Interview: Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, part 2
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists. His professional vocations, however, have been anthropology, public policy, and social work in various academic settings, and he has also served as a consultant to the State of Maine.
Nevertheless, he has also been a professional cryptozoologist too, for a number of years. He published his first article on the topic in the 1960s, has been on television often since his first appearance in 1969, and wrote his first book (with Jerome Clark) from Warner Book in 1975. Most recently, he founded the International Cryptozoology Museum six years ago (see more biographical details in the introduction in Part 1, and Coleman’s full bio on Cryptomundo.com).
Fascinated by cryptids — elusive, unknown animals that have no established, formal scientific classification — since March 1960, Coleman has been involved in the field, and at the age of 14 he began interviewing eyewitnesses who had said they had seen black panthers and bigfoot. He has authored over thirty books on the subject of cryptids.
He graciously submitted to an interview earlier this week.
[Note: The text of Coleman’s answers conforms to the International Society of Cryptozoology manual style that capitalizes names of as-yet-unconfirmed cryptids. This interview was conducted via telephone and e-mail.]
SB: For the sake of argument let’s say that bigfoot as a species does not exist, absolutely not. What then explains the entire phenomenon? Hallucination? Collective unconscious?
LC: It’s even more mundane than that. It’s one of the origins for why we have some folklore. It’s a psychological process in which a person takes a noise in the dark or a misidentified bear and elaborates on this or that and makes up stories in their mind. It’s a form of rationalization.
It’s a psychological process to make everything explainable, and to have Bigfoot as one of the explanations is a way for humans to be comfortable.
When I stand up to speak at a Bigfoot conference, I don’t use the words “believe” or “belief.” “Belief” is the province of religion. I accept or deny the evidence, and I have accepted a good deal of the evidence. However, I distrust “believers,” who are just as dangerous as the blind debunkers.
On one end of the continuum, Bigfoot exists. On the other end of the continuum, Bigfoot exists because humans need to explain things.
If we look at what conjecture and theories bounce around the Bigfoot field, yes, we have to be careful. Hoaxes are a minor part of the issue, although the one most important to the media. But then we’re not dealing with “4th-dimensional” creatures probably either, and it’s not all a bunch of hoaxes, too — those are the extremes. Reasonable people would say those are nearly as impossible as the idea that there are 4,000 unknown, hairy hominoid animals on this planet, too, as Dr. Grover Krantz estimated would be the Bigfoot population in the Pacific Northwest of North America.
I acknowledge that to say that Bigfoot exist is a pretty big stretch, but it’s one that I would not have pursued for fifty years if I didn’t think there wasn’t enough evidence to do so.
If we’re talking about statistics, 80% of Bigfoot sightings and reports are misidentifications of known animals, 1% are hoaxes, and then 19% to 20% are the unknown — quality stories that are worth looking into.
But it’s that body of hoaxes, that 1%, which gets most of the media attention – for example, the Georgia Bigfoot hoax, the Montauk Monster – they’re the ones that the media concentrate on. When such media reports serve as a window into cryptozoology for the general public, people end up thinking most of the crypto stories are hoaxes.
Hoaxers’ tales, then, are overblown. They are [statistically] so minor in comparison to what we’re dealing with in cryptozoology that hoaxers are as unimportant as those extremists talking about Bigfoot coming from UFOs.
The real thing is field biology – camping, listening to animals, finding signs of animals, woodcraft — that any good zoology or biology student would do to try to find out where the buffalo are roaming.
SB: Dr. Grover Krantz, whom you mention, once argued that plaster casts of tracks are possibly a workable indicator of a holotype of a species. Are tracks alone, however, enough to confirm existence of some kind of animal?
LC: No, definitely not. The zoological model needs live or dead specimen or overwhelming DNA.
Enough Bigfoot evidence exists, however, to convict somebody of murder. The problem is a long history of the phenomenon being made silly by the media. Both the names “Sasquatch” and “Bigfoot” are newspaper names made up for newspaper stories, and those names are a handicap.
“Oh-mah” – the researcher Ivan Sanderson wanted the creatures to be called “Oh-mah,” or some other true Native American name. The phenomenon needed respectability a lot faster, but we’ll never know because the name “Bigfoot” will never go away.
The background event of some importance is in the history of anthropology. The Piltdown Man hoax had a freezing effect for a long time, especially if your professors came up in that era. I went to college from 1965 to 1969, with professors who started careers in the 1930s. The Piltdown Man hoax began in 1912, and was exposed as a forgery in 1953. Anthropologists felt tricked.
Also, when Neandertal skeletons were first discovered, in Germany, you had researchers who thought it was evidence of a Cossack with rickets. That Cossack stupidity is found all over – Google it.
Then you have Homo floresiensis, the “Hobbit” [discovered in 2003]. Critics said it was a microcephalic child, or a skull condition of dwarfism. Australian and Indonesian scientists, however, came forward to say they had found several Homo floresiensis bodies spanning 5,000 years.
We don’t have bones of a Bigfoot, and we don’t have DNA. But non-native researchers took 70 years to find the African mountain gorilla. The modern era of Bigfoot began in 1958 [with the discovery of tracks in northern California that led to the creation of the term "Bigfoot"], so we’re just getting to a baseline where we might find a body.
SB: Recently, Cryptomundo.com ran a post about some Siberian farmers who claimed, in a letter to Itar-Tass News Service, to have witnessed a yeti trapped in ice in a river, and one of them helped the animal crawl out of the frozen river? Did any Russian follow-up reports go after this?
LC: That was just “one of those stories,” like a lot of those seen in Pravda. You get these Siberian or Russian stories that have an exciting lead-in, just like the Siberian snowman-cave expedition a while ago, and then no follow-up at all occurs in the Russian media.
So, we might never get closer than the initial story, but, coincidentally, I have just heard today that there appear to be new developments to this story coming out of Siberia next week.
SB: Make a prediction: Who will deliver footage that surpasses any known, purported footage of a Bigfoot – a random camper, hunter, researcher? By what means – trailcam, video-camera, or cell phone?
LC: You have seen in recent years how almost any footage that turns up is considered so skeptically or totally debunked, or it’s really just a “blobsquatch” [a bad-quality image that shows a big, dark blob, the subject of the photo].
I just don’t think that any kind of footage is going to be a breakthrough. There is so much room for manipulation of the footage. I don’t see any tech or thermal imaging being helpful. Cell cameras are not everything they’re cracked up to be, and offer terrible resolution.
On top of that, if the media can get something and slap “monster” or “Yeti” on it, you get the “Maine mutant,” that dead sloth in Panama, or the recent Ontario monster that’s just a dead mink. The Montauk Monster was a dead raccoon. That so-called Yeti [in reports from China in April] was a civet.
Canadian TV wanted me on the air last week to talk about the Ontario monster, and I declined, and yet I was already being quoted in the Toronto Star. I don’t want to be the guy who says, “This dead body is this, and this dead body is that.” I’d prefer to talk about actual cryptids.
There are enough mysteries in this life without us considering every dead animal in the water a mystery.
SB: What do you think of the Jacobs Creature trail-cam footage?
LC: The Jacobs Creature — I think it’s a bear. Take the trail-cam footage and look at the sequence. The figure is a mother black bear that has mange. This is a bear in the woods near a trail cam that has captured many images of bears.
What happened is that this one photo had been taken out of context, removed from the other images of bear cubs [that were captured in the same sequence of photos]. With the Jacobs pictures, there were typical rationalizations that this figure has to be a Bigfoot when it is very obviously a black bear.*
SB: Of all the cryptids about which your research informs you, which do you think has the best chance of being clarified one way or another – totally debunked or proven as a real thing?
LC: I think a Bigfoot discovery is still far away. You have the possibility of an accidental kill with a lumber truck in Pacific Northwest or Quebec.
The one cryptid that will be discovered will be the Orang Pendek [a small, bipedal primate in Sumatra].
A very quiet investigation into the Orang Pendek has been going on for about 30 years. The International Fauna and Flora Society has funded that research for 20 years at least. One of the problems you have with Yeti and Bigfoot research is that the funding has dried up, so it’s a weekend exploration now.
Researcher Debra Martyr, in Sumatra, has turned the Orang Pendek investigation into a conservation effort [a key development]. The office of the President of Indonesia is involved, and Indonesian authorities have surveyed a site of of several thousand acres to be set aside as soon as the Orang Pendek is verified. All this has come about because of behind-the-scenes events that don’t make the newspapers, but this could make the Orang Pendek the animal that will shock the world [when its existence is proved].
There will be a lot of questions and skeptics about the Orang Pendek. But note that the Sumatran rhino, a known, verified species, has been seen only twice in 20 years, by one field observer, Martyr, even though she has seen the Orang Pendek, an unknown species, three times in those same 20 years.
People are not the only hominid that might still exist on earth. There are “great apes” and then something in between, an upright great ape. Human beings are “naked apes.” In the next 25 years we might discover a new species of “non-naked ape” that is upright.
The best approach to that discovery is zoological. Study them like a species — they breed, they eat and defecate, they interact with nature. So, how can we prove that to the rest of zoology?
Now, which cryptids will be debunked? That’s impossible to answer because every week someone finds a dead dog and calls it a “Chupacabra” (incorrectly, without an “s”). You heard recently some ridiculous things out of Ontario. You just have to fight off such weekly “monster findings,” but those get the most media attention.
Consider this: The recent discovery in the Philippines of a new monitor lizard species, a 6-foot long relative of the Komodo dragon, lasted three days as a story in the news. That Ontario “water-monster,” which was a dead mink, lasted six days.
The mainstream media talked about the largest true new species discovered this year less than a week. The priorities of the media are really screwed up.
Oftentimes, I am approached with rather low expectations by reporters and journalists. They sense that cryptozoologists are all hoaxers, madmen, and scam artists. Of course, we aren’t, but it is a self-reinforcing cycle because those [the hoaxed cases] are the Bigfoot, Nessie, and cryptid cases that get the most play in the press and electronic media.
Despite being asked some silly questions about “monsters” and “fakes,” I feel cryptozoology must maintain a high scientific standard and yet answer the questions journalists or academics ask us. Proper methods, procedures, and insights are not to be ignored, even when doing reality television or being interviewed by the media. Cryptozoologists, like me, are open-minded but very skeptical.
Also, there is no need to feel defensive because we are set up all the time with questions about dead known animals (called “Chupacabra”) that turn out to be mangy dogs, or beached carcasses (“monsters”) that turn out to be raccoons, minks, and sloths. We have to understand that the media works in popular culture, and actually, as a cryptozoologist, I bridge zoology, popular culture, folklore, linguistics, ethnography, anthropology, and a whole lot of other angles.
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* For the sake of debate, analysis of the Jacobs Creature footage that refutes the possibility of a black bear can be seen on this page at the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization site.