Science of the sasquatch: The search for Bigfoot

As part of my job I deliver presentations to a range of audiences on the topic of primate cognition. Every now and again in the Q&A section I get asked by a bold audience member what my take is on the legend of Bigfoot.

To some the existence of Bigfoot may seem a ridiculous thing to even discuss but It is always a fun question to answer so I have decided to stray into the realms of Crypto-zoology in this post to look at the possibility of this guy (pictured below) lurking in the wilderness.

People are often surprised to learn that Bigfoot (also referred to as sasquatch) is actually part of the fossil record; the Gigantopithecus Blacki was a prehistoric ape that stood at three meters tall and weighed an estimated 540kg.

Looks pretty mean eh?

Considering that a 1.7m tall Chimpanzee is reported to be several times stronger than your average Human the Gigantopithecus Blacki would have been a formidable animal that our ancestors may have had the misfortune of encountering. Paleontological records suggest that they became extinct around 100,000 years ago meaning that they would have co-existed with Homo Erectus (a precursor to Homo Sapian) 

It is unlikely that the animal was bipedal (walked on two legs) however it may have been able to do this for short periods of time.

So we know that a Bigfoot type animal did exist; but is it still out there?

There are two cases that are relevant here.

The first is from 1938 when a museum curator discovered a living Coelacanth fish in the waters of South America. You may be wondering what the significance of this is until I tell you that this animal was believed to have become extinct during the Cretaceous period (145 Million years ago). Although it may be easier for prehistoric animals to remain undiscovered in the deep ocean than for animals living on land, the fact remains that an animal thought to have died out 145 million years ago was found to be thriving in our present day oceans.

The second case that bears relevance is the Discovery of Homo Floresiensis (also called the hobbit man) in Indonesia in 2003.  Scientists accept that the Homo Floresiensis was a separate species of human that stood around 1m tall when fully grown and could have lived as recently as 12,000 years ago (very recently in the world of palaeontology).

So we have a fish that we thought became extinct 145 Million years ago and a separate species of human living in an isolated island of Indonesia unknown to the modern world until the bones were discovered in 2003.

These cases could be used to argue the continued existence of living Gigantopithecus Blacki populations.

However despite these points there are two gaping omissions for anyone who proposes the existence of Bigfoot.

1) No recent dead specimens.

2) No credible photographic evidence.

Claims of Bigfoot sightings are not rare, hundreds are reported every year across the U.S.A and Canada. The beast has been claimed to of been captured on film before, for example the famous footage from 1967, however this has been proven to be a hoax.  Camera traps have been set up in alleged Bigfoot hotspots but have never managed to capture credible footage of the elusive primate. The picture below is claimed by believers be a roaming Sasquatch however zoologists propose that it is a juvenile bear with a severe case of Mange disease.

Sunplus

From satellites to camera phones we live in an era of surveillance (Monkeys have even started to take their own selfies) and it’s hard to justify that this animal still exists when it has never been recorded or recovered.

What is interesting though is that the Bigfoot legend is part of folklore from two geographically separate cultures.

The Native Americans refer  to the creature as Sasquatch and the people of Nepal name the mystery ape the Yeti. This could just be a coincidence but it is possible that populations of Gigantopithecus Blacki survived in isolated pockets on the globe until far more recently than currently thought (in a similar manner to Homo Floresiensis) .If this is true the animal would have co existed with modern cultures of humans (native Americans and the Napali) and gives a possible explanation to the origin of the beast in their folklore and in turn the modern legend of Bigfoot.

As far as claimed encounters go, I am going to summarise them as one of the following.

A: Crazy people.

B: People on Bath salts.

C: Mistaken identity.

D:  All of the above