Hair Samples: From Bigfoot or the Bigfoot Bear?

August 18, 2014

The hirsute (hairy) man-beast known as Sasquatch—or, since 1958, more commonly called Bigfoot—is elusive indeed. Although wanted dead or alive, no such living creature has ever been found (notwithstanding Roger Patterson’s 1967 film of “Patty,” supposedly a Bigfoot with pendulous breasts but actually the common Bigsuit or Sasquatchus costumedus). Neither has a corpse been discovered (despite such hoaxes as the Minnesota Iceman, a carnival exhibit billed as a “Sasquatch—Safely Frozen in the Ice” but instead a specimen of S. latex).

Nevertheless, there is much questionable evidence of the kind that can lead to misidentification or that may be faked outright. Snapshots and films often show the aforementioned Bigsuit. And Bigfoot tracks (when not otherwise identifiable as from, say, a bear’s hind foot or overlapping feet) may have been left by a different bipedal creature wearing carved feet (S. slip-ons).

Hair evidence is often reported and may be scientifically identified. For instance, “Yeti hairs” found in India in 2003 were obtained five years later and tested. They proved to have come from a species of goat, the Himalayan Goral, not from Yeti folklorus (See my Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies and More, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2011, 55–98.)

When a sighting of Bigfoot yields a description consistent with an upright-standing bear—what I have called the Bigfoot Bear (S. ursus)—we might therefore expect to identify hairs found nearby as coming from a bear. However, in 2005, “sasquatch hair” found following some sightings in Teslin, Yukon, was not from a bear. Unfortunately it was not from Bigfoot either but rather from a “buffalo,” that is, an American bison.

Now comes the big “Bigfoot” hair study. In 2012 genetics researcher Bryan Sykes led a joint project of Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology to test hair specimens reportedly left by Bigfoot and other “anomalous primates” like Yeti. The researchers—issuing an open call to museums and scientists, as well as Bigfoot enthusiasts—sought any samples thought to be from a fabled man-beast. They obtained 36 specimens—from India, Indonesia, Bhutan, Nepal, Russia, and the United States—and tested them using DNA sequencing.

All of the samples matched the DNA from animals already known to science. There were hairs from wolves, raccoons, porcupine, horses, sheep, cows, and even a human, the most exotic being a Malaysian tapir and, especially, ancient polar bears, reportedly from the Himalayas where they are not known to live.

Most of the hair samples came from some species of bear (http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/07/01/yeti-bigfoot-dna-hair-study-science-animals-himalaya/). That evidence, although limited, does agree with the fact that in many locales—particularly North America, the home of the legendary Bigfoot—upright-standing bears are the best lookalikes for the bipedal hirsute creatures. (See “Bigfoot Lookalikes: Tracking Hairy Man-Beasts,” Skeptical Inquirer 37:5 (September/October 2014), 12–15.

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