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By George: Schaller, A Misquoted Cryptozoologist?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 2nd, 2006

Has Bigfoot’s newest spokesperson stumbled or been grossly misquoted?

George Schaller

How factual is the popular reporting on what famous people say about cryptozoological topics or animals they discover? How much can you rely on the background facts apparently noted in a newspaper in India or a foreword in a book to tell us what famed mountain gorilla researcher and promoter George B. Schaller (above) thinks about Bigfoot?

Mt GorillaRwan

I guess it depends on what you feel is more closely reflecting George Schaller’s past statements and the actual realities.

In a new biographical sketch of Schaller in The Hindu Times, examine this selection from their article:

Dr. Schaller is one of the few prominent scientists who strongly believe that reports of the sightings of the Bigfoot or the Yeti are worthy of further study. “There are so many human-like creatures in different places. But after all these years there is not a single bone, a single hair. There is no physical evidence other than tracks. There is one film, taken in 1960, and it has been played endlessly for years analysed, but they can’t say it is fake. A hard-eyed look is absolutely essential. The best thing to do would be to set up camera traps that automatically take pictures of the animals. If this is monitored for a year you may get nothing, but may end up with some interesting wildlife pictures,” he says with a hearty laugh.

The tough, unyielding scientist has a tremendous track record of rediscovering some rare species of animals that were thought to have been extinct. He was responsible for uncovering the Saola, one of the world’s rare mammals, in Laos; the Vietnamese Warty Pig; the Tibetan Red Deer and is one among the few who have seen the Snow Leopard in the wild.

Saola

Anyone that knows anything about Bigfoot, sees one glaring error in this short passage, on the Patterson-Gimlin footage’s date. I would suggest that a copyeditor at The Hindu Times is the source of this mistake.

We can easily check on what Schaller knows about Bigfoot. George B. Schaller makes a cameo appearance, so to speak, as the author of the foreword in Jeff Meldrum’s new book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science. In his first pages there, Schaller writes:

The authenticity of films, especially the Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1967, has never been disproved. But there is still no proof. No bones, no skin, no conclusive DNA analysis from hairs. The question of existence remains open.

But surely the newspaper could fact check what animals Schaller has “re-discovered,” right?

Researching this a bit more, I found that it appears The Hindu Times merely extracted some of the biographical information straight from Wikipedia, where you will find this in George Schaller’s entry:

In 1994, Schaller and Dr. Alan Rabinowitz were the first scientists to uncover the rare saola in Laos. Later that year, Schaller rediscovered the Vietnamese warty pig, once thought extinct. In 1996, he located a herd of Tibetan red deer, also thought extinct.

Schaller is one of a few prominent scientists who argue that Bigfoot reports are worthy of further study. A 2003 Los Angeles Times story describes Schaller as a “Bigfoot skeptic”, but also reports his opinion that scientists don’t bother with researching the subject before they “write it off as a hoax or myth. I don’t think that’s fair.” In a 2003 Denver Post article Schaller said, “There have been so many sightings over the years … Even if you throw out 95 percent of them, there ought to be some explanation for the rest … I think a hard-eyed look is absolutely essential”. Schaller was perhaps proven correct, when Homo floresiensis was discovered, although the ‘little foot’ turned out to be a hobbit-sized hominid.

National Geographic has also produced some of the same material, once mentioning: “Schaller got Rabinowitz started with a Wildlife Conservation Society grant to study jaguars in Belize. Eventually the two worked together: In Laos, they discovered the rare saola, a forest-dwelling bovine.”

Unfortunately, Wikipedia, which uses, well, anyone to create entries on its site, may be a little off on some of its “facts.” How can Schaller and Rabinowitz be characterized as the “discoverers” of the saola?

In 1992, it was zoologists John MacKinnon and Vu Van Dung, plus a team of Vietnamese researchers, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, who went to explore a dense forested “lost world,” called the Vu Quang, in the sparsely populated mountains between Laos and Vietnam. Noticing skulls on posts near the village houses of hunters, MacKinnon asked about the trophies. The long sharp horns did not resemble any species he knew and it was MacKinnon and his Vietnamese associates who announced this was a new animal. The team that discovered and published in Nature in 1993, on the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) was, indeed, Vu Van Dung, Pham Mong Giao, Nguyen Ngoc Chinh, Do Tuoc, Peter Arctander and John MacKinnon. The zoologists MacKinnon and Vu Van Dung first discussed the saola in the 1992 Technical Report of MOF/WWF.

From National Geographic to Wikipedia, some revisions need to happen, to give credit to the Vietnamese and MacKinnon for the saola.

As far as the Vietnamese warty pig (Sus bucculentus), it was listed as extinct in 1996. In 1997 the species was reported to exist based on the discovery of a fresh skull. George Schaller has been credited with that, as has Laotian scientist Khamkhoun Khounboline. I’m not certain if one was more the discoverer than the other.

Regarding the Tibetan red deer (Cervus elaphus wallichi), there may be more of a dispute. Russian zoologist Vladimir Dinets (presently a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami) claims to actually have been the first to have made the rediscovery of that species. He wrote in his well-publicized travel journal: “The Tibetan Red Deer had been believed to be extinct until I saw it in 1993; later G. Schaller discovered a second population in Kam.” It was not until 1996 that Schaller wrote that he located a herd of Tibetan red deer.

I suppose what Schaller says he senses is going on with Yeti and Bigfoot studies, in Meldrum’s foreword, may give us a hint about what Schaller’s thinking really is. But it also clear that Schaller is a conservation political animal these days, and his thoughts and discoveries have become extremely muddled in the media because of his celebrity. This is a state of being I would bet that even Schaller could not have seen occurring, as he appears to be a guy that likes to give credit where credit is due.

Then, of course, Schaller won’t have believed when he wrote his 1959 gorilla book that today people would put his name in the same sentence with the word “cryptozoologist” either, would he?

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


14 Responses to “By George: Schaller, A Misquoted Cryptozoologist?”

  1. WVBIG_2006 responds:

    It’s too bad that sites like Wikpedia don’t check out their information sources before posting the info for people, who assume the info has been verified, to find & repeat to others. This is, of course, the same type of thing that has gotten the Patterson/Gimlin footage & Ray Wallace linked. Possibly forever in some peoples minds.

  2. sasquatch responds:

    I saw parts of a film called “Shattered Glass” (?) yesterday on the Independant film channel(?) It was all about how a “Journalist” for the NEW REPUBLIC magazine invented stories from very little, or concocted or misquoted information.

    It is widespread I guess.

    Just plain lazy folks trying to get out stories by certain deadlines is what it amounts to. These are the same people who partied all through college (on their daddy’s dough)and at the last minute “cram” to get reports done. The information gets pretty tortured in this circumstance. But who cares? It’s just about monsters…and the stupid hillbillies who believe in them right?

  3. brineblank responds:

    An interesting note about wikipedia, over the summer a research firm(?) studied samples of Encyclopedia Brittanica and Wikipedia and found that Wikipedia actually had FEWER errors Someone might be able to find the link somewhere but it was a pretty big stink and the EB folks were pretty ticked off. But the group(?) that did the study talked about exactly how they researched the info and what standards were applied and it seemed pretty fair. Of course, not saying in this case they didn’t screw up.

  4. Sky King responds:

    “It’s too bad that sites like Wikpedia don’t check out their information sources before posting the info for people, who assume the info has been verified, to find & repeat to others.”

    There are numerous misunderstandings about the nature of Wikipedia, such as yours.

    WIKIPEDIA begs the definition of the word “wiki”:

    “Wiki is in Ward’s original description:

    The simplest online database that could possibly work.

    Wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wiki supports hyperlinks and has a simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly.

    Wiki is unusual among group communication mechanisms in that it allows the organization of contributions to be edited in addition to the content itself.

    Like many simple concepts, “open editing” has some profound and subtle effects on Wiki usage. Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by nontechnical users.”

    So what do we have here? A member-run, user-driven encylopedia! If you disagree with something there, you join and petition for a correction. I would suggest having facts and figures, citations to back up your petition.

    WIKIPEDIA IS NOT WRITTEN IN STONE! COUNTLESS articles BEG for citations for what is written! DON’T COMPLAIN, PARTICIPATE!!

  5. Sky King responds:

    I decided to make my comments about GS separately from my explanation about Wiki.

    George Schaller is one of my idols. I have read THE SNOW LEOPARD by Peter Mathiessen six or seven times, and GS is a major focus of that book. Schaller’s integrity shines through in that book. GS is the king of mammalogists, and no one would rather see proof of Bigfoot, Yeti, et al than George.

  6. calash responds:

    Reading between the lines it seems that Dr. Schaller wants to believe in a Large undiscovered primate but is frustrated that undisputable evidence just will not seem to come up. I am sure every one interested in this feels the same.
    It is too bad that the Bigfoot cause could not attract a benefactor with unlimited resources. Someone that could fund investigators and keep cameras and other surveillance equipment in the field and serviced for as long as it takes. or prepositioned rapid response teams around the country that could descend on a high quality sighting area within hours with loads of high tech equipment.
    Just some thoughts
    Regards

  7. WVBIG_2006 responds:

    It’s interesting how most mainstream scientists keep harping on the “No conclusive DNA” thing when they know, or at least they should know, that there can’t be conclusive DNA results until there is something conclusive to compare the specimens to.

  8. shovethenos responds:

    WVBIG_2006-

    Exactly – when you find unidentified DNA in an area with a history of sightings that is just as significant, if not more so, than the P/G film, since the average guy on the street can’t whip up fake DNA. Skeptics and mainstream science need to be reminded constantly that unidentified DNA and other hard evidence from hair (metals content analysis) have been found in several different geographic areas that all have a history of sightings.

    Then, when they again say there is “no hard evidence” they need to be reminded again. And so on.

  9. Ceroill responds:

    It has been known for years that Britannica contains errors. Some rather big ones, or has in the past. Not surprising to me if they still do.

  10. Lee Pierce responds:

    Good article, Loren. Wiki is a fun place, but not necessarily all hard facts.

  11. Bob Michaels responds:

    George Shaller is not an arm chair conservationist but an eminent explorer.He is a scientist as well, he would like to see some hard evidence as to the existince of Giganto. How about some old fashioned squat, not maufactured footprints. Since 1900 some 2500 sightings have been reported, at least 5% need further investigation.

    The Snowman in all likelihood may well be a type of Cave Bear?

  12. calash responds:

    The DNA question is interesting. I recall listing to a radio program that featured a female doctor that was an expert with animal DNA. The program was not about Bigfoot.

    As I recall here services were used by law enforcement to ID what type of animal may have been at a crime scene. I seem to remember her saying that they had DNA samples from all known animals. If a perpetrator had a dog with him and you could identify it by breed this may let you narrow your suspect list. I wish I could remember more about the program I think it was on NPR last spring.

    Also I think that eventually DNA evidence will be the proof that everyone is looking for regarding Bigfoot.

    Regards

  13. kittenz responds:

    Schaller is one of my idols too. He was among the very first scientists to conduct long-term studies of animals in the field. All of his books and papers are classics – meticulously researched and beautifully told. His reverence for the natural world and his passion for preserving wildlife echo through his works.

    Schaller was the first person ever to photograph a snow leopard in the wild. His book Stones of Silence details his search for that elusive cat. He spent many months traveling through the Himalayas during that search, in the early 1970’s. Even that long ago, he was astonished and dismayed that human activity has denuded so much of the whole area. Wildlife was scarce everywhere, even in the few protected areas.

    In Stones of Silence, Schaller discusses the Yeti at some length. He does not discount the possibility that some large animal exists undiscovered by the western world. He does mention that in all his travels through the region, and months of studying and cataloging the wildlife there, he has never seen any evidence of such a creature. But he does not rule out the possibility that they could exist.

  14. kittenz responds:

    In case anybody’s interested, there’s a very brief article about Schaller’s recent visit to the ANWR in this month’s “Alaska” magazine.



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