Bigfoot Around the World: Finding Bigfoot Goes Overseas

So far in this chapter of the SFF Bestiary I’ve focused more on the humans who hunt Bigfoot that on the cryptid itself. Bigfooters are an interesting subculture, not least for the persistence of their belief in a creature for which there is no convincing scientific evidence. And yet, there are all those stories, all over the world.

The Finding Bigfoot team concentrated primarily on North America, but from Season 3 onward, once or twice each season they ventured overseas in search of other fabled primates. They searched for the Yowie in Australia, the Orang Pendek in Sumatra, the Tari in Viet Nam, the Yeren in China, the Yeti in Nepal, and somewhat anticlimactically, a combination of medieval legends and modern sightings of big hairy man-apes in the UK. The last featured two very American males in a Scottish forest at night, in kilts, in the worst infestation of midges in thirty years. Which pretty well sums up the experience of hunting the legendary Wild Man in the British Isles.

It’s striking how consistent the stories are, and how old they purport to be. Native Americans and First Nations in North America knew various forms of the Sasquatch before European colonization. The Yowie is an Aboriginal tradition. In Asia, the stories are supposedly centuries old.

The animal they describe is bipedal and covered in black or brown or reddish hair; Hollywood and graphic novels notwithstanding, the Yeti is the same color as the rest of its relatives, not white or light grey. Sasquatch appears to be the largest, but the Yowie is close, and the Yeren and the Tari and the Yeti are not much smaller. The Orang Pendek is more like what we might expect a known primate to be: about four feet tall, but massive and powerful, with huge arms.

The Finding Bigfoot team keeps noting how similar each subspecies is to the Sasquatch. There are variations, but they’re fairly minor. Bigfoot vocalizations are not that far off the hoots and howls of the Yowie or the Tari or the Yeti, or the birdlike chittering of the Yeti or the Yeren. And of course there are the very large, very wide tracks that give Bigfoot its best-known name.

All of these primates seem to gravitate toward mountains and forests. Even the Yeti or Abominable Snowman does not actually live in the snows of the Himalayas. It lives in the deep, richly forested, well-watered valleys below the peaks.

Sasquatch is an omnivore, and most of its cousins seem to be as well. The Orang Pendek may be an outlier: it raids farmsteads on the edges of the jungle, and steals the farmers’ crops, which indicates it may be vegetarian. There are stories of the Yowie stealing goats and gutting them and hanging them in trees, but it may also graze on plants. The Yeti has been seen beside rivers or ponds, hunting for frogs.

The Tari, it’s said, will grab you by the arm in daylight and hold you until dark, and then eat you; but that’s unusual in Bigfoot lore. Bigfoot in general is a peaceable creature, shy and elusive, much more likely to run away from a human than to attack. It’s so elusive in fact that no one has been able to prove its existence. There’s no concrete evidence.

With one controversial exception. The Finding Bigfoot crew travels to Pangboche Monastery in Nepal, which guards a unique treasure: an arm and part of a skull that purports to be that of a Yeti. The arm is large, long, with long, skeletal fingers, and the skull is a pointed dome with a rim of short reddish hair.

Peter Byrne, one of the first Westerners to make a career of hunting the Yeti, claims to have stolen one of the fingers and taken it back to London, where it was determined to be human. The crew doesn’t believe it, of course. The proportions are too far off. The fingers are too long. It has to be a Yeti.

The skull is definitely not human. Its shape is similar to that of the Sasquatch, tall and pointed. Matt has a theory about it. The head shape evolved, he opines, for living in rainy areas, “like a peaked roof.”

The episode glosses over a truly wild saga, naming only Yeti hunters Peter Byrne and Tom Slick, and not even mentioning a possible connection with actor Jimmy Stewart and his wife Gloria. The upshot is that the relics are most probably faked, and at least part of the hand is human. The whole thing seems to owe more to the ethos of P.T. Barnum than to credible science.

And yet, as resident skeptic and field biologist Ranae notes, it’s not entirely unlikely that an unknown primate might exist in the remoter parts of the world, which would include the Australian rain forest, the Indonesian jungle, and the valleys of the Himalayas. Her teammate Cliff Barackman points out the recent discovery in Southeast Asia of a largeish bovid, the Saola or Vu Quang ox. If an animal the size of a good-sized cow can hide in the jungle, why not a large ape?

Both Viet Nam and China have lent official credence to the existence of their countries’ respective forms of Bigfoot. Viet Nam has a national park designated as a reserve for the Tari, despite the lack of concrete evidence that the creature exists. The Chinese government has mounted expeditions to search for the Yeren, and welcomed the team with great ceremony when they arrived in Shennongjia in the mountains of central China. It’s a sharp contrast with the skepticism they met elsewhere.

I’m indebted to the Finding Bigfoot team for compiling all these stories and traveling to the places where they’re told. It’s a great summary of the lore, and a solid overview of the big-hairy-primate variety of cryptid. Wherever the story comes from, whatever it’s based on, it goes way, way back. Who knows; maybe it’s a memory of a time when more than one species of hominid lived in the world. icon-paragraph-end

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