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.
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.
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.