15 Hirsute Alternatives to Bigfoot

A creative imagining of an Orang Pendek, adapted from an original artwork by Tim Bertelink via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Earlier this month, the head of the University of New Mexico's Gallup campus was under fire for spending public money on a Bigfoot conference and expedition. Never mind that there are no fossils, no corpses, no DNA samples, nor any other hard evidence to suggest Bigfoot exists. Nearly 50 years after the famous Patterson–Gimlin footage was shot in northern California, people are still looking for hairy hulking apemen (fewer apewomen) hiding from us in the forests.

To the collective annoyance of skeptics, these stories aren’t likely to go away any time soon. Just take a look across the globe and back through history and you’ll find that lots of cultures have tales about shaggy, often smelly cryptids (animals of unproven existence). In their 2013 book Abominable Science, authors Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero acknowledge that Bigfoot myths might enjoy plausibility for a good evolutionary reason: There was a time when “footprints in the mud really did mean that another bipedal primate was lurking about.” Indeed, our human ancestors used to share forests with once-mysterious orangutans, gorillas, and, a very long time ago, the now-extinct primates like Gigantopithecus. Today, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, dominates the lore of North America. But here are 15 hirsute alternatives that show just how ubiquitous these mythical creatures are.


The screeching, putrid-smelling, campsite-wrecking Mogollon Monster is said to stalk Arizona’s Mogollon Rim. The first record of a sighting might come from a 1903 edition of The Arizona Republican, in which a man named I.W. Stevens claimed he saw a clawed apeman that was covered in gray hair and had a matted beard that reached to his knees. This beast carried a club, drank the blood of cougars and “screamed the wildest, most unearthly screech,” according to Stevens. He himself never claimed it was a monster; instead, he speculated it was someone held hostage and then abandoned by Native Americans. Several decades later, future cryptozoologist Don Davis claimed he had his own encounter with the Mogollon Monster during a 1940s Boy Scout camping trip (he was 13 at the time), noting that the creature had deep-set expressionless eyes, a square head, and a stench so bad Davis thought he had soiled his sleeping bag in terror.


Chemist J. Norman Collie believed in science. But still he was spooked by a shadowy presence while hiking alone on Scotland’s second highest peak, Ben MacDui. He told of the experience at the General Meeting of the Cairngorm Club in Aberdeen in 1925: “As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch, sounded behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it, I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDui and I will not go back there again by myself I know.” Collie wasn’t alone. Others have described similar run-ins with the yeti-like Grey Man, or Am Fear Liath Mòr. According to The Scotsman, these encounters seem more spiritual than physical, often accompanied by “uncontrolled terror, deep despair and huge negative energy.”


Apemen—and apewomen—come in all sizes. On the Indonesian island of Flores, “Ebu Gogo" means “the grandmother who eats anything.” These fabled creatures are said to be diminutive, hairy, and pot-bellied. Some believers have tried to link these cryptids to the hobbit-like human Homo floresiensis, whose bones were also found on Flores. But recent research suggests that species died out 50,000 years ago.


In Central Asia, Bigfoot takes the form of the Almas. This legendary apeman of the Altai Mountains is supposedly more humanoid in form than the North American Bigfoot, and some cryptozoologists have tried claiming that Almases might make up a holdout population of Neanderthals. Close encounters have not been limited to sightings of shadowy figures in the woods. In one troublingly racist episode from the 19th century, a woman of African descent named Zana was held captive in Russia by villagers who suspected she was an Almas. Worse, some scientists today are apparently still trying to prove she was not human.


Bigfoot’s best known (and perhaps most-sought) companion might be the Yeti, or "Abominable Snowman,” who roams the Himalayas. The Yeti has its origins in old Sherpa folklore, but it became the hulking shaggy apeman of pop culture after Western mountaineers started exploring Mount Everest in the 20th century and came back with sensational tales. In 1959, the American Embassy in Kathmandu released a memo notifying would-be Yeti hunters that they would have to apply for a permit with the Nepalese government and could photograph but not kill any Yeti they might find.


If you can take the witness sketches as accurate representations, the Yowie is sort of like a hairy luchador with a cone-shaped head and the posture of a gorilla. While alleged sightings are still reported in the wilds of Australia, the Yowie has its roots in Aboriginal legends, and European colonizers sometimes referred to the creature as the “Australian ape.” In 1882, a newspaper columnist in Sydney told of a sighting near Bateman's Bay in New South Wales: “I should think that if it were standing perfectly upright it would be nearly 5ft high. It was tailless and covered with very long black hair, which was of a dirty red or snuff-colour about the throat and breast…On the whole it was a most uncouth and repulsive looking creature, evidently possessed of prodigious strength, and one which I should not care to come to close quarters.”


Malay for “short man,” the Orang Pendek supposedly lives in the jungles of the island Sumatra. This ground-dwelling, pint-sized creature is said to have long arms and broad shoulders. It apparently lacks special powers—though it might throw rocks at you if it feels threatened.


During a lion-hunting expedition in Tanzania in the early 20th century, a man named William Hichens saw “mystery men-beasts” called Agogwe and lived to tell the tale. “They were like little men, about four feet high, walking upright, but clad in russet hair,” Hichens wrote. “The native hunter with me gaped in mingled fear and amazement. They were, he said, agogwe, the little furry men whom one does not see once in a lifetime.” The locals also said that if you put a gourd of beer and a bowl of food out in your garden, the Agogwe would take the food and do some hoeing and weeding at night in return, which was just too much for Hichens to buy. “That, I can well believe, is myth.”


Alaskans have a rather demonic version of Bigfoot: kushtakas. In the language of the Tlingit indigenous tribe of the Pacific Northwest, “kushtaka” means "land otter man.” Sure, otters are cute, but kushtakas have the not-so-cute ability to shape-shift, possess people, steal souls, and cause landslides. In The Strangest Story Ever Told, miner Harry D. Colp claimed that one of his companions was beset by a swarm of these sexless, sore-covered, monkey-like creatures during a prospecting trip in southeastern Alaska’s Thomas Bay in 1900. Undaunted by such accounts, actor Charlie Sheen reportedly took a private jet to Alaska to hunt kushtakas in 2013. He did not find any of the elusive creatures.


In the 1920s, Swiss scientist George Alexis Montandon claimed he had evidence of a human-sized ape that lurked in Venezuela. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the so-called De Loys’ Ape was revealed to be a hoax based on a manipulated photo of a common spider monkey.


People living around Mt. Hiba in northern Hiroshima during the 1970s claimed to see an ape-like man, shorter than the American Bigfoot and with a coat of reddish brown hair. The so-called Hibagon apparently created such a frenzy that police for a time escorted children to school. One grainy (and not very convincing) picture purports to show the Hibagon, but other than that, there’s no other evidence for this creature.


Besides Bigfoot, there are several other monsters said to terrorize North America. There’s Momo in Missouri, the Tuttle Bottoms Monster in Illinois, and of course the Ohio Grassman. According to one Bigfoot enthusiast website, the Grassman looks like an upright chesty gorilla who hangs out in cornfields and is known to kill dogs.


Roaming the wilds of the Florida Everglades is a man-beast covered in fur that is variously known as the Skunk Ape, Swamp Cabbage Man, or Stink Ape. It’s said to have the odor of rotten eggs—maybe because, as some claim, the Skunk Ape lives in muddy caves. The creature is occasionally drawn to campsites and cabins in search of food, but, according to other reports, the Skunk Ape might be a picky eater. Some say it’s been known to kill deer, tear open the carcass and only eat the liver.


In the Brazilian Amazon, people claim to have had encounters with the sluggish and clawed Mapinguary, a name sometimes translated as “the roaring animal” or “the fetid beast.” The legends about this creature could possibly be based on ancient memories of the elephant-sized giant ground sloth, Megatherium. This real-life sloth went extinct in South America a few thousand years ago, but fossil evidence shows that humans once hunted them.


Another apeman said to be hiding out in the rainforests of Brazil is the Maricoxi. A decade before he disappeared while looking for an ancient lost city in the Amazon, explorer Percy Fawcett claimed he saw several Maricoxi in Brazil in 1914. Fawcett described them as “enormous” grunting creatures which were hairy like dogs. In one encounter, he said that he used his gun to scare off one of these bow-and-arrow–armed apemen.

Mark Golitko
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6000-Year-Old Skull Might Belong to World's Oldest Tsunami Victim
Scientists speak to residents in Aitape.
Scientists speak to residents in Aitape.
Mark Golitko

Tsunamis and other natural disasters have taken a deadly toll on human populations for millennia, and now we may have the oldest example of that truth yet. An international team of anthropologists and environmental researchers recently analyzed a cracked skull that belonged to a person who likely died in a tsunami some 6000 years ago. They detail their find in a new study published in PLOS One.

The partial skull in question, known as the Aitape skull, was found in Papua New Guinea in 1929 during a geological survey by an Australian scientist named Paul Hossfield. It has since been dated to the mid-Holocene epoch, or around 6000 years ago.

For the current study, the scientists returned to the site of the 1929 discovery to sample and analyze the sediment there to find out more about what might have killed the person millennia ago. They had only Hossfield's basic field descriptions to go on, but University of Notre Dame anthropologist Mark Golitko, one of the study’s authors, says that based on those descriptions, they think they were able to sample within 100 yards or so of the skull's original location.

The top of a brown cracked skull against a pink background
Arthur Durband

Based on the grain size, chemical signature, and marine microalgae found within the sediment samples, they were able to determine that around the time that the skull was buried, the area was inundated with water, probably from a tsunami. At that time, the site, located near the present-day town of Aitape, would have been just along the shoreline. Aitape was also the site of a devastating tsunami in 1998, and the Holocene sediments resembled the ones associated with that disaster.

It's possible that the skull was buried before the tsunami hit, and the grave was ripped apart by the waters and the rest of the bones scattered. However, during the powerful 1998 tsunami that killed more than 2100 people in Papua New Guinea, bodies buried in modern cemeteries were not uprooted even as the sediment above them washed away, making it more likely that the ancient skull belonged to someone killed in the disaster.

The new analysis has "made us realize that human populations in this area have been affected by these massive inundations for thousands of years," study co-author James Goff of the University of New South Wales said in a press statement. "Given the evidence we have in hand, we are more convinced than before that this person was either violently killed by a tsunami, or had their grave ripped open by one."

Field Museum anthropologist John Terrell, another co-author of the study, said, "If we are right about how this person had died thousands of years ago, we have dramatic proof that living by the sea isn't always a life of beautiful golden sunsets and great surfing conditions."

6 Pioneering Facts About Mary Leakey

Fossil bones and the earliest footprints of our human ancestors are just a few of Mary Leakey’s groundbreaking discoveries. Get to know the legendary paleoanthropologist, and learn how her serendipitous finds forever altered scientists’ understanding of human origins.


Mary Leakey (1913-1996), née Mary Nicol, was destined to be an explorer: Her father, Erskine Nicol, was a landscape painter, and the family traveled extensively through France, Italy, and Switzerland. While staying in a commune in southern France, 12-year-old Mary became interested in archaeology after meeting Elie Peyrony, a French prehistorian excavating a cave. Mary dug through his tiny finds—which included fine points, scrapers, and flint blades—and sorted them into an amateur classification system.


Leakey’s parents were artists, but hunting for fossils was part of her heritage: Her maternal great-great-grandfather was John Frere, an 18th-century English government official and antiquarian who’s credited with first recognizing Stone Age flint objects as early weapons and tools.


Leakey was intelligent, but she also had a rebellious streak. As a teen, she was expelled from several Roman Catholic convent schools—once for intentionally creating an explosion in a chemistry lab. Figuring she wasn’t cut out for a classroom, Leakey never finished high school, and decided to pursue independent studies in art, geology, and archaeology at the University of London instead. (“I had never passed a single school exam, and clearly never would,” the scientist later wrote in her 1986 autobiography Disclosing the Past.)


Mary Leakey—who inherited her father’s artistic skills— ended up working as an illustrator for archaeological digs. An archaeologist introduced her to Cambridge University paleontologist Louis Leakey, who needed an illustrator for his book Adam’s Ancestors (1934). The two became lovers, but their union resulted in scandal, as Leakey was still married at the time. The couple married in 1936, after Leakey divorced his first wife.


Mary Leakey's first major discovery came in 1948 when she found a fossil skull fragment of Proconsul africanus, an ancestor of apes and humans, which later diverged into two separate species. The fossil was thought to be more than 18 million years old.


In 1978, Leakey was on an expedition in Laetoli, in Tanzania, when members of her camp engaged in a spirited elephant dung fight. A scientist fell down, and he noticed strange indentations on the ground that had been recently exposed by erosion. They turned out to be tracks made around 3.7 million years prior, from animals that had walked over damp volcanic ash. Examining these prints took several years, but the team's efforts paid off when Leakey noted that one of the prints seemed to be made by a hominin. This discovery showed that early humans began walking upright long before scientists thought they had.

Additional source: Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings, Virginia Morell


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