What will it take for cryptozoologists to prove the existence of bigfoot?
Recently on The Science of Personality, Cliff Barackman, former star of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot, cohost of the Bigfoot and Beyond podcast, and owner of the North American Bigfoot Center, spoke about cryptozoology and the search for Sasquatch.
Cryptozoology is the study of animals whose existence is disputed or unsubstantiated. About the existence of bigfoot, Cliff said, “It’s easy to believe in things that are real. All you have to do is start looking at the evidence that’s been collected and decide for yourself.” He encouraged podcast listeners to be skeptical and fact-check his statements.
Cliff explained the common characteristics of cryptozoologists and the current state of Sasquatch evidence and research, including his own experience searching for bigfoot.
The Characteristics of Cryptozoologists
The goal of cryptozoology is to study undiscovered animals and verify their reality, introducing them to the scientific community. “Every year, dozens and dozens of amphibians and reptiles and even mammals are recognized by science for the very first time,” Cliff said.
Cryptozoology is a large field globally, but bigfoot research is smaller, with perhaps a dozen serious practitioners. Cliff’s interest in the so-called “hairy hominoids” or “mystery apes” originated in college when he read publications by cultural anthropologists about North American apes. This inspired him to conduct additional academic and field research, for which he is now known internationally.
A common personality characteristic of cryptozoologists is perseverance to the point of stubbornness. Cliff observed that skeptics and debunkers tease or ridicule this level of commitment. Another common characteristic of cryptozoologists is self-belief. This strong conviction in the face of others’ doubts can sometimes seem like arrogance. Cliff called himself eccentric but reasonable, inclined to prove things himself, rather than rely on the expertise of others.
People who aren’t interested in cryptozoology tend to believe media portrayals of the unsubstantiated animals. They are unaware of the evidence and may lack the drive to interrogate their assumptions. “It’s like their belief system is a nest that they feel comfortable in and don’t like being brought out of,” Cliff said. He considers himself to be an amateur scientist, tasked to disprove his own claims. “If you can prove yourself wrong in science, that’s a victory,” he added.
Bigfoot Fact and Fiction
Few cryptozoologists are liars because the field receives such rigorous scrutiny. A handful of notable fakes have persisted for several years or decades, but overall, evidence of bigfoot is verifiable and persuasive.
Numerous eminent academics have published studies and books about North American apes. Cliff named Grover Krantz, PhD, one of the first anthropologists to write about bigfoot; John Bindernagel, PhD, wildlife biologist and author of The Discovery of Bigfoot; and Jeff Meldrum, PhD, an anatomist who specializes in primate feet.
Nearly every indigenous North American tribe from Florida to Alaska has traditional stories about giant, hairy people living in the woods. They are likely true stories, not fictitious. Cliff explained that truths from paleoanthropology can be applied to cryptozoology: evolution is not linear. “Different forms [of a species] coexist, many of them in the same landscape at the same time and place,” he said.
Within the last 100,000 years—which is a short time span in evolutionary terms—multiple types of hominin coexisted. (Hominin refers to all living and extinct species on the human branch of the evolutionary tree.) “Right now, scientists believe that we have discovered less than 2 percent of all the different species that have ever existed. How many more hominin species are left to be discovered?” Cliff said, mentioning two found within the last decade.
That’s what Sasquatches likely are—relics of an undiscovered hominin species. “There’s probably a handful of these things still existing on the planet,” he said.
Video, film, photographs, and drawings paired with tracks and fossils all contribute to recent evidence in favor of bigfoot.
The Patterson–Gimlin film is famous 1967 footage of a tall, bipedal, hairy figure that seems to be a Sasquatch. The film of “Patty” has been extensively analyzed, along with casting taken of the footprints found at the site. Cliff described Patty as clearly detailed in the images, about 10 or 15 years old, and likely quite intelligent based on tracking data of her movements in the area.
“The best reports are the ones with multiple eyewitnesses and physical evidence found at the scene,” Cliff said. Reporting accuracy often relies on how good an observer and communicator the eyewitness is, as well as the skill of the researcher or investigator.
Cliff also told the story of his encounter with a bigfoot. Near the colloquially named Bigfoot Creek in California, Cliff and his partner were conducting field research. They heard a large animal coming down the creek bed. Through the thick foliage, they perceived it to be bipedal. It stopped about 60 feet away, snapped a 70- to 80-foot-tall alder tree, then moved quickly away upstream. “They’re very large, potentially dangerous animals. It was a shock to me,” he said.
The State of Bigfoot Research
Apes and humans tend to be group-living species. Cryptozoology research on bigfoot social structure suggests parallels to that of orangutans—that is, half a dozen or so females and offspring living together within a narrow geographic area and solitary, wandering males. The rarity of Sasquatches limits cryptozoologists’ ability to study them. This might also explain why individuals rather than groups tend to be observed and tracked.
Like other apes, individual Sasquatches would likely have individual personalities informed by their life experiences. A Sasquatch that has lived near a human community might demonstrate curiosity. Yet a Sasquatch that has been shot at might be more averse to human proximity and might even become aggressive.
Cliff discussed the method of proving the existence of any animal species. Until the very recent past, a holotype specimen was obtained, meaning a dead animal. “I think that, with Sasquatches, it’ll come down to a dead one because of the resistance of scientists to accept the animals as being real based on the current evidence,” he said.
A chance exists, however, that a new formal DNA study will help identify unknown hominin species. “If Sasquatch are hominins as I suspect, maybe we can prove these things to be real without killing one. Killing every species we come across just to prove our own curiosity is correct shows who the real monsters are,” Cliff said.