by humans can acquire a certain vocabulary, I wonder what heights of scholarship can be attained by an aspiring young Sasquatch under human tutorship. If a human child brought up by animals becomes an animal, I wonder what will become of a homi child brought up by humans.

That's one side of the matter. The other is a reversal of roles, with the Sasquatch becoming a teacher of human boy and girl scouts in the art of survival in the wild. With the present day 'Back to Nature' trend I regard such a possibility as quite feasible. In that case we are bound to have parent-teacher conferences with a somewhat different agenda and composition.

What I have said is meant to show that Sasquatch are not mere animals. Their behavior singles them out among all the known animals, bringing them very close, and let it be stressed we don't know exactly how close, to humans.

Let's take another aspect of Sasquatch uniqueness within the animal world — their physical appearance. Here there are many examples of people taking the hominoid for a human being when it comes to a crucial decision. William Roe's case is typical of a whole series of incidents. Roe, who was placed in a position where he could have shot a Sasquatch, later recalled: Although I have called the creature "it", I felt now that it was a human being and I knew I would never forgive myself if I killed it. (John Green, On The Track of The Sasquatch, 1969, p. 12). Or take the Patterson-Gimlin film, which we now all believe (in fact know) to be genuine. Our opponents among anthropologists and zoologists never say it shows a machine or an ape — they say it's a man in a fur suit. Now is it morally, or let's say emotionally right, to kill a creature which resembles man so much both in behavior and appearance?

Green and Dahinden seem to imply that since the Sasquatch has not been proven to be a human being and is not protected by a corresponding law, he is a permissible target for the gun. But let me stress that the creature has not been proven to be an animal either. It's a hypothesis, which seems plausible, but still a hypothesis — and to pass a death sentence on the basis of a hypothesis is definitely impermissible.

Let me also say that, in my opinion, even if the first killed Sasquatch is proven to be an animal, it would not mean we are free to kill another one. The word 'animal' is not a license to kill indiscriminately those whom it signifies. A pet, for example, is an animal but humans single out pets for special protection. There was a legal case in Moscow in which the public demanded long prison terms for the hooligans who had killed and roasted a swan living in a public pond.

Beside pets, people, as a rule, take a fancy to rare, big and/or intelligent animals rather than to common, small and unintelligent animals. That applies, René, to your question in a letter to me as to why people are sensitive about the killing of a whale and indifferent to slaughter of herrings. Even your ally in the argument, Green, confirms that this kind of sentiment is rooted in human nature: "I'm sorry to have to sound so blood thirsty. It goes against the grain. I donít kill anything much bigger than mosquitoes." You say itís illogical and 'damn emotional.' I agree but insist we should try to have emotions on our side of the problem, not against it. To ignore the reality of emotions in our research is like ignoring the reality of weather on a long and precarious sea voyage. To be on the safe side, we had better use our intellects to understand how emotions work. People walk in bathing suites (and without) on a beach, but try to show up at a banquet in the same apparel and youíll learn what an emotion storm is and that emotions have a 'logic' of their own.

The emotional is an integral part of human nature, just as natural and legitimate as the rational. If we had no emotions, we would be computers, not people. A wise policy in any business is not to reject emotions, but to understand their workings so as to strike a balance between the rational and the emotional, and see to it that the emotional help the rational instead of blocking it.

If you still want a reason for man's emotions in our case, I think the explanation is in the fact that man can't be a 'really unbiased' judge in the matters of life and death. Being himself alive and human, he canít help being impartial towards anything which is alive and intelligent, or at least looks manlike. Take the abortion problem, for example. It is clear peopleís sensitivity against abortion at a certain period of pregnancy is caused by the mere fact that at that period the fetus is more live and looks more like a baby than at an earlier period, and not because it is already a person. And to aggravate our problem, the thing we are dealing with is simultaneously very much alive, very big, intelligent and manlike.

Finally, to show that the above is not all my invention, let me back-up my stand by no less an authority that Konrad Lorenz:

"The scientist who considers himself absolutely 'objective' and believes that he can free himself from the compulsion of the 'merely' subjective should try — only in imagination of course — to kill in succession a lettuce, a fly, a frog, a guinea-pig, a cat, a dog, and finally a chimpanzee. He will then be aware how increasingly difficult murder becomes as the victimís level of organization rises. The degree of inhibition against killing each of these beings is a very precise measure for the considerable different values that we cannot help attributing to lower and higher forms of life. To any man who finds it equally easy to chop up a live dog and a live lettuce I would recommend suicide at his earliest convenience." (On Aggression [1969], Chapter XII, On the Virtue of Scientific Humility (pp. 194,195).

Foreword | Introduction | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Bibliography