Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and more may soon cross over from fiction to fact.
You might have been surprised to find your news feed filled with stories about the scientifically confirmed existence of “unicorns” back in March.
But for cryptozoologists — those who search for and study creatures whose existence has not actually been proven — this so-called “discovery” was a rather yawn-worthy affair indeed.
That’s right: Unicorns’ existence was only a surprise to you.
And that’s just the beginning. Cryptozoologists believe that there are many “fictional” creatures that are just waiting to be discovered. Calling all Yetis, mer-people and Loch Ness monsters: Now’s your time to make yourself known.
One beast that has cryptozoologists chattering is Gigantopithecus. The now-extinct ape was the largest ever known — and thanks to Disney’s new concept of King Louie in Jon Favreau’s update of “The Jungle Book,” is enjoying new popularity.
“Gigantopithecus is thought to be what the Yeti or Bigfoot might be,” Loren Coleman, director of Portland, Maine’s one-of-a-kind International Cryptozoology Museum, explains to The Post. Coleman adds that the pop-culture impact of the film’s inclusion of that creature — above the ape or orangutan, as shown in previous imaginings of the classic tale — has been felt on his end.
This is not a “mythical” creature, he’s quick to specify. This is “legendary.” And now people are talking about it again, giving a mini-boon to the interest in this possible Bigfoot brother.
“Beneath the smoke, there’s fire,” he explains of the cryptozoological imperative. “What we’re searching for are new species … Indigenous people report these creatures — they maybe use the words ‘fantastic’ or ‘monsters,’ but they really think that there’s a real animal out there.”
Before you start chuckling at those holding out hope that these creatures have ever existed or might even still — understandable, given the prevalence of false sightings on YouTube or even prop staging, of late — consider some recent advances in the science.
In 2003, for example, J.R.R. Tolkien might’ve rolled over in his grave to give two very enthusiastic thumbs up to the archaeological finding of Homo floresiensis, a.k.a. hobbits (!), in Indonesia’s Flores Island.
“The hobbits were a very big deal because they were recently extinct, and they very much match the stories of ‘little people’ — the Menehune in Hawaii and some in Ebu Gogo,” Coleman says. “They weren’t fairy tales or urban legends.” (Cue the Samwise Gamgee smile.)
The very next year, Japanese researchers recorded the first-ever observations of a giant sea squid (release the Kraken!) in the wild, and in 2013, a fifth species of the tapir — the long-celebrated dreameater from Chinese and Japanese folklore — was unearthed. The list goes on.
There are some creatures, however, that even those among this community of “open-minded skeptics” are willing to discount (although perhaps not entirely).
“Dragons, unicorns — those might be based upon known animals” in lore, explains Coleman, who adds zombies, ghosts, vampires and aliens to the list of things not covered by his museum. But among the so-called “legendary” crew of creatures that might have foundation in a distinct species are mer-beings and sea-apes, which “may be names for unknown cryptids,” chupacabras (the two-legged kind from Latin America, not those canine breeds out of Mexico), and Ogopogo, the British Columbia Lake Monster. Don’t discount those just yet.
A few in-the-works cases for fantastic beasts on the rise might cause a public suspension of disbelief within our lifetimes.
The biggest? If you haven’t already heard of the Orang Pendek, a 3- to 4-foot-tall “hairy ape-like creature” that dwells within the “lost worlds” of Central Asia, you might want to brace yourself for an onslaught in coming years because it’s going be a real doozy in the cryptozoology world.
“For the last 25 years, there have been consistently good reports, good sightings, good footprints, and also some hair samples, and I’d say we’re within 25 years of a major anthropological discovery in that area,” Coleman says. “That will really shake up the anthropological world and the zoological world, and it will be an outstanding discovery.”
So does that mean there’s hope for the Loch Ness Monster and Yeti enthusiasts in the crowd? You bet. While there are an estimated 200 different potential species being studied by cryptozoologists at any given time — the discipline works hand in hand with anthropologists, zoologists, paleontologists and everyone else under the discovering sun — even these so-called “celebrity creatures” are still definitely in the optimistic interest zone, too.
It’s even a misconception to think there’s just one breed of Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster roaming about.
“We’re much more interested in whether or not reports of a Bigfoot or lake monster or unknown animals seen in the river might actually be related to new species,” says Coleman, who adds that it’s even a misconception to think there’s just one breed of Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster roaming about. “All the cryptozoologists worth their salt know that there’s breeding populations of different animals out there.”
“We’re not evangelical about it,” he adds. “We don’t really care if anybody notices what we’re doing because part of the work of cryptozoology is a passionate interest in animals as well as an incredible amount of patience.” And the reason we won’t soon see a taxidermied version of Bigfoot even if it is sighted by someone in the field to eliminate all doubt?
“We’re very much animal conservationists, too. Most cryptozoologists nowadays are not like John James Audubon or the Victorian Era of zoology. They don’t go out and shoot animals to prove they exist. We try for DNA sampling, live captures and photographs.”
The areas that are considered habitat hotbeds for new species research right now, he explains, are those which have recently undergone political transformation, like Vietnam and Laos. The end of the Vietnam War, he said, opened up the floodgates for scientific research, leading to the discovery of “new animals that were really kind of ignored during the war.”
“Only after these conflicts really subside do you find that ‘Oh, wait a second, let’s think about the animals’” attitude toward the scientific value of an area’s fauna, he says.
Central Africa currently lies within that “artificial wall” of human violence that prevents researchers from safely uncovering what hidden gems of Animalia might exist within. One such, at present, is an aquatic rhinoceros that has been reported but that is feared will become extinct before it’s officially discovered.
If that is the case, then it, too, will become a “legend” of what once was … but no less real.
Real unicorns were actually pretty ugly: