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Sunday 19 February 2012

More on Yetis and Giant Orangutans

While doing research on the Almas article recently posted, I came across the witness' sketch of an "Almas" evidently from  Tibet. Of couse this was not an Almas but an actual "Abominable Snowman" or Yeti. And it is very important for that reason: otherwise there is not a single other witness' sketch depicting the original Abominable Snowman other than some possible Tibetan ones (which are actually traditional, see below).  I thought the body proportions were like an orangutan so out comes my upright orangutan for comparison photo again (at right)
As a matter of fact, doing a little more research proves that the drawing is an excerpt from a Russian publication describing the Yeti sighting described in The Long Walk, after a sketch by S. Rawicz

The photo is incidentally a Bornean orangutan with broad cheek pads. I have already stated my impression that the mainland orangutans are more like Sumatran orangutans with much reduced cheek pads, if any.

And in this case the creatures were supposed to have been something like eight feet tall, the one a few inches shorter than the other.

Now while many people think of the actual original Yeti as a gigantic creature of more humanlike aspect, in fact the most of the reports speak of it as "only" being about the size of an ordinary orangutan, and the comparison is often given that it is the size of a "Youth" or teenager: less than the size of a full-grown man (a Sherpa, and Sherpas are rather short as people go anyway) Still, one does hear of bigger ones six feet tall or more, which is unusually large for an orangutan.

There are however frequently stated to be three kinds of Yeti at small, medium or large sizes. Going by the tracks and assuming their feet are roughly at the same proportion to the maximum standing height as the usual orangutan, we can guess the smaller ones are about four feet tall, medium-sized ones averaging about five feet tall [four and a half up to five and a half feet tall normally] and biggest ones ordinarily as much as six feet tall, but reported as being up to seven and a half feet tall. This in turn generates a pretty much normal bean curve of heights centered at five feet tall.

This is a "Shrine to the Yeti" in Bhutan and there are several casts of tracks on the wall, mostly of a fairly small size and mostly very human-like (The odd pointed heels on a couple of the casts could be caused by the heel skidding) Some could be bear tracks but the odd fact is that most seem to have only four toes.. In some other "Yeti" tracks this is because the big toe is offset or opposed and does not necessarily leave a strong impression along with the other toes because it is off to one side.Tom Slick's cast was similar with only four toes in front

In dealing with Translations of Yeti names I have had some contact with Tibetans and some experience with Tibetan dictionaries. In the various translations listed you will see repeated reference to "Ti" or "Tre" meaning "Bear"-actually it can mean that exactly or otherwise more vaguely or generically in the sense of "Big Hairy Beast" (I have a direct statement to that effect from a Tibetan source) so when you see translations of such names as Dzu-Teh meaning "Cattle Bear", that does not mean necessarily an actual specific type of bear. Instead it means a big hairy animal that is a predator on Yaks, or perhaps a "Bugbear" more than an actual bear if you will. On the other hand, a longer statement and a very interesting one which is to be excerpted in the next CFZ yearbook acknowledges that the common-usage name for "Yeti" is not "Yeti" (Which is so vague as to be useless) but "Migo" or "Mi-Gu" meaning "Wildman" AND that it is commonly understood as a sort of an ape, but also more specifically as being like one of two apes-one like a chimpanzee and one like a gorilla. The chimp like one is the one most regularly reported by Sherpas (at the same time this is NOT a Tibetan macaque because it is larger and its feet are very much broader)

So if the "Gorillas" reported by Rawicz actually enormous orangutans or were they sorts of Sasquatches? The creatures in the sketch are in very deep snow and so it is hard to see how long their legs really are (the one creature turned to the side also has a prominent butt which is cut off by the side of the frame in my copy)

There are several people that find fault with Rawicz's story and as a matter of fact, as in many sets of wartime reminisces, the story incorporates reminisces of more than one person.
It seems that the basic story about The Long Walk was not based only on the experiences that Rawicz had himself but were also based on the experiences of another Polish man named Glinski. And that for the most part that section was based on actual experiences. Since it did not seem that Glinski saw any Yetis, it might even be possible that that was Rawicz's contribution and in fact it is the part which has always drawn the most attention to the book. After a review of the book was published in 2008 on the website Blog Critic, Rawicz's grandson made deposition that people should not be knocking his grandad simply because he had said he saw a Yeti. On the website cited and following the link, the statement is then added "Indeed, contrary to what some have asserted, the portions of the story dealing with Yetis may not be cause for blanketing the entire ordeal as a fabrication." because as a matter of fact we DO know now that some of the other parts ARE true.

Now as to the rest of the tracks, it would seem the basic "Wildman" type is between 4 and 7 feet tall and is identical to the Biabanguli or Ban Manas, and the tracks indicate the Giganto type is between 6 and 12 feet tall and that more usually between 7 and 9: the tracks are 14 to 18 inches long commonly, as in Sasquatch, and sometimes reported as up to 24 inches, while reported heights of 10 to 20 feet tall are surely exaggerations.

At this point it will probably be a good idea to review the Wikipedia on Yetis and then look a bit more closely into the allegations of gigantic oranutans.

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman is an ape-like cryptid said to inhabit the Himalayan region of Nepal, and Tibet.[2][3] The names Yeti, [Mi-Go] and Meh-Teh are commonly used by the people indigenous to the region,[4] and are part of their history and mythology. Stories of the Yeti first emerged as a facet of Western popular culture in the 19th century.
The scientific community generally regards the Yeti as a legend, given the lack of conclusive evidence,[5] yet it remains one of the most famous creatures of cryptozoology. The Yeti may be considered a sort of parallel to the Bigfoot of North America
Etymology and alternate names
The word Yeti is derived from Tibetan: གཡའ་དྲེད་, Wylie: g.ya' dred, ZYPY: Yachê), a compound of the words Tibetan: གཡའ་, Wylie: g.ya', ZYPY: ya "rocky", "rocky place" and (Tibetan: དྲེད་, Wylie: dred, ZYPY: chê) "bear".[6][7][8][9][10] Pranavananda[6] states that the words "ti", "te" and "teh" are derived from the spoken word 'tre' (spelled "dred"), Tibetan for bear, with the 'r' so softly pronounced as to be almost inaudible, thus making it "te" or "teh".[6][10][11]
Other terms used by Himalayan peoples do not translate exactly the same, but refer to legendary and indigenous wildlife:
  • Michê (Tibetan: མི་དྲེད་, Wylie: mi dred, ZYPY: Michê) translates as "man-bear".[8][10][12]
  • [Meh-Teh or Mihti is the more usual form]
  • Migoi or Mi-go (Tibetan: མི་རྒོད་, Wylie: mi rgod, ZYPY: Migö/Mirgö) translates as "wild man".[11][14]
  • Mirka [linguistic variant of the same name] – another name for "wild-man". Local legend holds that "anyone who sees one dies or is killed". The latter is taken from a written statement by Frank Smythe's sherpas in 1937.[15]
  • Kang Admi – "Snow Man".[14]
  • JoBran – "Man-eater".[14]

The "Abominable Snowman"

The appellation "Abominable Snowman" was coined in 1921, the same year Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury led the joint Alpine Club and Royal Geographical Society "Everest Reconnaissance Expedition"[16][17] which he chronicled in Mount Everest The Reconnaissance, 1921.[18] In the book, Howard-Bury includes an account of crossing the "Lhakpa-la" at 21,000 ft (6,400 m) where he found footprints that he believed "were probably caused by a large 'loping' grey wolf, which in the soft snow formed double tracks rather like a those of a bare-footed man". He adds that his Sherpa guides "at once volunteered that the tracks must be that of 'The Wild Man of the Snows', to which they gave the name 'metoh-kangmi'".[18] "Metoh" translates as "man-bear" and "Kang-mi" translates as "snowman".[6][8][14][19]
Confusion exists between Howard-Bury's recitation of the term "metoh-kangmi"[16][18] and the term used in Bill Tilman's book Mount Everest, 1938[20] where Tilman had used the words "metch", which cannot exist in the Tibetan language,[21] and "kangmi" when relating the coining of the term "Abominable Snowman".[8][14][20][22] Further evidence of "metch" being a misnomer is provided by Tibetan language authority Professor David Snellgrove from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London (ca. 1956), who dismissed the word "metch" as impossible, because the consonants "t-c-h" cannot be conjoined in the Tibetan language."[21] Documentation suggests that the term "metch-kangmi" is derived from one source (from the year 1921).[20] It has been suggested that "metch" is simply a misspelling of "metoh".
The term "Abominable Snowman" began when Henry Newman, a longtime contributor to The Statesman in Calcutta, using the pen name "Kim",[9] interviewed the porters of the "Everest Reconnaissance expedition" upon their return to Darjeeling.[20][23][24][25] Newman mistranslated the word "metoh" as "filthy", substituting the term "abominable", perhaps out of artistic license.[26] As author Bill Tilman recounts, "[Newman] wrote long after in a letter to The Times: The whole story seemed such a joyous creation I sent it to one or two newspapers'".[20]


Pre-19th century

According to H. Siiger, the Yeti was a part of the pre-Buddhist beliefs of several Himalayan people. He was told that the Lepcha people worshipped a "Glacier Being" as a God of the Hunt. He also reported that followers of the Bön religion once believed the blood of the "mi rgod" or "wild man" had use in certain mystical ceremonies. The being was depicted as an apelike creature who carries a large stone as a weapon and makes a whistling sound.[27]

19th century

In 1832, James Prinsep's Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal published trekker B. H. Hodgson's account of his experiences in northern Nepal. His local guides spotted a tall, bipedal creature covered with long dark hair, which seemed to flee in fear. Hodgson concluded it was an orangutan.
An early record of reported footprints appeared in 1899 in Laurence Waddell's Among the Himalayas.[28] Waddell reported his guide's description of a large apelike creature that left the prints, which Waddell thought were made by a bear. Waddell heard stories of bipedal, apelike creatures but wrote that "none, however, of the many Tibetans I have interrogated on this subject could ever give me an authentic case. On the most superficial investigation it always resolved into something that somebody heard tell of."[29]

20th century

The frequency of reports increased during the early 20th century, when Westerners began making determined attempts to scale the many mountains in the area and occasionally reported seeing odd creatures or strange tracks.
In 1925, N. A. Tombazi, a photographer and member of the Royal Geographical Society, writes that he saw a creature at about 15,000 ft (4,600 m) near Zemu Glacier. Tombazi later wrote that he observed the creature from about 200 to 300 yd (180 to 270 m), for about a minute. "Unquestionably, the figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping occasionally to pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes. It showed up dark against the snow, and as far as I could make out, wore no clothes." About two hours later, Tombazi and his companions descended the mountain and saw the creature's prints, described as "similar in shape to those of a man, but only six to seven inches long by four inches wide[30]... The prints were undoubtedly those of a biped."[31]
Western interest in the Yeti peaked dramatically in the 1950s. While attempting to scale Mount Everest in 1951, Eric Shipton took photographs of a number of large prints in the snow, at about 6,000 m (20,000 ft) above sea level. These photos have been subject to intense scrutiny and debate. Some argue they are the best evidence of Yeti's existence, while others contend the prints are those of a mundane creature that have been distorted by the melting snow. It should also be noted that Eric Shipton was a notorious practical joker.[32]
Peter Byrne reported finding a yeti footprint in 1948, in northern Sikkim, India near the Zemu Glacier, while on holiday from a Royal Air Force assignment in India.[3]
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reported seeing large footprints while scaling Mount Everest. Hillary would later discount Yeti reports as unreliable. In his first autobiography Tenzing said that he believed the Yeti was a large ape, and although he had never seen it himself his father had seen one twice, but in his second autobiography he said he had become much more skeptical about its existence.[33]
During the Daily Mail Snowman Expedition of 1954,[34] the mountaineering leader John Angelo Jackson made the first trek from Everest to Kanchenjunga in the course of which he photographed symbolic paintings of the Yeti at Tengboche gompa.[35] Jackson tracked and photographed many footprints in the snow, most of which were identifiable. However, there were many large footprints which could not be identified. These flattened footprint-like indentations were attributed to erosion and subsequent widening of the original footprint by wind and particles.
On 19 March 1954, the Daily Mail printed an article which described expedition teams obtaining hair specimens from what was alleged to be a Yeti scalp found in Pangboche monastery. The hairs were black to dark brown in colour in dim light, and fox red in sunlight. The hair was analysed by Professor Frederic Wood Jones,[36][37] an expert in human and comparative anatomy. During the study, the hairs were bleached, cut into sections and analysed microscopically. The research consisted of taking microphotographs of the hairs and comparing them with hairs from known animals such as bears and orangutans. Jones concluded that the hairs were not actually from a scalp. He contended that while some animals do have a ridge of hair extending from the pate to the back, no animals have a ridge (as in the Pangboche "scalp") running from the base of the forehead across the pate and ending at the nape of the neck. Jones was unable to pinpoint exactly the animal from which the Pangboche hairs were taken. He was, however, convinced that the hairs were not of a bear or anthropoid ape. He suggested that the hairs were from the shoulder of a coarse-haired hoofed animal.[38]
Sławomir Rawicz claimed in his book The Long Walk, published in 1956, that as he and some others were crossing the Himalayas in the winter of 1940, their path was blocked for hours by two bipedal animals that were doing seemingly nothing but shuffling around in the snow. Rawicz's entire account has since come to be regarded as fictional.
Beginning in 1957, wealthy American oilman Tom Slick funded a few missions to investigate Yeti reports. In 1959, supposed Yeti feces were collected by one of Slick's expeditions; fecal analysis found a parasite which could not be classified. Cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans wrote, "Since each animal has its own parasites, this indicated that the host animal is equally an unknown animal."[39] The United States government thought that finding the Yeti was likely enough to create three rules for American expeditions searching for it: Obtain a Nepalese permit, do not harm the Yeti except in self defense, and let the Nepalese government approve any news reporting on the animal's discovery.[40]
In 1959, actor James Stewart, while visiting India, reportedly smuggled remains of a supposed Yeti, the so-called Pangboche Hand, by concealing it in his luggage when he flew from India to London.[41]
In 1960, Hillary mounted an expedition to collect and analyze physical evidence of the Yeti. He sent a supposed Yeti "scalp" from the Khumjung monastery to the West for testing, whose results indicated the scalp was manufactured from the skin of a serow, a goat-like Himalayan antelope. Anthropologist Myra Shackley disagreed with this conclusion on the grounds that the "hairs from the scalp look distinctly monkey-like and that it contains parasitic mites of a species different from that recovered from the serow."[Still Living]
Up to the 1960s, belief in the yeti was relatively common in Bhutan and in 1966 a Bhutanese stamp was made to honor the creature [several, actually].[42] However, in the twenty-first century belief in the being has declined.[43]
In 1970, British mountaineer Don Whillans claimed to have witnessed a creature when scaling Annapurna.[44] According to Whillans, while scouting for a campsite, he heard some odd cries which his Sherpa guide attributed to a Yeti's call. That night, he saw a dark shape moving near his camp. The next day, he observed a few human-like footprints in the snow, and that evening, viewed with binoculars a bipedal, ape-like creature for 20 minutes as it apparently searched for food not far from his camp.[ibid]
There is a famous Yeti hoax, known as the Snow Walker Film. The footage was created for Paramount's UPN show, Paranormal Borderland, ostensibly by the show's producers. The show ran from 12 March to 6 August 1996. Fox purchased and used the footage in their later program on The World's Greatest Hoaxes.[45]

21st century

In 2004, Henry Gee, editor of the journal Nature, mentioned the Yeti as an example of a legend deserving further study, writing, "The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as Yetis are founded on grains of truth ... Now, cryptozoology, the study of such fabulous creatures, can come in from the cold."[46]
The Yeti is said to have been spotted in the remote Mae Charim area of the Luang Prabang Range range, between the Thai highlands and Sainyabuli Province, Laos.[47]
In early December 2007, American television presenter Joshua Gates and his team (Destination Truth) reported finding a series of footprints in the Everest region of Nepal resembling descriptions of Yeti.[48] Each of the footprints measured 33 cm (13 in) in length with five toes that measured a total of 25 cm (9.8 in) across. Casts were made of the prints for further research. The footprints were examined by Jeffrey Meldrum of Idaho State University, who believed them to be too morphologically accurate to be fake or man made, before changing his mind after making further investigations.[49]
On 25 July 2008, the BBC reported that hairs collected in the remote Garo Hills area of North-East India by Dipu Marak had been analyzed at Oxford Brookes University in the UK by primatologist Anna Nekaris and microscopy expert Jon Wells. These initial tests were inconclusive, and ape conservation expert Ian Redmond told the BBC that there was similarity between the cuticle pattern of these hairs and specimens collected by Edmund Hilary during Himalayan expeditions in the 1950s and donated to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and announced planned DNA analysis.[50] This analysis has since revealed that the hair came from the Himalayan Goral.[51]
On 20 October 2008 a team of seven Japanese adventurers photographed footprints which could allegedly have been made by a Yeti. The team's leader, Yoshiteru Takahashi claims to have observed a Yeti on a 2003 expedition and is determined to capture the creature on film.[52]
A group of Chinese scientists and explorers in 2010 proposed to renew searches in Shennongjia province, which was the site of expeditions in the 1970s and 1980s.[53]
At a 2011 conference in Russia, participating scientists and enthusiasts declared having "95% evidence" of the Yeti's existence.[54] However, this claim was disputed later; American anthropologist and anatomist Jeffrey Meldrum, who was present during the Russian expedition, claimed the "evidence" found was simply an attempt by local officials to drum up publicity.[55]
A yeti was reportedly captured in Russia, in December 2011.[56] A hunter reported having seen a bear like creature, trying to kill one of his sheep, but after he fired his gun, the creature ran into a forest on 2 legs. Now some border patrol soldiers captured a hairy 2 legged female creature, that eats meat and vegetation. The creature is more similar to a gorilla, than a bear, but its arms are shorter than the legs (opposite to a gorilla). It's about 2 meters (6 feet) tall. This report was later revealed as a hoax, or a publicity stunt for charity.[57]

Possible explanations

Misidentification of Himalayan wildlife has been proposed as an explanation for some Yeti sightings, including the Chu-Teh, a Langur monkey[58] living at lower altitudes, the Tibetan blue bear, the Himalayan brown bear or Dzu-Teh, also known as the Himalayan red bear[Same species, wrong geographic race-DD].[58] Some have also suggested the Yeti could actually be a human hermit.
One well publicized expedition to Bhutan reported that a hair sample had been obtained that, after DNA analysis by Professor Bryan Sykes, could not be matched to any known animal.[59] Analysis completed after the media release, however, clearly showed that the samples were from the Brown bear (Ursus arctos) and the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus).[60]
In 1986, South Tyrolean mountaineer Reinhold Messner claimed to have a face-to-face encounter with a Yeti. He has since written a book, My Quest for the Yeti, and claims to have actually killed one. According to Messner, the Yeti is actually the endangered Himalayan brown bear, Ursus arctos isabellinus, that can walk upright or on all fours.[61]
In 2003, Japanese researcher and mountaineer Dr. Makoto Nebuka published the results of his twelve year linguistic study postulating that the word "Yeti" is actually a corruption of the word "meti", a regional dialect term for "bear". Nebuka claims that the ethnic Tibetans fear and worship the bear as a supernatural being.[62] Nebuka's claims were subject to almost immediate criticism, and he was accused of linguistic carelessness. Dr. Raj Kumar Pandey, who has researched both Yetis and mountain languages, said "it is not enough to blame tales of the mysterious beast of the Himalayas on words that rhyme but mean different things."[63]
Some speculate that these reported creatures could be present-day specimens of the extinct giant ape Gigantopithecus.[64][65][66][67] However, while the Yeti is generally described as bipedal, most scientists believe Gigantopithecus to have been quadrupedal, and so massive that, unless it evolved specifically as a bipedal ape (like Oreopithecus and the hominids), walking upright would have been even more difficult for the now extinct primate than it is for its extant quadrupedal relative, the orangutan.

[There has been a recent contradiction to this line of thinking with the upright-walking zoo gorilla, which makes nonsense of all such criticisms. See the popular blog link posted on the sidebar. Bernard Heuvelmans has stated in his checklist that what he calls "le Petit Yeti" is only a different type of orangutan, and he has listed other types of relic orangutans living in the nearby jungle areas as Bir Sidic or Olo-banda (Big Monkey): in fact it can be considered that the Olo-Banda is the low-altitude version of the Mahalangur (Yeti of the Mount Everest region) since both names are identical ("Big Monkey"). Paul Mead writes me that there is firm DNA evidence that recent expeditions have confirmed there is DNA evidence for a uncatalogued large primate in the area and it is probably an orangutan (and not a new species)
For the footnotes and sources to the Wikipedia entry, see the end of this blog posting-DD]

Out of the series the Shipton track is abnormal. Out of the series the Shipton tracks are not only well larger than the typical "Yeti" tracks of the series (by at least a couple of inches longer and wider) the shape of the track as shown in the photograph is abnormal. Most notably, the "Big toe" that is shown should not be there at all. The "Normal" tracks have a much smaller big toe set lower down on the foot, like the ones Cronin saw, photographed and drew the outline of.

Some depictions of Yetis and similar creatures below. The first one is a Japanese oji carving (Comparable to the netsuke on the other end of the cord) of a Xing-Xing, and similar to other depictions from Mainland China and even Taiwan and Hainan island (Vietnam). It is slightly caricatured but still a recognisable [Mainland] Orangutan. The representation to the right is carved into a rock face in India and I suspect it is meant to be a Yeti mostly because it has a distinctly pointed head. Below it are a book illustration and a figure taken off a Tibetan map, of walking Yetis: and they are basically comparable except one is evidently an adult while the other is evidently a juvenile. The juvenile does seem to correspond to the rock-face carving in India in most major features. Note that the feet are always being shown as "Mitten-shaped" rather than resembling the footprint found, photographed and cast by Eric Shipton in 1951.

A sampling of some Yeti tracks-in an earlier blog I went through every representation of every Yeti track known and found that whereas the majority are similar to each other and all basically the same as Cronin's tracks drawn and photographed above, the track supposedly found and photographed by Eric Shipton on Mount Everest stood out as being too different from all of the rest. This was somewhat confirmed by the discovery of a similar Chinese Yeti track shown at left. I am told "Rock Ape" tracks found in Vietnam during the war  were similar. The Chinese track is of a right foot, Cronin Yeti track is of the left foot.

Gorge Eberhart's Mysterious Creatures (2002) has a listing on the giant Orangutan like creature the Beraung Rambai (for which he gives a false derivation) The listing is reproduced below. Above is my rescaling of the Wikipedia Orangutan scale (cited by Darren Naish below) to show how much larger Beraung Rambai and similar giant orangutans are csupposed to be, and my scaling is meant to be comparable to the hairless Ape lineup posted just above it.


Beruang Rambai

Unknown Primate of Southeast Asia.

Etymology: Land Dayak (Austronesian), “long-haired bear,” the common name for the sun bear. [Incorrect. Wallace gives this as one of the common names for a type of orangutans-DD]
Variant name: Bali djakai (Lawangan/Austronesian, “demon”).

Physical description:
 Robust body. Shoulder height, 4 feet. Height standing erect, 6 feet. Covered in black hair. Bullet-shaped head. Bull neck. Hair on arms and thighs is 3 inches long. Thick legs.

 Walks on all fours. Stands on its hind legs occasionally. Beats its chest. Tracks: Both humanlike and bearlike. Distribution: Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, as well as in neighboring Sarawak State, Malaysia, both on the island of Borneo.

Significant sightings:
 In the 1930s, Leonard Clark ran across a Bali djakai at a water hole in the Borneo mountains. It picked up a helmet left behind, detected the scent of Clark and his guide, beat its chest, and disappeared into the bush.
Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, earl of Cranbrook, collected descriptions of the Beruang rambai in the 1960s and concluded it was neither bear nor orangutan.

Possible explanations:
(1) The Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is a logical candidate, based on the name alone, though its hair is short.
(2) Misidentified Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus).

Sources: Leonard Clark, A Wanderer till I Die (New York: Funk and Wagnal l s, 1937), pp. 174, 188–195; Odette Tchernine, The Yeti (London: Neville Spearman, 1970), pp. 77–78; Jeffrey A. McNeely and Paul Spencer Wachtel , Soul of the Tiger (New York: Doubleday, 1988), p. 259.

Category: mammalogy
Posted on: December 14, 2009 8:07 AM, by Darren Naish

Over the past couple of months I've been reading John MacKinnon's In Search of the Red Ape (Collins, 1974) - one of the first books anyone reads whenever they want to learn about orangutans. The book is stuffed full of anecdotes and other natural history tales about Borneo and Sumatra, and it seems that MacKinnon (who, these days, is best known for his association with the discovery of the Saola Pseudoryx nghetinensis in Vietnam (MacKinnon 2000, Van Dung et al. 1993, 1994)) encountered just about every creature you could hope to encounter in the tropical jungles of the region... yes, even the enigmatic orang-pendek (or its tracks, at least).
Anyway, one particular section of the book really stands out for me: the bit where MacKinnon catches sight of a gigantic, terrestrially walking male orangutan...

I was nearly home when I saw a terrifying spectacle. For a moment I thought it was a trick of my vision. A huge, black orang-utan was walking along the path towards me. I had never seen such a large animal even in a zoo. He must have weighed every bit of three hundred pounds. Hoping that he had not noticed me, I dived behind a large tree. I was in no state to defend myself, or run from him should he come for me, and I could recall clearly the natives' terrible stories about old, ground-living orangs. I held my breath as the monster passed within a few feet of me and let him get about forty yards ahead before I followed in pursuit. He was enormous, as black as a gorilla but with his back almost bare of hair; Ivan the Terrible was the only name I could think of. (MacKinnon 1974, p. 54)
'Ivan' was an efficient, speedy walker and preferred not to climb. MacKinnon doesn't state whether 'Ivan' was walking quadrupedally or bipedally, but remember that orangutans are highly capable bipeds, and indeed work on their energetics shows that they are more efficient (in terms of wattage/kilo) at it than we are (for more on this see Bipedal orangs, gait of a dinosaur, and new-look Ichthyostega: exciting times in functional anatomy part I). It seems that giant male orangs that become too heavy for an easy life in the trees descend to the ground, and often walk upright and bipedally (though they presumably use their hands for regular support).

What makes MacKinnon's report particularly interesting is that it isn't the only report of an unusually large, ground-walking orang on record (Kaplan & Rogers 2000). Among other contemporary primatologists, Biruté Galdikas is also on record as having seen an exceptionally large orangutan walking on the ground. In fact, there's a whole chapter devoted to such animals in Chad Arment's 2004 book Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation, and I've unashamedly plundered from it here. Arment (2004) discusses the fact that 19th century scientists had a rather confused view of orangutan systematics: they knew that people on Borneo and elsewhere used different names for different 'kinds' of orangs, and they wondered whether these different 'kinds' corresponded to species [flanged male Bornean orang shown here, photographed at Louisville Zoo. From wikipedia].
Huxley, for example, referred in 1877 to the Mias Pappan or Zimo, Mias Kassu and Mias Rambi, noting 'Whether there are distinct species, however, or whether they are mere races, and how far any of them are identical with the Sumatran Orang ... are problems which are at present undecided; and the variability of these great apes is so extensive, that the settlement of the question is a matter of great difficulty'. Damn, Hux was smart. The binomial Pongo wurmbii Tiedermann, 1808 was sometimes used for the Mias Pappan, and this name still survives as one of the subspecies of the Borean orangutan Pongo pygmaeus. However, it's not clear that all 'Mias Pappan' individuals belonged to P. p. wurmbii. Incidentally, it's been suggested both that P. p. wurmbii might be as distinct from other Bornean orangs as P. abelii (Sumatran orang) is, and that it might be even more closely related to P. abelii than it is to the rest of P. pygmaeus (Groves et al. 1992). If true, orangutan taxonomy would perhaps need revision, as wurmbii (named 1808) predates abelii (named 1827). Genetic work does not support this proposal, however, with Borean orang populations exhibiting relatively little genetic variation (Lu et al. 1996) [image below, taken by Andi Ramadhan, shows a Sumatran orang (and a man) at Bukit Lawang orang sanctuary. Note the stiff-legged bipedal pose].

In an 1846 account of his visit to Borneo, Captian Henry Keppel referred to the relatively enormous Mias Pappan, noting that it was not only very large compared to other orangs, but also difficult to procure. What makes Keppel's account particularly interesting is that he obtained a hand from one of these allegedly gigantic creatures. 'This hand far exceeds in length, breadth, and power, the hand of any man in the ship; and though smoked and shrunk, the circumference of the fingers is half as big again as an ordinary human finger' (Keppel 1846, Arment 2004). Without measurements available, I find it difficult to determine how exceptional this specimen really was, as I imagine that the hand of a large, mature adult orang is larger and longer than that of a large man anyway.
Keppel also referred in passing to a giant orang killed on Sumatra. Arment (2004) tracked this account down: it was first published in Clarke Abel's Asiatic Researches and was also written about by Broderip (1849). A party of men landed on Ramboon on the north-west Sumatran coast, and here encountered a large male orangutan. The animal was pursued both on the ground, and while it climbed about in the branches, and it took a long time and a pretty horrendous amount of shooting, spearing and stoning for the creature to be killed. Like others who have killed non-human apes...
'Those who aided in this slaughter acknowledged that they were distressed by the human-like expression of his countenance, the piteous manner in which he applied his hands to his wounds, and the whole bearing of the dying combatant. They confessed that the sight was such as almost to make them question the nature of the act they were committing' (Abel, in Arment 2004, p. 206).

Anyway, the big deal about this poor animal is that, when measured, it was found to be absolutely enormous: 'seven feet in what might be called his ordinary standing posture, and eight feet when suspended for the purpose of being skinned'. Abel measured the skin and concluded that the animal's standing height was 6 ft 6½ in (1.9 m). The hand - measured from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger - was 30 cm long, and the foot 35 cm long. Standing heights for orangs are typically given as 1.36 m for males (Groves 1971), so an animal of this size would be truly exceptional. The world record standing height for a gorilla is given as 1.95 m for an Eastern lowland gorilla Gorilla beringei graueri collected in 1938, though there's an unconfirmed record of another individual, shot in 1932, that was 2.06 m tall (Carwardine 1995). To get at least a rough idea of what a very tall orang might look like, I knocked up the adjacent image. The human in the image is 1.7 m tall.
The good news is that this giant Sumatran orang was deposited in the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, the zoological collection of which was later absorbed into that of the Indian Society at Kolkata. Arment (2004) speculated that the specimen might have been sent from here to Britain. The giant hand that Keppel wrote about is also supposed to have gone into a museum, as was a very large skull that Keppel also wrote about. However, we don't know where these specimens are now, and Arment urged 'British and French investigators with contacts at the British Museum [now The Natural History Museum], the Royal Asiatic Society, the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, and any other pertinent collections, to determine if these specimens were ever accessioned' (Arment 2004, p. 208). I haven't done this, despite the fact that I know primatologists who have worked on accessioned ape material in the collections of the NHM and elsewhere. Colin Groves might be a good person to ask, but I don't know him.

Carwardine (1995) referred to a Bornean orang said to be 1.8 m in standing height, which again would be exceptional and well within 'record' range. I haven't found any further references to this individual (Carwardine doesn't provide any details), but I haven't really looked that hard. Wikipedia's orangutan page says that males can reach 1.75 m [wikipedia's diagram of a large male orang compared to a 1.8 m tall human shown here].
While the animals mentioned here are best interpreted as exceptional, world-record examples of their species, you may know that, once upon a time, orangutans approaching or even exceeding 2 m in height were apparently not so extraordinary. Fossils of extinct orangutans from Sumatra and from the Asian mainland represent animals this size, and it seems (from the remains we have) that sizes of this sort were typical and certainly not unusual. Were these large extinct forms (the taxonomic status of which is currently ambiguous[emphasis added by DD]) predominantly terrestrial? MacKinnon (1974) thought so, and suggested that they 'probably ranged on the ground, like modern gorillas, in large bands, protected by enormous males' (p. 212).

Based on what we know of fossils and of the prehistoric distribution of orangutans (they were previously present in subtropical woodland and montane forests, and were not necessarily tropical apes), MacKinnon further speculated that the relatively small size and arboreal habits of modern orangs are recent specialisations. Whether this is true or not (so far as I know, no-one has looked at the hypothesis in detail), note that it has nothing to do with the restriction of orangs to Borneo and/or Sumatra: it now seems that Bornean and Sumatran orangs diverged about 1.1 million years ago (though there are also estimates positing their divergence at 3.4 million years ago: see Warren et al. 2001), meaning that the two species were distinct even before Sumatra and Borneo became isolated from the Malaysian mainland (this happened in the Middle Pleistocene, about 300,000 years ago) [adjacent map, from Warren et al. (2001), shows inferred migratory routes of orangs into Borneo and Sumatra prior to their separation from each other, and from the mainland].
Can we really verify the presence of modern orangutans nearly 2 m tall? And could such animals still be around today?
For previous Tet Zoo articles on apes and other primates see...
Refs - -
Arment, C. 2004. Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation. Coachwhip Publications, Landisville, Pennsylvania.
Broderip, W. J. 1849. Zoological Recreations. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.
Carwardine, M. 1995. The Guinness Book of Animal Records. Guinness Publishing, Enfield, Middlesex.
Groves, C. P. 1971. Pongo pygmaeus. Mammalian Species 4, 1-6.
- ., Westwood, C. & Shea, B. T. 1992. Unfinished business: mahalanobis and a clockwork orang. Journal of Human Evolution 22, 327-340.
Kaplan, G. & Rogers, L. J. 2000. The Orangutans. Perseus Publications, Cambridge (Mass.).
Keppel, H. 1846. The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy. Harper & Bros, New York.
Lu, Z., Karesh, W. B., Janczewski, D. N., Frazier-Taylor, H., Sajuthi, D., Gombek, F., Andau, M., Martenson, J. S. & O'Brien, S. J. 1996. Genomic differentiation among natural populations of orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus). Current Biology 6, 1326-1336.
MacKinnon, J. 1974. In Search of the Red Ape. Collins, London.
- . 2000. New mammals in the 21st century? Annals of Missouri Botanical Garden 87, 63-66.
Warren, K. S., Verschoor, E. J., Langenhuijzen, S., Heriyanto, Swan, R. A., Vigilant, L. & Heeney, J. L. 2001. Speciation and intrasubspecific variation of Bornean orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus. Molecular Biology and Evolution 18, 472-480.
Van Dung, V., Giao, P. M., Chinh, N. N., Tuoc, D., Arctander, P. & MacKinnon, J. 1993. A new species of living bovid from Vietnam. Nature 363, 443-445.
- ., Giao, P. M., Chinh, N. N., Tuoc, D. & MacKinnon, J. 1994. Discovery and conservation of the Vu Quang ox in Vietnam. Oryx 28, 16-21.

I remember that black orangutan passage from MacKinnon's book; it was pretty remarkable to read.
What makes MacKinnon's report particularly interesting is that it isn't the only report of an unusually large, ground-walking, bipedal orang on record
Are all such reports from Borneo, or are there any from Sumatra too? There are still - barely - tigers on the latter island, but not on the former (although there were tigers on Borneo too in the Pleistocene). Leopards in Africa are known to have killed adult male gorillas, so surely a Sumatran tiger is more than capable of dispatching a lone, terrestrial male orangutan, no matter how large?
Posted by: Dartian | December 14, 2009 9:39 AM

3Wikipedia's graphic of orangutan size is very odd; the arms seem too short, resulting in a posture that is about 20-30 degrees off from this. Also, why the hell is it walking on its palms?
Where did MacKinnon see the giant black orangutan? Eastern Borneo has a population with black hair, but of course there is the chance that there are/were more populations with that trait. Orangutans seem to get darker hair as they age, but never outright black.
I refrained from mentioning this in the last post regarding orangutan bipedalism, but what the hell, Gigantopithecus. The possibility that it locomoted in a way similar to large orangutans is tantalizing (especially to one crowd), but I have the feeling that at 500+ kg it would be more efficient to primarily use quadrupedal locomotion.

4Thanks much for comments. David: most sources continue to write Biruté with an acute accent, but I'm sure you're right. Dartian: it seems that big, ground-walking orangs have been seen both on Borneo and Sumatra. MacKinnon's sighting was made in Sabah. One might 'expect' Sumatran orangs to be more likely to develop into terrestrial giants, given that they are more prone to bipedalism that Bornean orangs, and appear better suited for it (they adopt a fully plantigrade posture, whereas Bornean orangs can't and apparently always bear some of their weight on the outside edge of the foot).[Plantigrade on the hind feet that is: the front feet/hands are usually balled into fists on the ground in orangutans-DD]
Cameron: very dark orangutans, described as black, are on record and were reported from the Sibolga region on the western coast of Sumatra. And I agree that the wikipedia graphic is way off. As for Gigantopithecus... dammit we need more info!

5I had no idea orangs could get that black, large, terrestrial or bipedal!
On a sidenote, I recall Alfred Russell Wallace describing the size of many orangs he shot (though I can't remember any giants among them) and find it interesting that he mentions how another hunter on Sumatra 'had shot an orang he had poorly measured, resulting in arms being reported as much shorter compared to body length than ever possible for an orang'. While it is possible his measuring was poor, I've always wondered wether that particular hunter might not have shot an orang-pendek.

6I'm just intrigued by the prehistoric orangutans. Giants, you say? And I'm wondering what factors led to them becoming extinct in mainland Asia.

7What did McKinnon have to say about the Orang pendek?
Posted by: Bill | December 14, 2009 12:22 PM

8Could orangutans have become smaller and more arboreal as a result of hunting or persecution by humans?
An orang the size of a large gorilla sounds very scary indeed, as well as obviously very interesting from a cryptozoological perspective. IIRC, there were cryptid (bipedal?) apes reported in Vietnam by US military personnel in the 1960s and 70s, known as "rock apes", and there's a native Vietnamese name for a cryptid ape as well. I'm not sure how big those apes were, but i think they were found in forested areas, but seemingly more terrestrial than arboreal (as "rock ape" suggests).
There's also this theory that either an introduced population of orangutans or an unknown orang-like pongid in Brazil might be responsible for the cryptid Mapinguari (more often theorised as a relict ground sloth). I think a pongid could survive in Brazil, but the massive hole is obviously how they got there.  [Shiva is apparantly quoting DD here. Not making a fuss about it, I'm just saying-DD]
Re orang pendek, Darren, i'd be very interested in your opinion on a) whether it exists and b) whether it's a hominid or a pongid. From stuff i've read, older (early 20th century) reports of orang pendek describe a much more humanlike (c. 1.5m tall with black hair and in some reports very long head hair like a modern human, generally sounding a lot like Homo erectus or H. floresiensis) animal than more recent reports, which describe a more pongid-like (c. 1m tall, red or brown fur of similar length all over its body) creature, with a face described as more similar to Pan or Gorilla than either Homo or Pongo.

9I recall reading a history of Orangutans in zoos which mentions that some of the earliest seen by westerners were captives in Java, although whether these were Sumatrans (probably) or possibly the last native Javan orangutans is not known. I believe there are remains from Vietnam that are post-glacial, so I suspect they survived long enough to become incorporated into local folklore.

10Can we really be sure it wasn't just a gorilla that got lost somewhere?
OK, we probably can. Maybe it was just a genetic freak like Oliver the Humanzee, or that brain damaged babboon that walked upright.
Posted by: Anome | December 14, 2009 2:34 PM

11Relatively off-topic question: What are those big fleshy pads around the eyes of the orang at the top of the post? And what's the big fleshy pad below its chin? Is that a variable feature among individuals or sexes? What's it for?

13Very interesting. I always imagined orang pendek to be derived from an orangutan population that became isolated and discovered a terrestrial lifestyle; now it seems possible that it simply reverted to (or retained) an ancestral behaviour. Incidentally, heights close to 1.5 m are as common in witness reports as the 1 m height; I suppose this is just the sexual dimorphism seen in orangutans.
As for rock apes seen in Vietnam by US soldiers: isn't it time someone fighting in Afghanistan saw (or even shot) a barmanu somewhere in the mountains?
Posted by: Chris Clark | December 14, 2009 6:48 PM

14Fascinating post/article, Mr, Naish. I've been looking for a high-quality biology blog that is open to cryptozoological topics without being overly credulous or supernatural-minded, and I believe I've found just what I was seeking here. Looking forward to reading your future entries as well as catching up on the topics posted in the past.
[quote]Relatively off-topic question: What are those big fleshy pads around the eyes of the orang at the top of the post? And what's the big fleshy pad below its chin? Is that a variable feature among individuals or sexes? What's it for?[/quote]
Facial pads are a male orangutan trait that develop when they reach maturity, along with sort of 'pouches' of bumpy skin on their upper chest that you noticed. Seems to be basic sexual dimorphism at work, although there may well be a purpose for them of which I'm unaware.
Posted by: Unamused | December 14, 2009 9:54 PM

15Further random-ish orangutan comments.
Darren (or rather John MacKinnon):
Ivan the Terrible was the only name I could think of. (MacKinnon 1974, p. 54)
I don't have my copy of MacKinnon's book at hand at the moment; what year did he have the encounter with this bipedal orangutan? If it was later than 1968, I think he should have named it 'Dr. Zaius'.
Keppel, H. 1846. The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy.
Exactly what it says on the tin, eh? Out of curiosity, did they manage to suppress the pirates?[Yes]
very dark orangutans, described as black, are on record
Are there any such individuals in zoos anywhere? The wild(?) one in the photo that Blackbird linked to is indeed much darker than orangutans usually are, but it isn't quite gorilla black, IMO. Wanna see black orang pix!
with black hair and in some reports very long head hair like a modern human, generally sounding a lot like Homo erectus or H. floresiensis
AFAIK, we have no evidence whatsoever that either Homo erectus or H. floresiensis had 'black', 'long head hair like a modern human'. Let's keep that in mind before we start matching cryptids with specific fossil taxa...
a more pongid-like [...] creature, with a face described as more similar to Pan or Gorilla than either Homo or Pongo.
It's a bit misleading to refer to chimpanzees or gorillas as 'pongids', as their inclusion in the traditional 'great ape' family Pongidae would make this taxon paraphyletic. Strictly speaking, among (known) extant taxa, only the orangutan can properly be called a 'pongid'. (As for chimpanzees and gorillas, it would be much more correct to call them 'hominids'.)
Posted by: Dartian | December 15, 2009 3:42 AM

16Forgot to comment on this:
One might 'expect' Sumatran orangs to be more likely to develop into terrestrial giants, given that they are more prone to bipedalism that Bornean orangs, and appear better suited for it (they adopt a fully plantigrade posture, whereas Bornean orangs can't and apparently always bear some of their weight on the outside edge of the foot).
That's very interesting. I didn't know that there were interspecific differences of that kind. Do you have a reference?
Oh, and a little (more) nit-picking:

Warren, K. S., Verschoor, E. J., Langenhuijzen, S., Heriyanto, Swan, R. A., Vigilant, L. & Heeney, J. L. 1993. Speciation and intrasubspecific variation of Bornean orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus. Molecular Biology and Evolution 18, 472-480.

The year of publication is wrong: that paper is from 2001.
Posted by: Dartian | December 15, 2009 5:57 AM

17You guys probably already know this. But the word Orang-utan translates directly from indonesian. "Orang" means person, and "hutan" means forest. So literally, "forest man".
Posted by: Tim Morris | December 15, 2009 5:59 AM

the word Orang-utan translates directly from indonesian
Isn't it originally a Malay word? Bahasa Indonesia is derived from Malay, right?
Posted by: Dartian | December 15, 2009 6:11 AM

19So many comments, so little time. Some responses...
-- The structures on the face and throat (comment 11) are, respectively, facial flanges (aka cheek pads) and throat pouch. Facial flanges are present in both Bornean and Sumatran orangs but differ in shape according to population. Their development is stunted if, apparently, the male grows up in the presence of a dominant individual. They are secondary sexual characteristics, appearing between 8 and 10 yrs of age and being fully developed by age 15-20. The throat pouch contains the laryngeal sac and is used in making tremendously loud vocalisations.
-- MacKinnon's sighting (comment 15) of 'Ivan' was made in 1968, but yes I do understand your PotA reference :) On the term pongid, it is absolutely wrong to use it for chimps and gorillas, but it's still ok to use it for the orangutan lineage (though some prefer 'pongines' as they still include them within Hominidae).
-- Differences between Bornean and Sumatran orangs (comment 16): different foot postures and walking styles were documented by MacKinnon (1975) and Mallinson (1978). The two are fairly different, probably more so than are chimpanzee and bonobo. Thanks for correction on Warren et al. citation. I got it right in the text, just not in the references.
-- Oh, and on orang-pendek (comment 8), I am fairly confident that it is real. More details some other time.
Refs - -
MacKinnon, J. R. 1975. Distinguishing characteristics of the insular forms of orangutan. International Zoo Yearbook 15, 195-197.
Mallinson, J. C. 1978. "Cocktail" orangutans and the need to preserve purebred stock. Dodo 15, 69-77.

20I think you're making a serious mistake in assuming that MacKinnon's giant orang was bipedal. He didn't mention that in his passage because he probably thought people reading would assume that it moved quadrupedally like a normal-sized orang.
Surely the sight like an enormous, 300 lb. bipedal ape walking in the forest would have merited explicit note of its bipedal nature.
Posted by: Bob Alderson | December 15, 2009 9:39 AM

21Bob - please see the paragraph that follows on from the MacKinnon quote near the start of the article. I had initially mis-remembered MacKinnon saying that 'Ivan' was bipedal, and later changed the text on realising that this was a mistake. However, some orangs do walk bipedally.

22Apologies for my lazy usage of "pongid" to mean "non-hominin ape"; i knew it was inaccurate, but couldn't think of a better term, and fell into the common-but-inaccurate usage on cryptozoology fora to distinguish between bipedal (eg. Sasquatch, Almasty) and knuckle-walking (eg. Skunk Ape) "hominid" cryptids. Is there a better term for "non-hominin ape", or is "non-hominin ape" the best available (not that it's that bad, considering the category is paraphyletic)?
(In my defence, i am not a scientist, merely a humanities graduate with a lay interest in (crypto)zoology...)
I'm also aware that we know nothing of the hair of H. erectus or H. floresiensis, but meant, although badly phrased, that the description of older orang pendek reports (eg. those found in Heuvelmans' "On The Track") were, in general, much more Homo-like (including facial structure, limb proportions, etc), and also in some reports had hair distribution closer to modern humans than other living apes (or intermediate between that of modern humans and other living apes), whereas more recent reports describe something significantly more like other living apes. Hadn't thought of sexual dimorphism as explaining the size discrepancies, but it does sound plausible.

What did M[a]cKinnon have to say about the Orang pendek?
He found some strange footprints in the rainforest in Borneo. Read here (the locals there, by the way, called the creature 'batutut', not 'orang pendek').
Is there a better term for "non-hominin ape"
Not really, which is a bit unfortunate.
In my defence, i am not a scientist, merely a humanities graduate with a lay interest in (crypto)zoology
Given its titular subject matter, Darren's blog attracts a remarkably interdisciplinary readership. Which is only a good thing.
Posted by: Dartian | December 16, 2009 3:53 AM

24In my days as a zook keep i worked extensivly with orangs. The male Sumatran orangs habitualy walk on their hind legs when on the ground (leading some members of the public to think that they were yetis). The females are quadropeds. Toby, our big male, was at least as tall as me (5 foot 7). However i notoiced that they do use their arms for balance.
Those who might be tempted to explain away orang-pendek as a ground living Sumatran orang should note that orang-pendek never desplays the cheek flanges of the orang-utan and is generaly black or 'honey' coloured. I have examined orang-pendek prints and they are un-like those of orang-utans or indeed any other ape (i saw gorilla, orang, and chimp prints every day of my life at one time). Orang-pendek tracks desplay a long, human like heel with a wider more ape like front part to the foot. The big toe is well seperated but notably less prehensile than other apes. Dave Archer one of the witnesses on the 2009 Sumatran expedition i was part of, described the hair and shape of the orang-pendek's head as being more like a mountain gorilla than an orang-utan.

27Great post.... I came across it quite randomly and really enjoyed reading it! I'd like to invite you to visit the Orangutan Outreach website to learn more about the crisis facing orangutans.
Orangutans are critically endangered in the wild because of rapid deforestation and the expansion of palm oil plantations. If nothing is done to better protect them, they will be extinct in just a few years.
Orangutan Outreach
Reach out and save the orangutans!
Facebook Cause:

I originally heard of orang-pendek from my love-affair with I love that the author's overall approach to crypto zoology which is much like your own. He admits to a child-like fascination with possibly fantasic creatures but tempers that with an uncompromising realism.
Being skeptical is not about saying that creature X does not exist because... blah blah. No, it's about looking at the weight of evidence and saying that it is unlikely barring new evidence.
As in this case, so often humans are willing to interperet the incredible (which the natural world offers up all the time) as something either super-natural or "hidden." In some ways it is sad. If more people spent any time in the company of a full-grown male orangutan in all of his glory, I rather think the species would be better respected.
If you've not heard his podcast about big-foot reasearch I think you'd enjoy it Darren. :)
- your loyal reader,
rambling... damn egg nog! I'd not have the courage to post here so much without it though. Before I fade back into lurker status I just want to thank you again for this amazing and educational blog!
Posted by: arachnophile | December 23, 2009 10:17 PM

29A piece of very interesting writing, though I've missed that and only manage to comment a bit so late. In the first chapter devoted to Borneo (Borneo: The Orangutan) in "The Malay Archipelago", Alfred Russel Wallace had already discussed the same problem in depth (see only the last 4 paragraphs). He also touched upon Abel's seven-footer and subsequent re-measurings of the same animal by other naturalists with an unsurprising ending to the whole event. Arment's speculation (2004) that the remains of the giant Sumatran orangutan are in Britain remains unresolved. Having checked all the orangutan skulls kept in the London Natural History Museum, I failed to find any 'giant' skull that is from Sumatra (the one and only skull from Sumatra is of a regular sized female donated by Lord Zuckerman in 1928).
Posted by: Lim Tze Tshen | June 25, 2010 9:52 AM

Posted by: melissa | May 20, 2011 10:13 AM

31"Bahasa Indonesia is derived from Malay, right?" Dartian, both Malaysian and Indonesian use Bahasa Riau (eastern Sumatra) as their standard, with local historical-cultural influences of their own. Politically, they refer to their own version as authentic.
Posted by: DDeden | May 20, 2011 1:15 PM

--Actually, as Ivan Sanderson takes pains to specify, the name "Orang Utan" is "Kitchen-Malay," a sort of creole trade language and the more proper common-usage term is Mias. The "Utan" is evidently also pronounced "Hutan." And the black-haired giant orangutan of Borneo is what is referred to as "Beraung Rambai" in In Pursuit of the Abominable Snowman. Eberhart incorrectly identifies the names as meaning a bear-actually Russell Wallace also specifies this is one of the common names for the Orangutan on Borneo. Beruang does indeed mean "Bear", but Malaysians when asked to translate Beraung Rambai do not know what the Rambai means. And the name "Orang Pendek" does not mean any one thing, and it is a foreign name when it is used in Sumatra: the native name is Sedapa. Likewise, both Sedapa and its other synonyms such as Orang Gugu do not denote any one thing both a pygmy and a normal-human-sized form: and the reports include both more hominid and more pongid types under the same names. All of which I have published on before.

My earlier posting on the matter is reprinted on this blog at this link:
As the link states, the original CFZ blog posting was on May 17, 2010, and the reprint on this blog was made on September 11, 2011. The original material comes from the Yahoo group Frontiers of Zoology as posted on September 27, 2008 For more specific information please consult the Orang Pendek article

Which really is the standard information and never should have got into the situation where it caused so much confusion. Once again, as far as my information goes, there are two basic things being called Orang Pendek or Sedapa (etc), one is an ape and one is a type of human (or hominid), and neither one has thus far proven to be an unknown species, rather the contrary. Of course it would be good to hear either of a previously-uncatalogued species of human or a pongid involved, but the burden of proof is on the people who say either one actually is a new species. And that can sometimes be a slippery proposition.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

  1. ^ "The Victoria Advocate". Google.,4902576&dq=yeti+bhutan&hl=en. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  2. ^ Eberhart, George (2002). Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. ABC-CLIO. p. 613. ISBN 9781576072837.
  3. ^ a b McLeod, Michael (2009). Anatomy of a beast: obsession and myth on the trail of Bigfoot. University of California Press. p. 54. ISBN 9780520255715.
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General references


  1. Among the names for the "Big Yetis" are the more generic Ri-Mi which means "Man of the Mountains" and the more specific Nyalmo which translates to the blatantly obvious "Lies down with Women" and evidently refers to the common myth of the Sasquiatch stealing human females for mating purposes. While Heuvelmans gives these names as increasing size grades with altitude, unpon further investigation the heights given in each category have considerable overlap in the usual-Sasquatch-reports size range and the larger sized reports for the Nyalmo are more than likely due to the mirage called looming, which is common in mountainous regions.
    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  2. It's quite compelling that the Yeti would correspond in so many particulars to the orang, one wonders how the natives could have hit upon so many details if they simply fabricated the beast. Even the apparently fake material, like the scalp, would indicate familiarity with an ape with a sagittal crest. How would misidentification of a bear or a monk result in that information?

    I do wonder how they sustain themselves, are they supposed to eat lichens and rodents? Or do they stay in the lower elevations mostly and are just never seen unless they happen to be moving into the more mountainous areas for whatever reason?

    The etymology of the "Nyalmo" is interesting with regards to the orang connection, I've read reports of orangs supposedly raping human females. Again, supposedly, one of Birute Galdikas' assistants was raped by an orangutan.

  3. Ivan Sanderson quotes an expert in 1956 who says straight out that "Snowmen" do not ordinarily live in the snow, they ordinarily live below the tree line where the food is. They apparently are only crossing over the mountains to get from one valley to another and because they crave certain minerals that they get from lichens that grow in the barren lands. And when they are in the areas above the tree line they are mostly carnivorous until they get back to the lusher areas of vegetation again, mostly feeding on mouse-hares, insects, birds and bird eggs, etc-or in other words about what orangutans eat but subtracting the fruits, shoots and leaves that ordinarily makes up the bulk of their diet.

    Down in the jungle areas especially in Assam they live the whole year around and eat especially fruit: they are known to raid banana plantations and are considered a nuisance. But people do not hear about that side of the equation because they are known by other names and the stories are not published aside the more popularized ones about "Snowmen"

    Heuvelmans basically recognises the distinction between the "Chimp" and "Gorilla" forms and in French he calls them "Le Petit Yeti" (usually reddish-coated) and "Le Grand Yeti" (Usually darker): he also speaks of the standard "Wildman" type elsewhere but that one has a wider range that just happens also to overlap Tibet. In Tibet it lives more on the flatter steppes of the plateau, however (and so do the bears for that matter)

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  4. I neglected to stress that the expert in 1956 said he was getting his information from the Native informants, and that is what they were specifying. Indeed Heuvelmans also says that "Le Petit Yeti" ordinarily only inhabits areas BELOW an elevation of 10,000 feet, in the areas of the dense bamboo forests and up to the rhododendron thickets, but below even the level of the pines and needleleafed trees. And the bigger kinds were supposed to start at that altitude level and go on up.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  5. Great article!
    Mysteries are wherever you find them. I´m wondering about the picture from "Shrine to the Yeti" in Bhutan. I can´t identify the cat behind the guy in the picture (Asian Golden Cat?)- can you?

    Best regards

  6. That information was not recorded when I got the photo, sorry. But it does seem that Yetis are serious business in Bhutan.
    I imagine that it could be a Golden cat, they would be in that area. The only other option would be Snow leopard.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


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