Sasquatch Cognition – Displaced Reference

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Nov 252018

A female orangutan and her baby in Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia. (Credit: By Don Mammoser/Shutterstock)

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time in the woods at night trying to elicit vocalizations from sasquatches.  To get a bigfoot to call back, I usually make sounds of my own in hopes of tricking a sasquatch into thinking one of their own species is calling.  I might try howls, screams, whoops, or any number of other vocalizations. Usually, nothing calls back and the night is quiet for long stretches of time.  However, every once in a while a vocalization immediately rings out in the night suggesting a sasquatch was within earshot (or some other animal, like coyotes). Immediate call backs are rare, though.  More commonly, a period of time passes, and a vocalization happens when one least expects it (which is a good reason to have an audio recorder constantly running).  These vocalizations could happen a few minutes later, or quite a bit later in the night. 

I’ve often speculated why this might be true, thinking the sasquatch was far away and wanted to get closer to the source noise (my vocalization), or perhaps wanted to move to a better acoustic position for listening our projecting sounds.  A new hypothesis has now arisen from the study of another ape species, the orangutan. 

Researchers exposed wild orangutans to models of predators (like tigers) and waited for alarm responses.  As it turns out, the closer the predator was to the orangutan, the longer it waited to vocalize its alarm call.  Also, the younger a female’s infant was had bearing on when the orangutan would vocalize.  In many cases, the vocalizations would come long after the predator model was removed. 

Researchers scared orangutans with representations of predators to study their responses. Credit: Adriano R. Lameira

What this means in the case of the orangutan is that the species can vocalize, or talk, about things that aren’t there.  This is very rare in the animal kingdom with only humans and honeybees having this ability, often referred to as “displaced reference.” 

Is this what is happening with sasquatches and their delayed callbacks?  I’m not sure.  However, it is certainly an interesting possibility that should be considered while doing field research.  Just your presence in an area would likely be considered something of a threat for a sasquatch, so delays in responses should probably be the norm in this case.  

I think the only takeaway for us researchers would be to cultivate patience when waiting for callbacks.  Too often I’ve been in the woods and my colleagues have urged me to move on after only a few minutes of listening.  I’ve always thought that a minimum of 20 or 30 minutes should be spent listening quietly for responses, and this study supports my gut feeling on this issue.  

That the sasquatch might have the cognitive ability of displaced reference should come as no surprise.  After all, they are likely a hominin like us in many ways, so they should show many of the same cognative features that we do, both morphologically and behaviorally.  As we learn more about bigfoots, I will not at all be surprised when better documentation arises suggesting they have a language or some sort of proto-language with which they often chat each other up about stuff in the recent past or near future.  

As a final note, I strongly suggest all bigfoot researchers dive deeply into the sciences of primatology and paleoanthropology.  It is only by studying the context from which sasquatches arose that we will properly assign them their perch in the brushy limbs of human evolution.  Studying the other apes will give insight to sasquatch behavior, as Dr. Bindernagel showed in his excellent book.  Studying sasquatch behavior will shed light into what it means to be human by comparing and contrasting them with ourselves. 

The study is available as a PDF directly from Science Advances, or you can click the link below to read a shorter article summarizing the journal article.  

Orangutans Delay Their Calls — It’s A Sign They’re Smarter Than We Thought

By Bill Andrews | November 14, 2018 1:18 pm

A female orangutan and her baby in Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia. (Credit: By Don Mammoser/Shutterstock)

It’s easy enough to spot similarities between orangutans and humans — the “man of the forest” can certainly act human, and they share our big brains, social structures and even opposable thumbs. It shouldn’t be too surprising, since we also share about 97 percent of our DNA with the great apes.

But a new finding, published today in Science Advances, suggests we may have even more in common than that, as orangutans showed the capacity for a form of abstract communication we’d never seen before. It’s a finding that reflects not just the apes’ abilities, but may also shed light on how language evolved in the first place.

Thinking Like Orangutans

While many animals can communicate with each other, only humans seem to have actual languages, a hallmark of which is the ability to talk about things that aren’t there. The linguist Charles Hockett called this phenomenon “displaced reference,” since whatever the speaker referred to was displaced in space or time. Besides humans, only honeybees had been observed to engage in this behavior, communicating the location of food via dance — and it’s not really a function of cognitive abilities, either. Great apes, such as orangutans, have displayed the capacity for displaced reference, albeit only in captivity.

Click here to read the rest of this article.

New Species of Gibbon Discovered in Chinese Tomb

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Jun 262018

An interesting article popped up in my news feed regarding the discovery of an extinct gibbon species being discovered in a Chinese noblewoman’s tomb.  (The noblewoman is thought to be the grandmother of the first emperor of China.)  The gibbon, or its skeleton, was buried over 2000 years ago presumably with its owner along with a smattering of her possessions.  

The discovery of a new ape species is always a spectacular find, but there is an interesting twist to the story.  This discovery is the first confirmed example of an ape species going extinct since the last ice age.  This would likely mean that the gibbon population was directly affected by humans in some way, whether it was from habitat loss, or perhaps even from the collection of individuals for use as pets.  This latter cause was common among nobles in ancient China.  

No matter what the cause, this discovery should highlight the precarious nature of apes’ foothold in nature.  Let’s hope that sasquatches are more resilient.  

Before reading the article below, please enjoy listening to the calls of wild gibbons recorded in Sumatra:


Scientists studying bones excavated from an ancient tomb in Shaanxi Province, central China, have discovered an entirely new but already extinct genus of gibbons.

The discovery was made by scientists led by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London), while studying the contents of a burial chamber dating from around 2,300 years ago that possibly belonged to Lady Xia – grandmother to China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, the leader who ordered the building of the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Warriors.

The tomb, first excavated in 2004, was found to contain 12 burial pits with animal remains, which included gibbon bones. Sophisticated computer modelling reveals that these ancient bones represent an entirely new genus and species of gibbon, which the team has named Junzi imperialis. Historical records reveal that Junzi probably survived until less than 300 years ago.

All of the world’s apes – chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans and gibbons – are threatened with extinction today due to human activities, but no ape species were thought to have become extinct as a result of historic hunting or habitat loss. However, the discovery of the recently extinct Junzichanges this, and highlights the vulnerability of gibbons in particular.

To read the rest of this article, click this link.  


Orangutan Research Predicts What Bigfoot Research Will Look Like

 Animals, Anthropology, Apes, Biology, primates  Comments Off on Orangutan Research Predicts What Bigfoot Research Will Look Like
Jan 172017

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.

Unusual Orangutan Behavior Sheds Light on Human Speech

 Animals, Apes, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Unusual Orangutan Behavior Sheds Light on Human Speech
Aug 042016

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.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

May 222014
An orang pendek cast collected on July 14, 2013.

The Orang Pendek Project has been an amazing project to work on, but it has not been without its setbacks and frustrations.  Some of these frustrations arise from incomplete documentation or lost data.  After all, the project spans three continents and two languages.  That’s not even to mention the cultural differences that sometimes cause confusion or other complications.

This cast is a great example of these complications.  There was a track investigation on July 14, 2013, and several photographs of a footprint in the ground were recorded that day.  The cast seen above came with the bundle of data sent by my Sumatran contact that serves as a middle-man.  However, the cast cannot be from the footprint pictured in the ground; it’s the wrong foot!

We apparently have some missing data somewhere, but I will still record this footprint as from the date above.  Perhaps it is another footprint from the same line of prints?  Perhaps it’s from another date altogether?  I do not know, and am unlikely to ever know.  I do know that as the project proceeds, the documentation is getting better and better.  Hopefully this sort of error will be avoided in the future.

I present the data, fuzzy as it may be, for your enjoyment.

Click here to read more about this print, and to see more photographs.