A male Sumatran orangutan challenges a rival by baring his teeth and shaking branches. Now recognized as a distinct species, Sumatran orangutans number around 14,000 in the wild.
The below article is one of the best short articles I have read in a long time about the trials and tribulations of doing research on orangutans. While reading it, I was struck by the similarity between what orangutan researchers put up with and what bigfoot field researchers deal with, and what professionals biologists will have to deal with after species recognition. Long excursions to desolate locations, listening for howls and calls to locate the creatures, and difficulty visually observing the animals are all commonalities while doing field work on these elusive and solitary apes.
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve chosen the most difficult thing in the world to study,”
– Cheryl Knott, biological anthropologist
I’m sure it feels like this to Cheryl Knott, but bigfoot research after the species is recognized by science will be even harder. Like orangutans, sasquatches seem to live mostly solitarly lives, or if they do travel in groups, they do so at a distance from one another. Orangutans also have large territories and wander widely, but being a terrestrial species rather than the arboreal orangutans, sasquatch range would be much larger, and they would move much faster.
Keep these challenges in mind as you read the below article. Also, note the behavioral similarities between sasquatches and orangutans, such as the long calls and pushing down of trees in territorial displays. Articles like this leave me wondering about what unknown sasquatch behaviors they share with orangutans and the other apes that are waiting to be observed.
Inside the Private Lives of Orangutans
Scientists are gaining vital insights into the red apes at a time when they face a precarious future.
By Mel White
Photographs and Videos by Tim Laman
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve chosen the most difficult thing in the world to study,” Cheryl Knott tells me as we sit beneath the rain forest canopy at her orangutan research station in western Borneo. The high-pitched, dental-drill sound of cicadas fills the air, at times forcing us to pause our conversation. As we talk, Knott’s associates are at work in the surrounding forest of Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park with GPS units and iPads, following orangutans in their daily wanderings, recording what they’re doing, what they’re eating, and how they’re interacting with others of their species.
Unlike gorillas and chimpanzees—fellow great apes that live in groups and can be followed and observed relatively easily—orangutans live mostly solitary lives. They spend nearly all their time in the treetops, they wander widely, and for the most part they inhabit rugged forest or swampy lowland that’s hard for humans to traverse. As a result, orangutans long remained among the least known of Earth’s large land animals. Only during the past 20 years or so has scientific evidence begun to outweigh speculation as a new generation of researchers has tracked the elusive apes across the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, the only places orangutans live.
An interesting news item caught my attention this week. Apparently, an orangutan in the Indianapolis Zoo has learned to repeat and mimic the pitch of open vowel sounds. This shows that great apes have the capacity to learn to control their muscles to deliberately alter pitch and shape of the sounds they make. This would be a necessary precursor to having language ability.
It is already well established that some individual great apes can think and communicate using symbols. Koko the gorilla that uses sign language is the best known example of this. The discovery of an ape that mimics conversational tones is another interesting tidbit in our uncovering the mysteries of our greatest gift that seems to separate us from our more hirsute cousins, the use of language.
There are some excellent observations of sasquatches seemingly talking to one another in what seems to be more of a language than mere animal noises. One witness from the Oregon Coast described to me what seemed to her like a language that mixed phonemes from Southeast Asia and the Native tribes of Southeastern Alaska (she had experience with both the Vietnamese language, as well as the language used by the Haida people from Prince Edward Island). Interestingly, she noted that there were clicks and pops in the vocal chattering that reminded her of the Bushman, or Khoisan, language. These sounds were articulated by two distinct voices in what seemed like a conversation.
It is possible that sasquatches are just muttering to one another with no meaning behind the sounds, but I find this unlikely. The two creatures bouncing their mutterings back and forth strongly suggest some sort of conversation. It makes sense to me that since sasquatches are so human-like, they have some eerily human similarities, such as language, or at least a proto-language.
The orangutan in the Indianapolis zoo is showing us, once again, the amazing abilities of great apes. They are not so different than us, and indeed show us what we once were sort of like millions of years ago. It’s akin to looking at a child and seeing us as individuals in a less-developed state. There is no lack of love or compassion in our view of children, so there should be no less in our view of apes from our species’ perspective.
To understand what Rocky did, imagine if you meowed at your cat and it was able to mimic you completely. You start out in a high-pitch voice and then your cat surprises you by responding with the same high-pitch call. And then when you drop into a Barry White voice, your cat responds with its own seductively deep meow to match.
An Orangutan’s Mimicry Offers Clues to Language’s Origins
Orangutan hear, orangutan do.
Researchers at the Indianapolis Zoo observed an orangutan mimic the pitch and tone of human sounds, for the first time. The finding, which was published Wednesday, provides insight into the evolutionary origin of human speech, the team said.
“It really redefines for us what we know about the capabilities of orangutans,” said Rob Shumaker, director of the zoo and an author on the paper. “What we have to consider now is the possibility that the origins of spoken language are not exclusively human, and that they may have come from great apes.”
Rocky, an 11-year-old orangutan at the zoo, has a special ability. He can make sounds using his vocal folds, or voice box, that resemble the vowel “A,” and sound like “Ah.” The noises, or “wookies” as the researchers called them, are variations of the same vocalization.
Sometimes the great ape would say high-pitched “wookies” and sometimes he would say his “Ahs” in a lower pitch.
The researchers note that the sounds are specific to Rocky and ones that he used everyday. No other orangutan, captive or wild, made these noises. Rocky, who had never lived in the rain forest, apparently learned the skill during his time as an entertainment orangutan before coming to the zoo. He was at one point the most seen orangutan in movies and commercials,according to the zoo.
This is an illustration of Siats meekerorum. (Credit: Artwork by Jorge Gonzales)
A new species of huge carnivorous dinosaur has been discovered here in North America. While this is not a dinosaur blog, I found it interesting that this new species has been dubbed Siats meekerorum. The name was derived from Siats, the giant, humanoid, cannabalistic monsters from Ute mythology.
The Ute tribe are Native Americans who traditionally inhabited the Great Basin, though now they now are mostly found in Utah and Colorado. They tell stories of giant, trickster humanoids that are called Siats (females were called Bapets) who would kidnap children. The females would force the children to nurse from their breasts, poisoning and killing them. They would then eat the children after they were dead. Siats and Bapets were thought to be nearly immortal, though they could be killed with obsidian arrows or spears.
We know that nearly every Native tribe in North America has bogey man stories such as these. It is thought that many (if not all) of them derive from sasquatches sharing the lands with the Native people. Now, the Ute Siat has transcended mammalianhood and has had its name bestowed on a reptilian monster.
One commonly-used field technique for bigfooting is call blasting. Back in the late 1990’s and 2000’s, this was usually done with loudspeakers and amplifiers hooked up to CD players. The most common calls used were the Tahoe Scream (there is no public source for this recording) and the Ohio Howl.
While John Frietas is often recognized as the godfather of call blasting, it was Roger Patterson himself that tried this method first to my knowledge. He not only recreated bigfoot sounds by yelling into church bells (to add resonance), but he also blasted calls off of a tower on a property in Tampico, WA.
Call blasting sounds purportedly made by bigfoots brings a number of questions with it. First of all, how does one know the sounds are bigfoot sounds unless somebody saw the creature make the noise? Even if the recordings are in fact bigfoot sounds, what are the bigfoots saying? After all, they could be saying, “Stay away! There’s a human here!”
One interesting question that has arisen is if bigfoots have regional accents. Would a Southern bigfoot (possibly with a drawl?) answer or ignore one of its Yankee brethren? Would a Midwest bigfoot shun or welcome a Canadian sasquatch’s greeting? I would hope that bigfoots would be above stereotyping based on accents…
I ran across this article that brings to light a precedence of regional accents in primates. Sure, these are gibbons and not bigfoots, but if one ape species has this characteristic, perhaps others do. After all, humans have accents…
The gibbons studied live in the rainforests of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and China. “Each gibbon has its own variable song but, much like people, there is a regional similarity between gibbons within the same location,” said lead researcher Van Ngoc Thinh. (Source: UPI.com) (Their study was published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.)
Gibbon songs are made to travel over long distances in thickly vegetated areas by having a single frequency. It was found the songs that were most similar came from species that genetically were very closely related. Identifying gibbons by their songs is easier than by genetics because obtaining physical samples is difficult, whereas the songs are constantly being emitted and can be heard from some distance. Also, the songs can help identify where the gibbons are from, sort of like regional accents for humans.
A gelada baboon in Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. Photo by A. Davey via Flickr.
While clearly not humans, bigfoots are extremely human-like in many ways. They’re bipedal, they seem to travel in small family groups, and they are extremely intelligent. There are other possible similarities that are as of yet uncertain, but could very well be present, including the capacity for speech.
If bigfoots can in fact speak to each other using language, or perhaps some proto-language, then many interesting questions arise. These questions concern evolution, vocabulary, and even morphology that could give rise to speech. For example, does bipedalism somehow contribute to the brain or throat structure in some way that helps enable language?
Due to my interest in the possibility that bigfoots are talking to each other, I keep my eyes open for language ability in primates. I was recently sent this article about sounds made by a species of baboon. These sounds contain patterns and “wobbles” that closely resemble human speech. Please keep in mind, this is not evidence of language use by baboons. It only shows a similarity between the sounds the baboons make and the sounds we make. To quote the article:
“What it’s showing is this possibility for rhythmic expression and vocal output,” Ghazanfar said. “This possibility exists and geladas have exploited it. But it doesn’t show a direct relationship between what we can do and what geladas can do.”
Still, I think it’s cool, interesting, and pertinent to what I do. Here is the article for you to enjoy:
Babbling Sounds of Monkeys Share Rhythms with Human Speech BY: JENNY MARDER
Scientists studying the evolution of speech have long puzzled over why there are no good models in primates. While primates share many traits with humans — they’ve been known to play, grieve, fight, even laugh — speech isn’t one of them.
With one possible exception. A group of wild monkeys from the Ethiopian highlands called geladas, which are closely related to baboons, make gutteral babbling noises that sound eerily human-like. And they do it while smacking their lips together. The combination of lip smacking and vocal sounds is called a “wobble.” A study in this week’s issue of the journal Current Biology analyzed the rhythm of the wobble and found that it closely matched that of human speech.
While watching this, remove the gorilla and insert a sasquatch. Is this level of interaction with a bigfoot possible? Could it be that extended video of this quality could remove the need of a type specimen (a dead one) to prove the species? I think it’s at least possible, and certainly worth a try.
People claim to have achieved this level of interaction with bigfoots, but so far these stories are just that: stories. I suggest that to avoid the killing of a bigfoot, people who say they have this level of interaction should produce video of this quality or better.
I’m not saying, “Put up or shut up.” I’m saying that we should do this for them, the big guys. There are already several groups actively pursuing the killing of a specimen. One will eventually be successful. Can those who take a more compassionate stance beat them to the punch?
Bigfoots are real. The “discovery” of the species is inevitable. Can we avoid killing one to prove they are real? Not unless we try.
Every year around this time, I hear about the “bigfoot ball game,” but when I turn it on, I never see any bigfoots. So, I turn the channel right to Animal Planet to watch some Puppy Bowl.
This year I happened to be in New York City during the filming of Puppy Bowl. Luckily, I have a couple contacts over at Animal Planet, and after pulling a few strings I was able to score an excellent seat in the executive sky box on the 50 yard line.
Enjoy the following behind-the-scenes pics from my ridiculously fun and cute visit to the set of Puppy Bowl IX.
Three stars of Puppy Bowl IX and Cliff Barackman. Two of the stars were squirmier than the other.
The view of Puppy Bowl Stadium from my sky box seats
As you can probably imagine, working on the road nine or ten months a year almost exclusively doing bigfooting can really throw one’s life a little out of balance. I do so much more than just bigfoot stuff, or at least I used to… When I get a chance to do any of my non-bigfooting hobbies, I grab the opportunity to escape my bigfoot bubble for a few minutes.
I was recently in Orlando, FL doing a speaking engagement for FLIR, so on my day off I called an old friend who recently moved to the area from the Pacific Northwest. His name is Darrin, and he was my manager at Angler’s Tackle Box, my very first job back in 1986 in Seal Beach, CA.
Darrin now works for American Tackle, the second largest fishing rod component supplier in the world, so any chance to hang with my buddy is a chance to do some fishing. Florida is renown for its fishing, so I knew I was in for a treat.
Below is the article Darrin published in his blog about our morning spent together:
Cliff Barackman kayak fishing in Mosquito Lagoon, FL.
The MicroWave interest ranges far and wide. Cliff Barackman from Animal Planet’s hit TV show, “Finding Big Foot” spent time in Florida’s Mosquito Lagoon “finding red fish.” Cliff, an angler and custom rod builder, heard about the MicroWave Line Control System and wanted to experience it for himself. In between location shoots he arranged a meeting at American Tackle’s FL headquarters and was hosted to MWG testing in the field for red drum. Cliff is an accomplished musician and teacher by trade but has also been a dedicated Sasquatch field researcher for the past two decades. Known throughout the Sasquatch scientific community for his extended expeditions, he’s been known to spend over 200 days a year in the field. Over the years he has managed to gather data supporting the hypothesis that Sasquatches are an undiscovered species of great ape that walks bipedal-ly and lives in North America. His adventures found him participating in several TV shows, attracting Discovery-Animal Planet’s attention leading to his current role in that channel’s 3rd highest rated TV show to date. Though finding and documenting data is a goal of Cliff’s research, it is not the primary goal. The process of bigfooting is plain fun!
Cliff with a decent red drum. They get a lot bigger than this!
I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open for promising locations to go bigfooting. One of the most promising spots would be where the official transportation workers dump road kill. A steady supply of food like road kill, especially during the winter months, would be a promising location to observe over the long run in case a local bigfoot utilizes the area for some easy pickings. This is exactly what happened in Rhode Island where Nick saw his bigfoot. This recent headline jumped out at me (perhaps that isn’t the best way to put it in this case). As it turns out, deer have been jumping off a bridge. They think the reason is that the animals get frightened by oncoming vehicles and don’t realize that there is no safe ground to land on, so they plummet to their deaths. No matter what the cause, the result is that there are often dead deer under this bridge. That sort of thing would eventually bring in scavengers, and quite possibly bigfoots. If you happen to live near Boise, ID, and you have some extra time on your hands, I would like to encourage you to check this area out. Go to the bridge area and do some knocks or calls. Hike down to the water and look for footprints along the reservior. Utilize this natural chum to see if it’s bringing in any bigfoots. The habitat looks promising, especially after seeing what kind of habitat bigfoots occupy in Idaho, and winter is upon us. The big guys might be using this as an easy meal source to help them get through the lean times. We won’t know unless somebody looks into it. Why not you? Be ready for a long-term effort, if this pans out at all. If you go there, please contact me and tell me how it went. Perhaps I can help in some way. Also, perhaps you know of an area where collected road kill is regularly dumped. I’d absolutely love to know the location of any such meaty gold mine. Here’s the article that caught my attention: Wildlife officials mystified over hundreds of deer regularly jumping to their deaths off 120-foot Idaho bridge
The frightening scene of hundreds of deer jumping to their deaths off a 120-foot bridge in Idaho is bewildering wildlife officials who are finding themselves at a loss on what to do. With motorists and state officials catching sight of the deers’ tragic leap and fall off High Bridge, just east of Boise, witnesses are rallying for some way to prevent their tragic deaths.
‘I’ve seen it myself and some of our staff have seen it too,’ Evin Oneale, a manager with the Idaho Fish and Game Development told KBOI.
Click here to read the rest of the article. Ungulate lovers beware… There is a pretty crazy video of deer jumping for it at the above link.
While I was out of town for the holidays, I received this important email from the Jane Goodall Institute. The cable network, and friends of the ‘squatch, Animal Planet, have generously offered Dr. Goodall a matching grant until the last day of this year! That means for every dollar any person donates to the Jane Goodall Institute, Animal Planet gives another dollar, make each private donation worth twice as much! Hurry, though. This offer from AP is only good until December 31st!
Please consider giving something, no matter how small, to this worthy cause. Also, consider watching a lot more Animal Planet in the near future. It’s good for the brain!
Here’s the original email I received:
With just over a week left in 2010, we have an exciting matching gift opportunity from Animal Planet!
Animal Planet’s R.O.A.R. program has partnered with Roots & Shoots members in support of their endangered species youth campaign to raise money for our chimpanzee conservation efforts in Africa.
Animal Planet will match your donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $25,000 until December 31, 2010.
As you know we have an incredible task in front of us to build the supplemental sanctuary site at Tchimpounga. You donation right now will help us in these efforts and ensure that we receive the full $25,000 offered to us by Animal Planet.