The sasquatch as a subject of scientific research

Many people are of the opinion that if sasquatch reports are really worthy of investigation, university scientists and government wildlife biologists (the "scientific community") would currently be engaged in serious research into the ecology of this species. Since this is clearly not the case, the sasquatch research is often discounted as "fringe" science or worse.

One aspect of my own sasquatch research and writing is that of assisting in validating the sasquatch as a subject for serious research by mainstream sceientists. I have attempted to acquaint students of natural history, field naturalists and colleagues in science with existing data and evidence. I do not try to convince them to necessarily accept the sasquatch as an existing animal, but rather to recognize that it is may be a subject worthy of serious discussion and some research effort.

These efforts are finally yielding fruit as illustrated below:

Presentation of papers on the sasquatch at recent professional  conferences

In 1999 I proposed a paper on the sasquatch at the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Northwest Section of The Wildlife Society. This meeting was to be held in Post Falls, Idaho. The paper was accepted.and I presented it on March 10, 2000.
The abstract is reproduced below.

John A. Bindernagel, 920 Second Street, Courtenay, BC, Canada, V9N 1C3

For a number of reasons, wildlife biologists have not yet included the sasquatch (or bigfoot) in conservation and management plans. Among them are the unliklihood of an upright great ape existing in North America, the apparent elusiveness of this species, and possible conditioning inherent in North American higher biological education. Recent physical evidence is presented which indicates that this situation may soon change. Several aspects of sasquatch ecology--especially food habits, feeding behavior, nesting behavior and intimidation behavior--are discussed as a basis for use in future management. A food habits list is presented based on eyewitness reports and feeding sign. Unique feeding sign associated with an eyewitness report of foraging on hibernating ground squirrels in the Cascade range of Oregon is illustrated and discussed. The omnivorous diet of the sasquatch is discussed and compared with bears and with the great apes of Africa

and Asia. The possibility that the sasquatch may be North America's great ape is raised as a possible explanation for this otherwise inexplicable wildlife species. The ecological viability of a non-human large primate in North America is discussed with regard to various major habitats such as west coast rain forest, mountainous coniferous forest, and deciduous forest.

Then, in 2000 I proposed a paper which was accepted for presentation at the 2001 Northwest Vertebrate Biologists Conference held in Victoria, British Columbia. Since the theme of the conference was Crossing Boundaries in Forest Management, I titled the paper: The Persistence of Sasquatch Reports in the Northwest: a future forest management concern?

My paper was not only accepted, but was given a prestigious position in the agenda as one of only five papers to be presented at the plenary session entitled Forest Management in the New Millenium.

The abstract of this paper (subsequently published in the journal: Northwestern Naturalist, Vol.82, No 2)  follows:

The Persistence of Sasquatch Reports in the Northwest: a future forest management concern?

"making sense" of otherwise puzzling reports, and may eventually serve as a basis for the development of management plans.

Thus I have been given two opportunities to date to present my views at professional conferences. But most wildlife biologists still find it hard to even contemplate the possible existence of a mammal resembling an upright gorilla here on this continent. As a result, I began to look for other reasons to explain why we are so resistant to idea, remaining in denial, and continuing to ignore the fact that sightings of it which were (and are) being reported with remarkable regularity.

Although I was aware that we North American-educated wildlife biologists had little or no exposure to the great apes biology. To many of my colleagues the reports of an animal resembling an upright gorilla throwing stones, beating its chest, breaking branches, and vocalizing loudly is too bizarre to make sense. Had we been more exposed to lectures and the literature regarding the anatomy and behavior of the great apes of Africa and Asia-gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans-we might have recognized such descriptions as those of great apes, mammals not yet known from North America but which are at least recognized to exist elsewhere on the planet. Eventually, I began reviewing the publications of primatologists, those biologists who specialize in non-human primates such as gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans and the monkeys and realized that it was this group of specialists who might better understand reports of sasquatch anatomy and behavior.
I began soliciting the attention of professional primatologists and in this endeavor was very much encouraged by the decision of the editor of the prestigious International Journal of Primatology to review my book in Volume 21, no. 1 (February, 2000) of the journal. The favorable review follows:

North America's Great Ape: the Sasquatch
By John A. Bindernagel, Beachcomber Books, Courtenay, BC, Canada, 1998, xi + 270 pp., $25.00 (softcover).

When Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, captured the fancy of the U.S. news media in the late 1950's, it came in the wake of five decades of the traditional Hollywood stereotype of the ape as a ferocious, blood-thirsty, lustful monster.  King Kong and his ilk were surpassed in popularity only by the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Werewolf. Curiously, over the ensuing years accounts of Bigfoot encounters were uniformly devoid of such sensationalized monster trappings. Instead, one gets the impression of a generally shy and retreating over-sized ape, punctuated by glimpses of behavior, many details of which actually anticipated by several decades what has only recently been discovered about the true nature of great ape natural history, the latter having been accomplished largely through the pioneering efforts of dedicated field primatologists.
This observation might well serve as the jumping-off point for this book, as Dr. John Bindernagel sets out to present one wildlife biologist's assessment of the biology of the Sasquatch. Satisfied with the affirmative evidence supporting their existence, he moves on to consider what can be inferred about their anatomy, ecology and behavior. The three stated goals of the author are, first, to present a profile of the purported anatomy and behavior of the Sasquatch garnered from numerous eyewitness accounts, second, to point out the remarkable consistency of these described encounters, assembled over a considerable span of time from individuals of varied backgrounds and walks of life, and third, to show how similar these patterns of appearance and behavior are to those of the known great apes.
Dr. Bindernagel summarizes the results of over 25 years of investigation, including many novel reports centered in British Columbia, and his firsthand examination of fresh 15-inch tracks that he personally discovered in Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island in 1988.  From these he constructs an ecological profile of this North American ape. How do they locomote? What is their diet? What physical sign do they leave? What do they do over winter? How do they vocalize? How do they react to human contact? Next, in a series of appendices, he deftly and accurately navigates the primatology literature and draws fascinating parallels that will pique the specialist and non-specialist alike. The text citations are thoroughly noted, and a list of general references is provided.  A short glossary will assist the uninitiated with unfamiliar terminology.
With the publication of this book, Dr. Bindernagel joins the ranks of those few professional scientists who have ventured to openly, thoroughly, and objectively consider these data, approaching the subject as a valid topic of serious inquiry and investigation. It compellingly shifts the matter from the realm of folklore and mythology into the arena of biological science. He concedes, "I'm not really trying to convince anyone. I am just trying to explain why I accept the Sasquatch as a real animal." This objective is certainly accomplished in an interesting and informative fashion, deserving of any inquiring-minded naturalist's attention.
D. Jeffrey Meldrum, Dept. of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209-8007

I also submitted an abstract of a sasquatch paper for presentation at the conference entitled: The Apes: Challenges for the 21st Century, held in Chicago, IL in May, 2000. The abstract is as follows:

THE SASQUATCH OR BIGFOOT: IS IT NORTH AMERICA'S GREAT APE? John A. Bindernagel, D.A. Blood and Associates, Wildlife Resource Consultants, 5771 Kerry Lane, Nanaimo, BC, Canada, V9T 5N5

For a number of reasons, primatologists have not yet recognized the North American sasquatch (or bigfoot) as a nonhuman primate. The perceived unlikelihood of an bipedal great ape existing in North America, the unscientific treatment of sasquatch reports in the popular media, and the absence of scientific literature regarding this species are among these reasons. Recently-acquired  physical and anecdotal evidence indicates that this subject warrants greater attention from the scientific community; primatologists may be more qualified than other zoologists to evaluate eyewitness sasquatch reports and hard evidence. Details of reported sasquatch anatomy conform closely with that of the African and Asian great apes. Consistently

reported primate features of the animal include (1) prominent, square shoulders, (2) a flat face lacking a prominent snout, and (3) long digits terminating in nails rather than claws. Humanlike features include habitually bipedal locomotion, and feet with a prominent heel and a hallux wich is normally adducted. Especially apelike anatomical features include (1) arms which are disproportionately long compared with humans, (2) a short, thick neck, (3) large outward-facing nostrils, (4) prominent brow ridges, and (5) a recessive chin and forehead. The sasquatch foot is the best understood part of the animal on the basis of hundreds of track photographs and casts. Anatomical details of the sasquatch foot are illustrated and discussed. The hypothesis that the sasquatch is North America's great ape is raised as a logical explanation for evidence and reports collected in many parts of the continent over the past 150 years. It is suggested that unfamiliarity with details of great ape anatomy, ecology and behavior on the part of North American wildlife biologists may have contributed to widespread misunderstanding or premature dismissal of sasquatch reports by wildlife professionals in the past, and continues to do so.

Although the conference organizers ultimately rejected the paper, they did so only after corresponding with me regarding the availability of DNA evidence for the sasquatch. Colleague Henner Fahrenbach of Beaverton, OR confirmed that the results of his attempts to have DNA analysis performed on purported sasquatch hair collected in the field were "inconclusive." It was on the basis of these findings that the paper was declined and organizers decided to restrict the conference to papers on the five known taxa of apes (that is, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gibbons.)
I nevertheless attended the conference and was able to discuss the sasquatch as a possible great ape with zoo keepers, and primate researchers.

Magazine Articles:

In 1999 I was contracted to summarize my book in a 2000 word article for Beautiful British Columbia magazine, a geographical/travel magazine with a worldwide circulation of some 190,000 subscribers.

The article--entitled Sasquatches in our Woods-was published in Beautiful British Columbia magazine, Volume 42. No. 2, Summer, 2000. pp 28-33. The credibility of the subject was enhanced with a sasquatch painting by internationally-acclaimed wildlife artist Robert Bateman as the lead illustration.

I recently heard from Bryan McGill, editor of Beautiful British Columbia magazine that the article won an award in the essay category for the 21st Annual International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA) Awards. The award was for "a story that speculates on or interprets a particular theme or subject that pertains to the region, and that clearly presents the magazine's or writer's viewpoint to the reader…."

The award is somewhat ironic in that I do not consider the sasquatch in British Columbia to be a regional issue at all, but was constrained to use only BC material in the article because of the regional nature of Beautiful BC magazine. (See page entitled Sasquatch Distribution
in North America.)

Despite these small successes in having the sasquatch recognized a s valid subject of scientific research, the resistance of the "scientific community" to consider  the sasquatch worthy of serious discussion or examination remains an area of concern for me. I have increasingly come to realize just how conservative science is and, as a result avoid certain subjects. Anyone who had read widely in the area entitled philosophy of science will read about how scientists persisted in resisting previous discoveries, sometimes for hundreds of years.

Part of this resistance can be explained by the problem of "prematurity" in scientific discovery. According to Guenther Stent, a discovery is defined as premature "if its implications cannot be connected by a series of simple, logical steps to canonical, or generally accepted, knowledge." (Stent, Guenther "Prematurity and uniqueness in Scientific Discovery," Scientific American. 227 (1972) 84-93). The existence in North America of an upright great ape fits Stent's description of prematurity in at least two ways.  (1) None of the known great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, or orangutans) are habitually bipedal. (2) Great apes are known only from Africa and Asia and there is no precedent for an apelike animal in North America (ie we don't have any other apes or even monkeys here).

This last point was brought home forcibly to me when a newspaper journalist                sought out the opinion of Professor Lisa Gould, a primatologist at the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC. regarding my book. "Speaking from an evolutionary point of view, Gould says, "There's no way a huge ape can be in North America…" The reviewer observed that "The primatologist sees the sasquatch in the same light as the Yeti, or wild man, of Nepal and Tibet, part of human mythology." (Judith Isabella, Victoria Times Colonist, January 10, 1999, p 11 in Islander section) Professor Gould may be right in her "no way" statement, "from an evolutionary point of view." The idea that the current "evolutionary point of view" might be incorrect appears not to enter her thinking.

But beyond all the commonly-stated reasons given for the sasquatch not to be here (not enough food, no precedents, evolutionary point of view, etc) there are the unthinkable implications of what this could mean in the larger picture. I use those words advisedly because of what I hear from fundamental Christians and others who are uncomfortable with our obvious anatomical similarities to non-human primates.

Noted anatomist and paleoanthropologist Alan Walker addressed this recently when writing about his paleoanthropological discoveries. He wrote that "…surprises about the identity or attributes of our … ancestors may be deeply unsettling and unwelcome. Even professionals, if they are not vigilant, are liable to fall into the trap of refusing to evaluate the evidence objectively…." (The Wisdom of The Bones, p 50.)

The idea that there is a possibility of an upright great ape existing, especially here in North America, is indeed "unwelcome" to many of us.  This was recently brought home to me when, attempting to engage the attention of a colleague who is a zoology professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, I sent him a review copy of my book. When I next saw him his response was predictable: "but John, if this thing exists, it would be the zoological discovery of the century, and…and..." He left the thought hanging, but the implication was that "and that is impossible." His head-shaking incredulence was overwhelming and helped me understand just how unthinkable the sasquatch as a real animal is for mainstream zoologists in the university atmosphere.

His reaction helped me understand just how risky it would be for someone like him or his university colleagues to publicly show a serious interest in the subject of the sasquatch. It also helped me realize that for someone like him this was an unnecessary risk, with little to gain and much to lose. For this reason, we will one day acknowledge university academics like Professor Grover Krantz, recently retired from the Western Washington University, and Dr. Jeff Meldrum at Idaho State University.

In my case, I acknowledge the courage of conference organizers who not only accepted papers on the sasquatch at professional conferences, but in one case elevated the submitted paper to a plenary session. Similarly the courage of the editor of the International Journal of Primatology must be recognized for his inclusion of a review of my book in that journal. It may be difficult for those outside of the scientific "establishment" to recognize the significance of such small incremental steps.

In this regard it may also be worth documenting a conference presentation proposal which was rejected, and why it was declined. The sasquatch paper had been proposed for presentation at a national conference. The reasons given by the conference chair for rejection concluded with the comment : "Until there is "hard" evidence of their existence the issue will remain tabloid material and not part of the scientific community."

The reference to "tabloid material" is noteworthy. I now recognize the public perception of the sasquatch as a subject of ridicule and humor is a significant factor in our society's continued resistance to this subject as one worthy of serious study. That professional biologists are unable to discount the inclusion of a wildlife subject in the tabloid media is unfortunate, to say the least. It may speak to their preconceptions and unwillingness to engage the subject of the sasquatch that they would allow themselves to be influenced by a form of the print media which they would otherwise ignore.

Those of us making efforts to undertake serious research on the sasquatch cannot prevent the tabloid newspapers from addressing this subject. Similarity we cannot prevent other investigators from propounding some rather bizarre explanations for the nature of the sasquatch, or the media from embracing and exploiting some "far out" explanations. By providing readers with an opportunity to ridicule the subject and those engaged in it, they score points and provide an light news item which may be seen as a welcome alternative to more serious, depressing news. But such media coverage does add to the conditioning that this is indeed a fringe subject which is not valid for serious research effort or funding.