Cryptozoology: The study of "hidden animals," includes Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monsters, Yeti, Myakka Skunk Ape, and hundreds of other cryptids.

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The Cryptozoologist > Loren Coleman

The following interview with Loran Coleman appeared at in May 1999.

In Pursuit of Monsters:
An interview with cryptozoologist Loren Coleman

If Loren Coleman's work can be likened to TV's The X-Files (and it's not much of a leap), then it can also be said that he brings a Scully-like approach to a very Mulder-ish questñtracking down mysterious animals and other creatures that have yet to be classified by science. His status as one of the world's leading authorities on cryptozoology, as the subject is known, has taken him in search of giant snakes, mysterious primates, mythological beasts, and yes, Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster. He says that most sightings are mistakes or hoaxes, but accepts that there are yet-undiscovered primates and sea serpents.

Coleman is a professor at the University of Maine and author of several books, one of which is set to star Nicolas Cage as the real-life Texas oil heir who spent his family's fortune searching for the world's biggest monsters in the 1950s. In between making preparations to fly to Scotland for an upcoming hunt in the famed Loch Ness, Coleman took some time out to talk with us.
How did you become involved in this line of work?
In March of 1960 I saw a Japanese movie called Half Human. And I went to school and asked my teachers, "What's this thing about the abominable snowman?" and they said it doesn't exist. So I was an early radical, I questioned authority, I asked what was going on, and I started researching it, and found out that there seemed to be something there.
Is there an unknown creature whose existence you think will be proven in the near future?
The number one on my list is the Orang Pendek. That's a little creature that's been seen in Sumatra; they're somewhat like a reddish-brown orangutan that's upright. There's a British-based international flora and fauna society that has sponsored some expeditions there, and there's some people out in the bush right now who have had contact, found footprints, and seen them quite frequently. It's one of the lesser known things, but the President of Indonesia is prepared to call a news conference and declare a large, multi-hundred-thousand-acre preserve of Sumatra as a national preserve for this animal. It may happen in 10 days, it may happen in two decades, but I really think that will be the first one. Then we'll have to revise the books about how many great apes there are.
What about a creature that you think exists, but probably will never be found?
I'm getting very worried about the Yeti, because I think their numbers have always been very small, and with the cold and inaccessible areas, they may in fact be close to extinction. I've talked to Deborah Marta, the head of the expedition in Sumatra, and she's so concerned about habitat destruction, she said that we may discover these animals just to turn around and find that they go extinct right away. So that's the sad part. And the conservationist side of me is very concerned about habitat destruction. These animals obviously go further and further back into the wilderness, and if the trees are destroyed, they're not going to have any place to move to.
When you say Yeti, are you talking about a cold-weather Bigfoot?
That's something of a misconception. The Yeti exists probably in the steamy mountain valleys of Nepal, and they cross over the snowfields to go from one to another. And that's why we find their footprints. And that's one of the misconceptions, like that there's only one "Abominable Snowman" and that he's white. Those are the myths. But these are creatures that look different than the Bigfoot, they're more ape-like.
Your book is titled The Field Guide to Bigfoot, Yetis and other Mystery Primates Worldwide. So you're saying that Bigfoot exists.
As zoologists, scientists, and anthropologists, we accept the reality of reports that people were actually seeing something that's unidentified and unexplained. As scientists, we're looking for the evidence, and the evidence seems to be pretty compelling. But right now, Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti are outside the realm of zoology, and that's why they're in the realm of cryptozoology.

So if there is evidence that they exist, why do you think one hasn't been tracked down or discovered conclusively?
There's quite a bit of evidence, including footprints, eyewitness reports, hair samples, fecal material, and the photographic evidence of the Patterson family that people often ignore [The famous grainy footage shot in 1967 that is widely discredited, but has not been exposed as a hoax--ed.]. But there's some major barriers to acceptance. Humans are very narcissistic, so the single species theory has really gotten in the way of Homo Sapiens believing that there could be another intelligent hominid here. For instance, if you go with anthropologists and archeologists looking for bones or fossil remains, they only dig down to a certain level because they already have a preconceived notion, for instance in North AmericaÖ they only go down to the layers where they know there were Native Americans. So that's kind of a psychological barrier. Another thing is that these are very intelligent animals, so they tend to have sensory mechanisms that we can't even understand, with regard to their ability to smell metal, to smell humans, to be able to see much clearer than we do, there are all kinds of things like that. For you and I and a lot of people that may think about this for half a second, it's easy for us to be interested. But for a lot of people that are rural and may associate with these animals all the time, they're kind of taken for granted. In fact, the whole underlying and underpinning philosophy of cryptozoology is that there's lots of native peoples who know about these animals, but it's only when Western science comes in that we're interested in classifying them. We're interested in the testimonials of native peoples because they often times have a relationship with these animals, and could care less whether or not science knows about them.
Where do you think one of these creatures would most likely be discovered today? Are there some hotspots you're looking at?
If we're very specifically talking about the Bigfoot/Sasquatch, I tend to consider them mainly inhabitants of the forests of the Pacific Northwest, and different places in Latin and South America that are wilderness areas. Americans and Canadians feel that the whole country [has already been] explored, but it's mainly because we live in urban areas. I live in Maine, the most forested state in the United States: 95% of the surface of the state of Maine is trees. If you look at some parts of Northern California, 90% of the land is covered by trees. So people go from one area to another on highways, and they feel like, oh, well, there's nice signs there, it's all explored. But that's really not true. We have seen that past reports of these creatures tend to tell us that their range was much broader, and that with more urban sprawl and more highways, these creatures go further and further back into the wilderness. And we're not talking about large populations. We know right now, for instance, that the mountain gorilla has a population between 350 and 500 gorillas, and thatís enough genetically to support a population. So even though everyone's talking about Bigfoot, the numbers of these creatures are much smaller than the publicity they get. So they're well hidden, they're smart, and there's lots of trees out there.
The mountain gorilla is an interesting case on the subject of animal discoveries. Didn't people think of them as a Sasquatch-type creature not too long ago?
It wasn't until 1902. The first gorilla, the Eastern, lowland gorilla, wasnít even discovered until the middle of the 1800s. And then it took another 60 years or so to find the mountain gorillañand there were museums, there were zoos, there were scientists scurrying all over eastern Africa trying to find the mountain gorilla. And they couldn't find them, couldn't find them, and then one guy, I think it eventually was in 1898, came across a skeleton. But he couldn't bring it out of the mountains, he didn't have the gear and stuff, which is very similar to what you hear about people coming across various pieces of evidence of Bigfoot, they can't bring it out. So it wasnít until 1902 that two Belgian military men were hunting in Kenya and killed these two big hairy creatures that walked upright every once in a while. So if you look at the fact that Bigfoot, as a cultural phenomena, didn't really come on the scene until 1958, we really still are in the infancy for this creature. It's just because of mass communication that everyone thinks we've known about this creature for a long time, and [discount it] because we can't find it. But in terms of zoology it's still very early, and because there's no organizational funding to look for them, I'm not surprised they haven't been found yet. There's really not that much support for looking for Bigfoot.
What would you consider to be your biggest professional success so far?
I'm always proudest of the most recent work I do. I'm really happy that after all of these years, in 1989, I was able to discover so much about Tom Slick, and now Nicolas Cage is going to do a movie about it, which is very nice [The film, based on Coleman's 1989 book Tom Slick and the Search for Yeti, is currently in development at 20th Century Fox--ed.]. And the field guide to Bigfoot is something I've wanted to do for 30 yearsÖ.I'm also proud of having found apelike footprints in Southern Illinois, in 1962, of what I have since called the "North American Apes." These are more anthropoid-like than Bigfoot-like, and inhabit various swampy bottomlands of the southeastern USA. Folks in Florida of the 1970s called them "Skunk Apes," and other residents of the South have referred to them with the label "Boogers." I'm delighted to have interviewed scores of actual eyewitnesses and to have found one set of tracks of these hidden animals.
I came across the name "Coelacanth" on your site in reference to a major find. What is that?
It is the ultimate living fossil. Itís a prehistoric fish that had supposedly gone extinct 65 million years ago. In 1938 they dredged one up off an island near Madagasgar. They couldn't find any more until 1952, when they came across the second species. Now this is exactly what I was talking about with the natives, because in this case, the natives had been catching and eating this fish for years. And scientists come in and they say, "Oh my god, you've got a 6-foot-long living fossil, weighing over 250 pounds." It's been very wonderful. But what's amazing, as far as the timing right now, is that in 1997 and '98, two more examples of a brand-new species of Coelacanth have been found in Indonesia. About 2,000 kilometers, over 6,000 miles from where they were originally found in Africa. So cryptozoologists and zoologists and just kind of doing handstands, because this is exciting news.
Do you think there was anything to those Chupacabra sightings that were so big a few years back?
Yeah, actually, it's very similar to creatures that are also being seen in Madagascar and have been seen in other places, they seemed to be more primate than reptilian. It's almost as if the Hispanic culture has taken this over, and I think because of that, a little anti-Hispanic bias has come out in some of the reports. I think people [dismissed it] as some kind of Latin hysteria. But there are things like that which can be seen cutting across cultures. Also I think that a lot of UFO people get involved, and everybody's talking about Chupacabra being an alien. But if you look at the basic descriptions, they're hair-covered, they have eyes that seem to be for nocturnal viewing, and the spikes on the back of the head, which I talk about in the Field Guide, it's very similar to what you see in some primates in Africa. There is a primate precursor there.
What do you think of the Internet? It must add a new dimension to your work.
I think it's great. I've been deeply involved in the Internet since I could get online in '95. I have about 400 e-mails a day, well 2,000 that come in, but I keep up a rather high presence on the Internet. The ability to have instant communication is great.
What's the next step for you? Besides your writing, is there a particular search, or direction or prize you're going after?
I'm very excited about the Loch Ness. It's really going to be a mini-expedition. [The upcoming expedition, the largest Loch Ness search ever undertaken, has been the subject of reports by several major news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times--ed.]. I'll be over there interviewing lots of people, looking for the monster. Hopefully getting a ride down in the submarine. Then a year from now, myself and some other people are involved in (as long as the situation with China remains calm) an expedition looking for the Almas, which are little, hairy hominoids. They're unknown primates that live in Mongolia. Some people believe they're related to Neanderthal, some believe they're related to Peking man. It seemed to be a little more human-like than Bigfoot, and certainly more human-like than the abominable snowman, the Yeti. That's a two-month expedition. That one's going to be exciting.

ñinterview by john pope

© 1999, Inc.


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