If Bigfoot exists in North America, the mythical beast is no mere ancient representative of an ape family that migrated across the Bering land mass with mastodons and ancient man, a primatologist says.
Bigfoot — or Sasquatch or Skunk Ape or Fouke Monster or whatever name you prefer — would have to be a completely new and specific species, Esteban Sarmiento told attendees at the ninth annual Texas Bigfoot Conference on Sept. 26. “If it’s real, this animal is exceedingly human-like,” Sarmiento said. “It would be our closest relative on earth.”
Sarmiento, though, wouldn’t exactly address the question of whether Bigfoot exists or whether he believes the tales about wild, hairy beasts that have drifted out of dark, wooded river bottoms and foggy rain forests for decades. What Sarmiento did say, though, is that, based on his studies of great apes in Africa, Sumatra and Borneo, whatever Bigfoot is, he’s not an ape.
Sarmiento spoke during the conference about the so-called Patterson-Gimlin film shot in 1967. A touchstone in Bigfoot lore and the believers’ burning bush, the film purports to show a female Bigfoot with pendulous breasts, striding across a rocky area in northern California.
The film has been debated by believers, denounced and debunked by critics, shown on television and dissected and disseminated on YouTube.
Roger Patterson was a would-be filmmaker who had been trying to get funding for a movie about Bigfoot. In early 1967, he rented a quality 16mm camera and convinced Robert Gimlin to travel with him into the wilderness to look for the creature . Amazingly, they found a hairy specimen walking away from them and into heavy timber in the distance. The creature shown in the film is covered in dark hair and walks with a human gait, even turning its head to look back at the camera before it disappears.
Gimlin, who’s still alive and attended the conference, swears the film is real. Patterson maintained its authenticity until his death, which happened in 1972. However, a man named Bob Heironimus has claimed he was paid $1,000 to don the suit and walk in front of the camera and out of sight.
Bigfoot and Sasquatch sightings have been common in the Pacific Northwest for decades. They’ve also been prevalent in East Texas and the surrounding big timber regions of Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Believers think the common traits of a 7- to 9-foot tall, hairy, wild-eyed but super intelligent beast that normally avoids humans but often is spotted walking along roadways or standing close to remote cabins are related to the same species.
Bigfoot is rare enough, they say, that he must move around to find mates and new territory, and that’s why reports have filtered in for at least 150 years.
There have been some obscure and out-of-focus photos taken over the years, and there have been Bigfoot hoaxes and claims of capture and kills, even by respected members of the Bigfoot community. But no one ever has managed a quality photo that comes even close to Patterson’s film.
Bigfoot believers — the serious ones are called researchers to separate themselves from simple believers who seem to have devout faith as well in Atlantis, UFOs, chupacabras and aliens among us — have claimed the film shows a possible descendant of Gigantopithecus blacki, a great ape that migrated across the land bridge to live in North America. Sarmiento isn’t buying that.
“A great ape (chimp, gorilla or orangutuan) can’t do this. I guarantee there’s no great ape that can do this,” Sarmiento says, pointing to the frame in the film when the creature turns in full stride to look over its shoulder at the camera. “A gorilla couldn’t do this. It can’t turn it’s head. An ape would have to stop and turn around to look at the camera.” Apes can walk on two legs, he said, but not with the stride and gait the Patterson Bigfoot uses. That’s a human trait.
“And the breast is covered in hair. Gorillas don’t have hair on their breasts. Apes only have breasts if they’re nursing, but there’s no baby in the film,” Sarmiento said. “Females usually have a baby around, and I don’t think it would leave and not take the baby.” Sarmiento added that the bottom of the Bigfoot’s foot in the film isn’t an ape’s foot with an opposable toe and even noted that it looks somewhat like a padded house shoe.
So what is it? What does the film show? “If I can’t show it either way, why would I make the call,” Saremiento said. “If it’s real it has to be a whole new species. Is it a man in a monkey suit? I don’t know. If I said that and it turned out not to be, then I’d look stupid.”