Hunters in central China have trapped a strange-looking beast dubbed the “Oriental Yeti,” though one of the world’s preeminent Bigfoot experts says the animal in question is no Yeti.
Anybody whose seen the movie “Harry and the Hendersons” (or episode 13 in the third season of “30 Rock”) could tell you that.
“This is not a true yeti. This is more media madness,” says Loren Coleman, author of more than 30 books on mythical creatures, including “Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America” published by Simon and Schuster.
"It looks a bit like a bear but it doesn't have any fur and it has a tail like a kangaroo,” one of the Chinese hunters said. "It also does not sound like a bear – it has a voice more like a cat and it is calling all the time – perhaps it is looking for the rest of its kind or maybe it's the last one?”
If it sounds like a cat, then it probably is a cat, says Mr. Coleman, who opened the International Cryptozoology Museum in November in downtown Portland, Maine. The museum features hair samples and some 150 foot casts credited to Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and the yeti.
China’s so-called “Oriental Yeti” appears to be either an Asian palm or common civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), or a masked or Himalayan palm civet (Paguma larvata), says Coleman, who spoke by phone today with the Monitor. The cat looks to have lost its hair because of a bad case of mange – the skin disease caused by parasitic mites. Similar-looking animals in the American southwest have come to be called chupacabras, a hairless quadruped that is likely no more than a dog or cat with mange.
In the past 60 years cryptozology – the study of mythical or legendary animals – has grown into somewhat reputable science, with several universities now offering courses in the subject. Coleman created one of the first, at the University of Southern Maine, where he taught in the zoology department for two decades.
“If the Asian press starts using the word ‘yeti’ for every unidentified animal it’s going to muddy the waters of cryptozoology,” Coleman says.
“Even though we haven’t found the yeti, we have a body of literature on the yeti going back 3,000 years,” he adds. The yeti of central Asia and the Sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest are an ape-like biped between 4 and 7 feet tall, and a version of it exists in many regions worldwide: China's yeti is normally called the yeren; in Australia, it's the yowie; in Malaysia, it's the sejarang gigi; and in Brazil, they call it the mapinguari.
Coleman says the field of cryptozoology has grown from a handful of people into tens of thousands of followers, and he alone gets hundreds of emails daily from self-proclaimed cryptozoologists. Even chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall says she is sure that undiscovered primates, such as the Yeti or Sasquatch, exist.
“When I’m asked do I believe in yeti or Bigfoot, I say ‘no,’ because belief is the realm of religion. I consider that there is good evidence for the yeti, enough for us to pursue it. But I’m not convinced it’s a folklore tradition or a zoological tradition.
“I occupy the skeptical, open-minded middle,” he continues. “The blind debunkers are just as dangerous as the true believers. I’m a skeptical, open-minded cryptozoologist.”