for National Geographic News
It's been the subject of campfire stories for decades. A camera-elusive, grooming-challenged, bipedal ape-man that roams the mountain regions of North America. Some call it Sasquatch. Others know it as Bigfoot.
Thousands of people claim to have seen the hairy hominoid, but the evidence of its existence is fuzzy. There are few clear photographs of the oversized beast. No bones have ever been found. Countless pranksters have admitted to faking footprints.
Yet a small but vociferous number of scientists remain undeterred. Risking ridicule from other academics, they propose that there's enough forensic evidence to warrant something that has never been done: a comprehensive, scientific study to determine if the legendary primate actually exists.
"Given the scientific evidence that I have examined, I'm convinced there's a creature out there that is yet to be identified," said Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University in Pocatello.
Thousands of Sightings
Sasquatch stories go back centuries. Tales of mythical giant apes lurk in the oral traditions of most Native American tribes, as well as in Europe and Asia. The Himalaya has its Abominable Snowman, or the Yeti. In Australia, Bigfoot is known as the Yowie Man.
Bigfoot advocates hypothesize that the primate is the offspring of an ape from Asia that wandered to North America during the Ice Age. They believe there are at least 2,000 ape men walking upright in North America's woods today.
An adult male is said to be at least 8 feet (2.4 meters) tall, weigh 800 pounds (360 kilograms), and have feet twice the size of a human's. The creatures are described as shy and nocturnal, and their diets consist mostly of berries and fruits.
Matt Moneymaker had been searching for Bigfoot for years. In the woods of eastern Ohio, he claims he finally came eye to eye with the elusive primate.
"It was 2 o'clock in the morning and the moon was a quarter full," recalled Moneymaker. "Suddenly, there he was, an eight-foot-tall creature, standing 15 feet away, growling at me. He wanted to let me know I was in the wrong place."
Moneymaker, who lives in Dana Point in southern California, is a lawyer who runs his own marketing agency. In his spare time, he leads the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, a network of more than 3,000 people who claim to have seen the Sasquatch.
Unfortunately, no one has been able to snap a clear picture of the beast.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES