SCIENCE

Hard evidence on Sasquatch

PAT OHLENDORF November 1 1982
SCIENCE

Hard evidence on Sasquatch

PAT OHLENDORF November 1 1982

Hard evidence on Sasquatch

SCIENCE

It sounded at first like the usual report of a Sasquatch sighting: man and beast regard each other for a few startled moments in the wilderness, then both turn tail and run. But, in this case, the man was a forest ranger who says that he encountered the West Coast chimera, known as Sasquatch or Bigfoot, on a deserted logging road near Walla Walla, Wash., in June. What makes this sighting different from the dozens of others reported over the years is that the plaster casts of the animal’s 37.5-cm footprints, which the U.S. Forest Service worker’s supervisors made within two hours of the sighting, contained a detail never before noticed in other alleged Sasquatch tracks: whorllike “dermal ridges,” or toe prints. Various subsequent expert studies of the casts led to a formal announcement in Vancouver last week that these prints are the most convincing evidence to date of the existence of Sasquatch, which many have dismissed as a joke. “These tracks are not a hoax,” declares Washington State University physical anthropologist Grover Krantz, who is widely known as the world’s leading authority on Sasquatches.

The toe prints are so detailed, reports Krantz, that “you can read them just as clear as a police fingerprint.” In fact, Krantz says, a police investigator has observed the whorl patterns on the feet and has described them as somewhat different from both human and ape prints. “When a fingerprint expert says

that dermal ridges cannot be faked,” comments Krantz, “you tend to listen.” But there are other surprising features in the casts. In contrast to the many rigid-looking “Bigfoot tracks” cluttering anthropologists’ shelves, the new moulds indicate the foot must have had flexibility in the toes.

The most that can be concluded from the tracks alone, says Krantz, is that they were made by a massive animal weighing 270 to 360 kg. (the footprints were much deeper than those made in the same soil by Forestry Service investigators) and that the animal walked flat-footed. Such meagre conclusions at least fit the forester’s visual description. A powerfully built man, at six feet, five inches tall, he confided that the huge, brown, hairy creature could easily have torn him to bits.

Neither the forester’s description nor the clues in the footprints detract from the current picture of the mysterious beast. Sasquatch, believers contend, is a powerful primate—human-like in posture but apelike in intelligence—seven to nine feet tall. The beast is solitary, shy and nocturnal, says Krantz, and because its eyes are proportionally larger than a human’s the animal has sharper eyesight. Above all, it roams a large territory, and most experts think the odds of bagging a Bigfoot are small. “I doubt very much that Jane Goodall would be willing to spend from five to 50 years sitting in the forest waiting for Sasquatch,” says Richard Greenwell, secretary of the Tucson, Arizona-based International Society of Cryptozoology (the study of hidden animals), which announced the Walla Walla news.

But, in Krantz’s opinion, Sasquatch’s “bogeyman” associations are an even greater problem. “Sasquatch is so unexpected as a wild animal and yet so expected as a fanciful story that people who see them tend either to keep quiet or embellish their memories with absurd details,” Krantz says. About half of all Sasquatch tracks, he estimates, are faked.

Whether the new toe print tracks will eventually be judged the most devilishly clever Bigfoot hoax yet, or whether they will swing majority opinion in favor of the elusive ape’s actual existence, remains to be seen. Concludes Greenwell: “If these new casts stand up to scrutiny by qualified specialists, then physical anthropologists will have to re-examine their attitude to the possible existence of Sasquatch.”

-PAT OHLENDORF in Toronto.

PAT OHLENDORF