Note: Vietnam National University biologist Doctor Professor Tran Hong Viet has advised that this article is a poor translation of his interview. Scientific concepts were not reproduced faithfully.
For centuries, Tibetans have reported sightings of a mythical half-human/half-ape creature known as the Yeti. In the United States, a similar creature known as Bigfoot has captured the public imagination. And it seems Vietnam too may play host to such a creature, with numerous sightings reported across the Central Highland of a 1.8 metre (1.8 meters = 5.905 feet) part-human animal that preys upon the local population.
While most people greet such reports with a healthy degree of skepticism, one Central Highlands villager was left in no doubt, after being captured by a female part-human creature who held him prisoner inside her cave for three years and forced him to have a baby with her.
Finally the helpless man was presented with an opportunity to escape, and ran back home to his village. But the ordeal was not to end there.
After his return, the whole village would hear the sorrowful sound of a strange crying noise ringing across the mountains every night. They decided to send out a search party to try to find the mysterious creature, and eventually located her destroyed cave. On entering the cave, they were greeted with the heart-wrenching discovery of the little baby's body which had been torn apart. The female creature, however, was no where to be found.
Other villagers from the Central Highlands tell stories of a strange hairy creature living in remote parts of the jungle that hunts humans and holds them captive.
The ape-man then stands staring at the sky, laughing hysterically until night fall. The creature then eats its victim.
So convinced are the locals by these stories that it has become a custom for them to wear bamboo tubes around their arms so that if they are caught, they simply have to slide their hands out of the tubes and run away while the gorilla is occupied with its ritualistic laughing routine.
Vietnam National University biologist Doctor Professor Tran Hong Viet was told many such stories by local villagers during his first trip to the Central Highland in 1977.
Together with other studies, his objective is to find evidence of the mythical creature existence. Viet said he had also talked with workers in a jungle in the Central Highlands who had stumbled across footprints.
They were so frightened by the discovery they refused to work in the area, and dubbed the region "the gorilla jungle". Numerous other locals told Viet of regular sightings of the strange brown hair-covered animals.
"People living in those remote areas have never heard or seen anything describing part-human creature in other parts of the world, but all of them described the animals they saw in the exact details of what has been written in books," Viet said.
Vietnamese archaeologists have discovered teeth of people living in Vietnam 250,000 years ago, as well as relics found in Yen Bai Province dating to 70,000 years ago.
Viet believes the creatures may be remnants or sub-species of these prehistoric communities.
"Those relics show that there were people living there at the same time as the ancient people living in China," Viet said.
"Moreover, in Vietnam the kinds of plants which were categorized as ancient plants which were found in places where ancient people were found."
Despite spending ten years searching the Central Highlands, Viet failed to encounter the elusive creature.
He recalls endless months of living in basic conditions waiting for the creatures to appear, spending sleepless nights with his camera at the ready.
"They live mainly in remote areas where there is no human life at all," he said. "They live individually, or in a small family. I was told people found steps of these small animals, two steps have similar size, one is much smaller. It would have been a family band, wife and a little child."
But he did find and photograph a footprint he believes belongs to an man animal. "I have seen the trees those animals broke to find insects to eat and left the mark of their teeth on the leaf," he said.
"And around this area there are many foot-prints.
The teeth have the same structure as humans, which must be a sign of a part-human creature."
Gathering together all the stories he has heard, along with the physical evidence he encountered himself, Viet believes there is little doubt the part-human creatures live in Vietnam.
"However, in the last ten years, I could not do much to continue my study," Viet said.
One trip to look for jungle people cost between VND30 million and VND40 million, and there has been little invested into his study since 1986.
"It's urgent and necessary to continue the study now, before all those animals die out," he said.
"In the Northeast of Vietnam, where relics of the ancient people were found, most of the jungles have been logged.
"In the next few years, those animals will have no place to live," he said. "I want to make people aware that what I am doing is for the whole world, not just of Vietnam."
© Vietnam Investment Review (Time Out Supplement) September 9-15, 1996 p.18.
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