Sasquatch Coffee

Meldrum and Mionczynski: Scientists Seriously Seeking Sasquatch

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on October 28th, 2010

Source: Casper Star-Tribune
By Margaret Matray – Star-Tribune staff writer trib.com

Take to the woods and you might find a hidden neighbor — with size 25 shoes

The wildlife biologist was used to being alone in the woods.

His studies required him to spend weeks high up in the mountain solitude. So when a large upright figure collapsed his tent one night in the early 1970s, John Mionczynski knew it wasn’t another human.

He was studying bighorn sheep in the Wind River Mountains. From inside his tent, Mionczynski could see a distinct open hand with an opposable thumb, about twice the size of a human hand.

Mionczynski crawled outside and built a campfire. He could hear the creature breathing but couldn’t see it in the darkness. For 45 minutes it threw pine cones at him.

The biologist reported his experience to his boss. At least 25 stories of encounters with a large primate had come into the office that year.

Mionczynski’s boss asked: Do you believe in bigfoot?

I don’t think I do, he replied.

Mionczynski didn’t know what he encountered. It wasn’t a bear and it accurately threw pine cones, as a human would do. Mionczynski’s boss suggested he interview people who had made reports and start a file.

He would do so for the next 30 years, now spending eight to nine months of the year in the field studying the potential existence of a large North American ape. And Mionczynski isn’t alone.

To those who study the existence of bigfoot, or sasquatch, their dedication isn’t about belief. It’s a matter of science, evidence and objective research.

“To ignore data that’s coming in saying something is here, to ignore it is unscientific,” Mionczynski said.

The researchers

Before Mionczynski and Dr. Jeff Meldrum of Idaho State University even met, their research crossed paths. They had visited some of the same people, a mountain man and a U.S. Forest Service patrolman in Washington who had encountered a sasquatch and found footprints in the woods. The researchers had the same approach to their studies; they worked in facts, not emotions, Meldrum said.

Mionczynski has worked as a government wildlife technician and as a consultant and instructor. Habitat studies are his expertise, and he has extensively researched both grizzlies and bighorn sheep. He has worked with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team and developed the concept of goat packing to transport scientific equipment into remote research areas.

Meldrum is an associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University. He is an expert on primate evolutionary biology, the evolution of human locomotor adaption and bipedalism, the way in which we walk on two feet. He co-edited the book “From Biped to Strider: the Emergence of Modern Human Walking, Running, and Resource Transport.”

In 1996, Meldrum was visiting family in Boise, Idaho, when he decided to make a trip up to Washington with his brother to visit Dr. Grover Krantz, an anthropologist and leading sasquatch researcher. Meldrum examined Krantz’s collection of alleged sasquatch footprint casts, which Krantz would eventually give to Meldrum for his research years later.

On the way home, Meldrum made a surprise visit to Paul Freeman, once a Forest Service patrolman, who claimed to have encountered a sasquatch and made footprint casts.

Freeman said he had just found fresh tracks, too. Would Meldrum like to see them?

“The coincidence of it was disconcerting at first,” Meldrum said. Did Freeman somehow find out they were coming?

But Meldrum was astounded by what he saw. The tracks were fresh and clear. They were either the real deal or a clear hoax, he thought.

Meldrum and his brother got supplies to make casts. They remain some of the strongest prints in Meldrum’s collection of 200 casts and some of the most compelling evidence, Meldrum said. What he had captured was skin ridge detail. Just as we all have individually unique fingerprints, we have distinct footprints.

“There are a few other mammals that have texture to their pads, but typically that’s a primate characteristic,” Meldrum said.

What he captured was a real print, he believes.

“It made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.”

One of Meldrum’s students was familiar with Mionczynski’s research and suggested they meet. The two spoke on the phone and met in Meldrum’s office. Meldrum knew footprints; Mionczynski knew habitat. They’ve been working together for the past ten years.

Sasquatch, a profile

Meldrum and Mionczynski’s research, often under the title of the North American Ape Project, has taken them from Canada down to Texas, including the Pacific Northwest, northern California and even Wyoming. Meldrum has also travelled to China, where he compared casts there to those taken in North America. The dermal ridges followed the same pattern, suggesting the existence of sasquatch in the mountains of western China.

The researchers have interviewed countless numbers of people who have reported sightings, but they don’t rely on that testimony alone.

“Visual sighting of brown and black fur isn’t a credible sighting,” Meldrum said.

Based on field research, Meldrum’s footprint expertise and Mionczynski’s studies of animal habitat and behavior, they’ve developed hypotheses about the North American ape:

* Meldrum and Mionczynski hypothesize the population size in North America to be 500 to 1,000 individuals. They guess that an individual male has a 1,000-square-mile home range, which overlaps with several females and their young, who have smaller home ranges. The researchers have observed a repeated appearance of the same footprints in the same home area.

* Males are estimated at 8 to 9 feet tall in stature, when standing upright on two feet. Females would be about 7 feet tall, adolescents 4 to 6 feet tall. Weight is estimated at 700 to 1,000 pounds, based on a model for grizzly bears. Mionczynski hypothesizes that the creature travels on both two legs and all fours. Meldrum has made casts of 16-inch footprints.

* The North American ape is likely an omnivore, eating fish, meat and plants. Sightings increase around elk season, which suggests to Mionczynski that the animal is particularly drawn to elk meat left behind by hunters. Mionczynski also believes it is a hibernating creature.

* No evidence suggests the use of tools or structured living space. They have language and are reclusive and highly intelligent. Mionczynski said the researchers have found evidence of sasquatches covering their tracks, literally brushing over their footprints with pine bows so as to stay hidden.

Perhaps the most interesting research lies in the food. Mionczynski identified a plant he believes attracts the animal. The berry-producing shrub is not common in Wyoming and is unique in the fact that it occurs after the first hard freeze of the year, in September. (He said he would not identify the plant for fear people would start looking for it.)

Meldrum found a distribution map for the plant. They overlaid it with a map of credible sightings from September and the following months.

“We found a correlation,” Mionczynski said.

Doubt

Both Mionczynski and Meldrum have caught flak for their work.

Mionczynski went underground for a period of time. After Meldrum appeared in the Discovery Channel documentary, “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science,” for which he also wrote a companion book of the same title in 2006, an Associated Press article quoted Idaho State University professors who lambasted his research. One even asked if Meldrum intended to research Santa Claus, too.

It upsets Meldrum when other scientists won’t even examine the evidence.

“As scientists, we’re obliged to consider this,” Meldrum said.

Funding for their research can be a challenge. Mionczynski said they will receive money from individual academics who recognize their research, but “much of the time we’re working on our own time and funds. … If we’re all out (of money) for the year and we get a compelling report, we’re not going to leave that alone.”

Yes, the two researchers encounter hoaxes. But they can usually dismiss them outright. People will often use woodcuts to make footprints, but Meldrum can see they are not anatomically correct. Some have even used casts of potentially legitimate prints to make tracks, but Meldrum can spot those, too.

In Meldrum’s book, which is endorsed by Dr. Jane Goodall on its cover, he explains the field of cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals. Some creatures — the unicorn, griffin, mermaid — have proven to be legends. Others once thought to be imaginary are now commonplace, including the leopard, giraffe and crocodile.

The concept of sasquatch can’t be considered total myth. Man did once live alongside a giant ape, Gigantopithecus blacki, which has been estimated at 10 feet in height and 1,200 pounds in weight. Actual teeth and a mandible have been found in Southeast Asia. The extinct species existed for 1 million years, up to several hundred thousand years ago.

Where are the bones?

If sasquatch exists, then where are the bones? Why has a body not been found?

Meldrum asks you to stop and think for a moment. He has two reasons for you to consider.

Birth and death are rare events for an ape. If the animal lives more than 50 years on average and females only have a few young in their lifetime, your chances of finding a body are pretty rare, Meldrum explains. And animals that die naturally tend to hide themselves away, following instinct, he said. They don’t plop dead in the middle of an open field.

Consider the habitat, too. Wet, coniferous forests where sasquatches may live have acidic soil — soil that is not kind to bone, Meldrum said. Bone that hasn’t corroded away would draw the attention of small animals, which gnaw on bone for the calcium.

If that’s not enough for you, let’s return to Gigantopithecus. It lived for 1 million years, that much is fact.

“And yet what do we have to show?” Meldrum asked. “We have a few jaws and a few isolated teeth.”

Meldrum and Mionczynski continue their research, most recently in Canada earlier this month. It will take DNA evidence to unequivocally prove the existence of sasquatch, and the scientists continue to search.

A Charles Darwin quote that hangs in Meldrum’s office serves as a reminder of the need for their work: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.


9 Responses to “Meldrum and Mionczynski: Scientists Seriously Seeking Sasquatch”

  1. size 13 responds:

    Even the pros are having a time without the finances.
    It’s the money or lack there of that keeps us from researching this animal.Many of us would love nothing better than to stay out in the field for weeks or even months to research this animal.

  2. DWA responds:

    Wow.

    Although something appeared in the Denver Post several years back that may rival, if not equal, this for objectivity and taking the topic seriously, this is just about the most straightforward, least woo-woo look at the topic I’ve seen. I mean, there is not a trace of woo-woo or implied author eyeroll or distancing or any other such in this article.

    Wow.

  3. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- I second your “wow”.

  4. Kris responds:

    This is extremely exciting! As a zoologist myself is great to see scientists devoting the time to the topic that it deserves.

  5. loopstheloop responds:

    A nicely balanced piece, but I don’t share the ‘wow’, possibly because I’m not a ‘wow’er!

    A couple of points really stand out as ludicrous from that article on the part of Mionczynski and Meldrum.

    Firstly, they’ve decided the Sasquatch has developed language. LANGUAGE! Humans’ development of such went a long way to allowing us to develop into Man – gave rise to us being able to eventually express thoughts, concepts, feelings… it’s safe to say the importance of language can not be over-estimated in the evolution of Man.

    Yet, their hypothesis above also suggests that the Sasquatch has not developed the ability to use tools, despite being in possession of opposable digits. This, of course, was another great step in human evolution, by all accounts, and happened far earlier than any semblance of language.

    I do not understand how these two contradicting hypotheses can marry, or why this hasn’t seemed problematical to Meldrum in particular.

    And finally, Meldrum suggesting that we know Gigantopithecus existed, yet we only have a handful of teeth to prove it… all well and good, but Meldrum is suggesting that Sasquatch roam the forests of North America TODAY, while a good 300,000 years have passed since Giganto lived. How is that in any way an acceptable analogy?

    Has Meldrum lost the plot and cracked under the pressure?

  6. DWA responds:

    Loopstheloop – I know we’re not all wow-ers.

    But I can think of only two mass-media treatments of this topic – this being one – that did not involve a conscious attempt by the author, usually some exasperating wink-nudge attempt at humor, if not worse – to show that hey-I’m-not-a-loony. Two is incredibly few, and to me, a very big wow. Of course I may just be far less tolerant than most of the braying ignorance that consistently characterizes media treatment of this subject.

    As to your other points:

    1. Yeah, if we are going to call language “the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication,” which seems to be the angle being taken, well I feel very uncomfortable with asserting anything for which evidence does not clearly exist. And I think I’d know if there were evidence for this. (“Samurai chatter” is not evidence for anything but interesting noise.)

    2. As to tool use: if these guys take seriously the “tree-knocking” phenomenon as potentially pertaining to sasquatch, well, there is a tool. If they are covering tracks with pine boughs, boom, another tool. The tools used by chimps aren’t substantially more sophisticated than that. I am not aware of any evidence of any other tool use by these animals. And I’d think I would be if there were any.

    3. As to Giganto teeth, I think Meldrum is trying to point out that one shouldn’t expect tons of fossil evidence for everything that ever existed, and that it can be very hard (as in the case of chimp/gorilla ancestors) to come by. He’s saying that in this case, absence of evidence isn’t prima facie evidence of absence. Personally, I’m betting that if the sasquatch is a real animal, we haven’t found fossil evidence of its antecedents yet. I’ve never been too excited about the ‘Giganto hypothesis.’ I would certainly hope that a scientist isn’t saying: since Giganto existed, this does too. Nope, one can’t do that.

  7. loopstheloop responds:

    Hi DWA,

    Firstly, thank you for your intelligent response. I tend to look into the comments section when I’m by here to see the reactions to the articles, and am often impressed by your posts.

    I’m not familiar with the usual treatment in the American press of this subject, but I understand your point.

    On the language suggestion, what I meant to suggest was that that is an absolutely massive claim- and I was not aware that Meldrum or Mionczynski had ever suggested such. Then, once you combine their stance on tools, from an evolutionary anthropological point of view, the whole thing makes little to no sense.

    If you take all the hypotheses briefly outlined in the article, reading them together my immediate thoughts were this: (please bear in mind I’m being objective… am a Sasquatch agnostic, but let’s suspend belief or disbelief for a moment)

    no tangible proof is available for bones of this creature, past or present, fresh or fossil;
    no tangible proof is available for worked* tools this bipedal creature with opposable thumbs might have used;
    however, though we have no proof as we have no live specimens or recordings of the use of anything that could be called such, they see fit to conclude that the Sasquatch use language.

    It seems that as the suggestion is intangible they went for it, while dismissing the ideas of tools and justifying (in a very odd fashion) the lack of bones. Would you agree with that?

    *I say worked tools, as that’s what I think is intended, not branches, logs etc. A worked tool would have to be fashioned for the purpose, rather than just acquired.

    Focussing on the language again for a moment, as each of these are immense subjects, but what could possibly have led these scholars to have made such an astounding conclusion? The implications are endless, and I’m yet to see any evidence that could possibly have led them there. The article brushes over it as if it’s the least important theory in there… What are your thoughts on this?

    Thanks

  8. loopstheloop responds:

    p.s. my point about Meldrum’s Giganto fossil comparison was that he was seemingly using the dearth of ossary evidence of a creature that died out 300,000 years ago by all accounts to justify the absolute absence of any bone remains of an animal he’s arguing exists today.

    I wasn’t suggesting he was linking the two creatures… but more he was confusing the issues of fossil evidence and the more recent traces of an extant animal. One question is the fossil record, another one entirely is the lack of fresh bones.

    I understand the arguments about acidic soil, porcupines, etc., but comparing 300,000+ year-old bones with the remains of animals dying now makes absolutely no sense to me at all.

  9. DWA responds:

    Hey loopstheloop: thanks for your comments. As quote/response seems the handiest that’s what I’ll do.

    1. I’m not familiar with the usual treatment in the American press of this subject, but I understand your point.

    The usual treatment is roll-your-eyes-reading-it. Whether a proponent, skeptic or agnostic (the true skeptic being more an agnostic than a scoffer, really), one requires serious treatment to form serious opinions. So, do mummies walk at night? If you think so, show me your evidence. Honest; I’ll not scoff. I just await (and no, not on the edge of my seat, but I’ll, um, be here) evidence for any proposition to which I respond, show me. It’s kind of hard for those on the fence to take a topic seriously for which most of the mass-media treatment is given with a chuckle, or worse, a hearty snicker. As someone on the fence – who just got a personal sighting account from one of the least-BS people he knows – I have to know what the hooraw is about, which requires a dispassionate accounting. Meldrum and Mionczynski are at least striving for that.

    2. On the language suggestion, what I meant to suggest was that that is an absolutely massive claim- and I was not aware that Meldrum or Mionczynski had ever suggested such. Then, once you combine their stance on tools, from an evolutionary anthropological point of view, the whole thing makes little to no sense.

    To me, too, this seems out of the blue; I wasn’t aware they were claiming this either, and I’ve read Meldrum’s book and talked to Mionczynski. Um, whoa. You need a s***load of evidence to put that one out there. The proponents do not help themselves with outlandish claims, like “they bury their dead and that’s why we don’t have a body.” We don’t have a body because no one has REPORTED finding one. That is, no one who was taken seriously. Claims should follow evidence, not explain unsupported suppositions, e.g., “no one has ever found a body.”

    3. It seems that as the suggestion is intangible they went for it, while dismissing the ideas of tools and justifying (in a very odd fashion) the lack of bones. Would you agree with that?

    Well, that’s what’s odd about it. “Tools” doesn’t have to mean worked tools, but that seems to be the context they assume for the term. My understanding is that the sasquatch hand isn’t theorized to be as dexterous as ours; but of course that lacks sufficient evidence as well. And as I hinted at above, to just talk about environmental reasons that “there are no bones” presupposes NO ONE HAS EVER found any. To me, if this animal is real, it almost follows that mis-identified and tossed (into a landfill, trashcan or museum drawer…or maybe there’s an interesting prospector’s doorstop somewhere) or abandoned remains almost certainly HAVE happened; it just hasn’t come to anyone’s attention yet.

    4. Focussing on the language again for a moment, as each of these are immense subjects, but what could possibly have led these scholars to have made such an astounding conclusion? The implications are endless, and I’m yet to see any evidence that could possibly have led them there. The article brushes over it as if it’s the least important theory in there… What are your thoughts on this?

    I think I’ve said it: ODD. And odd as it may seem: even though all the evidence tells me, anyway, that we are searching for a primate (and to me, probably not a hominid), we just don’t know what the sasquatch is. So let’s watch the it’s-a-human! allegations. (Some call it human based on foot shape alone, which is like calling a caribou a moose because their hooves are kinda similar.) To make what I’d consider a leap of logic, if not faith, is dangerous in this context. The precise thing that is the issue here is lack of proof. When one postulates things that de facto cannot be supported by the available evidence, one leaves oneself open to the allegation of not treating the matter with the proper scientific skepticism, of being, in fact, a True Believer.

    And a SCIENTIST wants to do that…?

    OK. I also have to say this. It just may be that the seemingly casual – and I agree with you that it’s seemingly REAL casual given implications – insertion of that line about language may be an artifact of the author’s mis-hearing, mis-reading, or injecting something from personal belief. That can happen.

    5. p.s. my point about Meldrum’s Giganto fossil comparison was that he was seemingly using the dearth of ossary evidence of a creature that died out 300,000 years ago by all accounts to justify the absolute absence of any bone remains of an animal he’s arguing exists today.

    I’d agree with you. Jeff: let’s not jump here. When one doesn’t have a bone in hand, the most one can say is: Remains are hard to come by in the wild, even if one is looking (a researcher in Congo is finding out precisely this with regard to chimpanzee remains). I’d suggest adding: given the likelihood that anyone who found them either (a) would go YEEEEUCCHHHH at the prospect of handling them or (b) would not want to go through the He’s Nuts Circus with his find or (c) both, I’d say one shouldn’t expect to have remains until science takes the subject seriously.



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