New Bigfoot Sightings: Proof Still Lacking
1. The Empty Fossil Record When two Georgia men declared they were storing the body of Bigfoot in a freezer -- and that they had its DNA -- more than a few skeptics cried foul. Is the legend of Bigfoot (a.k.a. Sasquatch) little more than a stubborn myth? For the dirt on the doubters, Discovery News contacted Benjamin Radford, managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, who was more than happy to rattle off the top 10 reasons Bigfoot is bogus. First on his list: the fossil record. Why, he asked, would a legacy of large mammals reported to exist throughout North America (and beyond) simply disappear from the same soil that has preserved everything from the dinosaur bones pictured here, to woolly mammoths, to tiny marine crustaceans? "There's no fossil record of anything fitting the description" of Bigfoot, said Radford. "There's simply nothing there."
2. Forget Fossils, Where Are the Bodies? Putting aside paleontology, Radford points out that today, if Bigfoot exists, it must disappear when it dies. "There's no hard evidence in the form of bones. There are no hair samples, there are no live or dead specimens," he said. Bigfoot believers argue that the soil in areas where the creatures live -- such as the region surrounding Bellingham, Wash., seen here -- is acidic and quickly breaks down the bones. Nonsense, says Radford: "There's nothing to that, because Bigfoot has been reported in every state but Hawaii."
3. Where Do Bigfoot Babies Come From? Even for mammals that are relatively rare in global terms, such as the chimpanzee, it takes a decent population size to maintain a species. "If Bigfoot is a zoological reality," said Radford, "there has to be a breeding population." For that population to be big enough to account for even a fraction of the sightings, there would need to be tens of thousands of the creatures in North America alone. "Think about that for a second. Tens of thousands of Bigfoot, living, breathing, doing what they do. Where are they? Why don't they get hit by a car?" asked Bradford. "The numbers just simply don't add up."
4. Your Lying Eyes The majority of "evidence" for Bigfoot, says Radford, consists of eyewitness accounts. Yet as psychologists and schooled juries know, such accounts are famously inaccurate. What's more, says Radford, "the problem is, that's not evidence, it's an anecdote....It's interesting and you shouldn't dismiss it out of hand, but it's not evidence."
5. The Ever-Mysterious Blobsquatch This black-and-white image was taken in 1977 by a man named Frank White, near Bellingham, Wash. "I'd call it a North American ape," White told reporters at the time. "You can call it a Sasquatch or anything you like." Radford calls it a Blobsquatch. Aside from eyewitness reports, blurry images like this are what most Bigfoot believers rely on. But it's no proof, said Radford: "These photos show something that is probably alive, it's probably dark, it's not a cat, it's not a camel. It could be a Bigfoot, or it could be a deer or it could be a guy in a suit." "Ultimately," he concludes, "it's a two-dimensional image. It's pixels."
6. Doctor Who? For Radford and other skeptics, the only acceptable standard of proof is the scientific one. Why, when there are countless researchers probing the far corners of every continent, is there no rigorous, documented, peer-reviewed evidence for Bigfoot? Only one answer makes sense, says Radford: Bigfoot isn't real. Attendees of the Texas Bigfoot Conference, pictured here, might disagree. The annual event draws hundreds of people -- including Bigfoot enthusiasts, amateur researchers, historians, and tourists -- but few if any academic scientists.
7. The Case of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Speaking of science, Bigfoot believers sometimes complain that funding for Sasquatch Studies is hard to find. But scientists are notoriously good note-takers, Radford points out, even about subjects they aren't directly studying. Consider this league of biologists scouting for the elusive ivory-billed woodbecker in Arkansas' White River National Wildlife Refuge, an area where Bigfoot sightings have been made. "There was a huge, hardcore investigation. They were well-equipped, well-funded and made a sustained search," noted Radford. "What I found interesting was, what didn't they find? They didn't find Bigfoot."
8. This Katydid Couldn't Hide Dozens of new species, previously unknown to science, are discovered each year. But for the most part, they are tiny: microorganisms and insects such as the newly discovered katydid pictured here. Could Bigfoot really hide in such a peopled world? "The last large animal to be found was probably the giant panda, and that was 100 years ago," said Radford. "There has not been a single new creature that doesn't fit the recognized taxonomy discovered in the last century, there just simply hasn't."
9. If It Walks Like a Hoax ... This ruddy strand, about 70 micrometers in diameter, could be taken as a hair. But it isn't -- it's a carpet fiber. A similar thread was once claimed to have fallen from Bigfoot's back. Later, it was shown to be synthetic Dynel fiber, said Radford. An alleged vial of Bigfoot blood once turned out to be transmission fluid, and many Bigfoot sightings, in the end, are admitted fakes. "There is no category of Bigfoot evidence that doesn't have a string of hoaxes attached to it," said Radford. "If you're studying a subject in which virtually all the evidence either comes down to being inconclusive or a hoax, something's wrong."
10. The Case of the Missing Footprint This picture shows Al Hodgson, a volunteer guide at California's Willow Creek-China Flat Musuem, holding up a plaster cast believed by some to be a Bigfoot imprint. Authentic or not, footprints and other physical artifacts are meaningless scientifically, says Radford, when there is no standard to measure them by. "Some of the footprints have three toes, some have four toes, and some of course have five," he noted. "Even if I'm certain a certain track wasn't made by anything else, how do I know it's Bigfoot? You can't." The same goes for DNA. Scientists make a positive identification by comparing an unknown sample to a known one. There is no such standard for Bigfoot, says Radford. Even an educated guess about the giant footprint pictured here or a Blobsquatch gone wild is, at best, a shot in the dark. Benjamin Radford is the co-author of "Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures."
- The Michigan bigfoot family lives in the woods near the woman's home, she says.
- A group of Russians, meanwhile, say a bigfoot roams an area of southern Siberia.
- Neither parties have any photographs, recordings or other evidence to verify their claims.
There are new claims of bigfoot encounters -- in Siberia and rural Michigan -- that will likely add to the debate over whether the creatures really exist, although neither holds the smoking gun of a photograph, tissue sample or other scientific evidence.
A group of Russians claim a living "snowman" roams the cold Shoria Mountain area of southern Siberia. Meanwhile a woman in Newaygo County, Mich., told Discovery News that she has been interacting with and actually feeding a large family of close to 10 Bigfoot-like creatures who live in the woods near her home for the past two years.
"They get fish every day, a bucket of fruit, a bucket of dry dog food," said Robin Lynn Pfeifer, a 47-year-old resident of Newaygo County, north of Grand Rapids. "Their favorite thing is blueberry bagels. If I'm not baking them, I go to different stores to buy them. I tell them they are feeding the wildlife."
She said she has collected casts of many large footprints, but says the creatures are too shy and too clever for her to get a photograph. She describes the Bigfoots as ranging from six to nine feet tall and looking like humans, except for hairy coats and broad noses.
"The biggest one I've sat and looked at for 15 minutes was nine and a half feet tall," Pfeifer told Discovery News. "The large male is all black. Others are beige and white. The biggest footprint is 18 and a half inches long."
Skeptics say that big claims need big proof, and so far that hasn't happened when it comes to Bigfoot. Natural history and evolutionary scientists also ask how these creatures could have survived for so long without being detected, and where the evidence is of their body or bones or DNA.
Loren Coleman directs the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine and has been studying and writing about strange sightings of creatures for several decades. He says he's skeptical of anyone who comes forward with tales of lengthy Bigfoot encounters without providing serious evidence.
"All the Bigfoot contactees -- for some reason they never take photographs," Coleman said. "There's a lot of interest in finding these things, but we have to look of the credibility of the people feeding us the stories. I'm always careful of two kinds of people, the debunkers who have no interest and the true believers who will not bring any critical thinking."
A cast of a supposed Bigfoot print taken from Siberia.Jeff Meldrum
Coleman said he hasn't met with Pfeifer, but is doubtful, comparing her story to people who meet with aliens from UFOs.
"They really believe they are having these experiences," Coleman said. "I don't know if its hallucinations or a psychological state."
Pfeifer, however, is convinced her encounters are real and she said she realizes that most people will not believe her because of the lack of proof, such as scat, hair, tissue or a good photograph.
She says the Bigfoot clan began visiting her home shortly after she and her husband and three children moved into a 10-acre rural property back in November 2009. The creatures also engage in some unusual behaviors, she said. Sometimes they make knocking sounds underneath the family home's crawl space, twist and braid a rope used to tie the family's pony, or construct elaborate stick structures in the woods.
Pfeifer said she's tried to snap their picture, but she has not been successful. When she set up automatic cameras in the trees near her home, the creatures turned them upside down.
"I want people to realize that they do exist," Pfeifer said. "They are not aggressive, they are more human-like than an ape and I'm very protective of them."
Michigan has a history of Bigfoot sightings -- and a network of residents who post their findings on a website.
Pfeifer has been traveling in Russia to meet with other Bigfoot believers -- scientists and amateurs alike -- who gathered in the Kemerovo region recently to talk about the existence of a Russian "snowman" in the cold Shoria Mountain area of southern Siberia.
Igor Burtsev of the Moscow-based International Center of Hominology said that after the meeting, researchers from the United States, Canada, Sweden and Estonia traveled for two days to an area that has reported sightings of a large, Yeti-like creature.
Burtsev said he is 95 percent positive that he has evidence to prove the creature's existence: some hair found near a cave entrance, grasses made into a bed, large footprints, and tree branches that form a certain pattern.
"We were just two days in the forest and we found many things," Burtsev said. "We found a lot of confirmation that they exist there."
A cast of a supposed Bigfoot print taken from Siberia.Jeff Meldrum
Burtsev said that he visited Pfeifer's home for a week in June but did not see any of the Bigfoot creatures. The next step, Pfeifer said, is to record the creatures' unusual vocal sounds.
Jeff Meldrum, professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University, was at the meetings in Russia and has been sifting through the various claims about both the Russian Yeti in southern Siberia and Pfeifer's story of a Michigan Bigfoot.
"There's no substance to any of her claims," said Meldrum, who is an expert in the evolution of early hominid gait. "If there were 10 to 12 around her home, she should be opening up a museum with all the artifacts."
Meldrum also has questions about what Burtsev presented during the two-day trip to the cave in the Kemerovo region. He says when the group of scientists entered the cave, there were several large footprints along the muddy floor, but strangely enough, they were only imprints of right feet.
"He must have been playing hopscotch," Meldrum quipped.
Meldrum says that while he's doubtful about the evidence for this particular creature, he is keeping an open mind when it comes to the possibility of a new species of hominid that could be alive today.
He points out that German scientists found finger bones from a new species of human ancestor known as Denisova hominin that co-existed with both humans and Neanderthals only 30,000 years ago.
That research was published last year in the journal Nature, using DNA sequencing to verify its age and identity. The cave where Denisova was found is 35 miles from the site where Meldrum and the other researchers were taken on their field trip.