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Geographical Index > United States > Himalayan Region (International) > Article # 531

Media Article # 531

Monday, June 11, 2007

[Authorities in India to investigate sightings in remote mountains]

By Zarir Hussain
The Australian

AUTHORITIES in India will investigate claims by terrified villagers that "bigfoot"-type hairy giants are roaming the jungles of the remote northeast.

The creatures have apparently been spoken of, and occasionally spotted, for years, but a rise in the number of sightings over the past month has prompted authorities to look into the matter further.

The bizarre sightings have reportedly been made in the Garo hills area of Meghalaya state, close to the borders with Bangladesh and Bhutan.

Villagers have dubbed the mysterious creatures "Mande Burung", or Jungle Man.

"A team of wildlife officials and other experts will conduct a study to find out if there is any truth in the locals' claims about these hairy giants,'' said Samphat Kumar, a district magistrate in the West Garo Hills district.

One local farmer, 40-year-old Wallen Sangma, claimed he had seen an entire family of the creatures - possibly a lowland relative of the Himalayan Yeti, or perhaps a distant cousin of the North American bigfoot known as Sasquatch, or Australia's Yowie.

"The sight was frightening: two adults and two smaller ones, huge and bulky, furry,'' he told an AFP reporter who visited the remote area on Thursday and Friday.

"Their heads looked as if they were wearing caps, and their colour was blackish-brown,'' he said.

The four "monsters" were about 30 to 40m away from him as he looked for firewood in a forest area.

"The four of them quietly vanished into the undergrowth,'' he said.

Such claims are treated sceptically by scientists because of lack of solid physical proof, but there are scientists and researchers who believe they could exist.

One Garo Hills group, the Achik Tourism society, has been trying to verify the creature's existence for the past 10 years, photographing footprints and thatched "nests" reported by locals.

"The descriptions given by people who saw the creature point to Mande Burung,'' said its head, T.K. Marak, a zoology professor at the state-run university in Tura, 323km from the state capital Shillong.

"There is no trace of any gorillas or other unidentified animals inhabiting here.''

The group says footprints it has photographed are 33-38cm long. It also says it has collected tufts of hair.

"We shall send these samples for DNA and other forensic tests,'' said Dipu Marak, also of the society.

In the meantime, some of the more intrepid villagers have begun their own investigation, venturing into the forest in the hopes of spotting the hairy creatures as their neighbours have done.

"Maybe only the fortunate ones have the chance to have a glimpse of the Mande Burung,'' said Abu Marak, a Garo local who claims to have seen a jungle man about three weeks ago.

Bibliographical Information:

The Australian is one of the major national newspaper in Australia. Versions of this story appeared in every large newspaper in Australia on this date.

The story appeared in several other countries around the world: India, Britain, Spain, Brunei, South Africa, Pakistan, France, Taiwan, Crotia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Canada and the USA.

BFRO Commentary:

Sightings of bigfoot-like animals have been reported in southern China, and Nepal, and Bhutan, and various parts of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia.

If bigfoot-like animals live in parts of those countries, then it would not be surprising for them to be sighted in this eastern portion of India, which is between those areas.

A cluster of sightings reportedly occurred in peninsular Malaysia in late 2005. The Malaysia government took interest in the subject, as it saw the potential for tourism. An unclear number of witnesses in the Malaysian state of Johor described their sightings, but the media attention did not result in a rush of additional witnesses coming forward with previously untold stories. After a few weeks, the lack of new evidence and new witnesses pushed the Malaysia government, and the local researchers, into a wait-and-see mode.

The Malaysia story was historically significant because Malaysia made a significant leap in terms of awareness and responsiveness. It is very unlikely that new, credible sightings and evidence in Malaysia will be laughed off and summarily dismissed. The average Malaysian is aware that there is an economic interest associated with the subject, and a government interest, and consequently an interest by the mainstream media.

Many people in India watched the Malaysia Bigfoot story develop in late 2005 and early 2006, partly because similar sightings and track finds were said to have occured in certain mountainous parts of northeast India as well.

As with Malaysia, the potential in Meghalaya for a lasting economic boost, due to these animals, seems to be well understood there. Their understanding in that regard may overcome the natural hesitance of the government to support to an exploratory and investigative effort.

Without a steady flow of evidence, the government will only have witnesses to rely on most of the time. There will be a natural tendency for the government and the media to wait for "something to be found." In other words, something that can be possessed and controlled and examined and exhibited. Sightings and witnesses don't satisfy that thirst, so they might be under-valued.

Bigfoots do not leave much obvious evidence behind. Until something tangible can be collected, the focus should be on the witnesses -- the tally of witnesses, the details of their observations, the pattern of the locations they mention, etc.

Some people still occassionally send comments to the BFRO, ignorantly complaining that sighting reports are not scientific evidence but rather annecdotal evidence. Those people do not understand the relationship between the two types of evidence -- annecdotal evidence provides the clues that lead to scientific evidence. This is particularly true in the arena of zoological discoveries.

A government will only be compelled, initially, to determine whether the reported group of animals poses a threat to the neighboring human population. The reports of non-violent encounters will continue to suggest that there is little danger in that direction. The government may then seek to determine whether the neighboring human population poses a threat to this group of animals ... potentially the most valuable animals in the country, if they exist. If they do not exist in India, then all of the witnesses are either lying, or misinterpreting sightings of other animals. The circumstances of the encounters will eliminate the potential for misinterpretation, in a significant percentage of the cases. Once misinterpretation is eliminated, then you are left with either a collection of liars, or a collection of good, corroborating witnesses. It will not be difficult for one or more reporters in India to determine which is the case: several skilled liars in Meghalaya, or several witnesses with corroborating stories in Meghalaya.

Western media will imply that the witnesses in Meghalaya are a bunch of skilled liars who are merely helping to attract gullible tourists. Their spin will be, tourism drives the occurrence of sightings. That is how they will try to make sense of it for their readers. Local media will need to counter that misleading characterization by showing that the best witnesses in Meghalaya are more likely witnesses than liars.

If bigfoots do not exist, none of this would be happening, and there would be no witness stories, at least not in the pattern in which they occur. The press in India can demonstrate, with the collection of interviews, that it is more likely that these tribesmen are seeing what they say they are seeing -- more likely than any deception-driven explanation. They can also show that it is possible for hairy giants to inhabit parts of their landscape yet be unseen most of the time.

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