Friday, June 20, 2008

The Hazards of Monster-Hunting

Richard Freeman, left, prepares to seek out the Russian wild-man. As the story below reveals, the Freeman-led CFZ team faces the possibility of crossing paths with things far more potentially hazardous and deadly than the Almasty, including terrorists and kidnappers.

Fortunately, Richard and Co. aren't letting this get in their way of seeking out the truth about the Almasty. They leave for Russia tomorrow, so wish them luck!


By Jon Downes

Man beasts and cave men in the 21st Century? Surely not. But a group of British explorers and scientists, backed by a renowned Geneticist from Oxford University, embark on an intrepid expedition into a war zone on Saturday, and they hope to come back with compelling evidence for the existence of such things.

The Yeti is one of the most iconic mystery animals in the world. Even in the 21st Century when mankind likes to think that it has conquered all the wild places of the planet, this hulking, hairy man beast still rears its ancient head and intrigues zoologists and explorers alike.

Only this week, there has been news of a new Yeti sighting in the remote West Garo hills of north-eastern India. Park ranger Dipu Marak described seeing "a black and gray ape-like animal which stands about 3m (nearly 10ft) tall".

Recently Derbyshire based artist and conservationist Pollyanna Pickering hit the headlines when she released details of what appears, on the face of it, to be a specimen of a Yeti scalp found in a remote monastery in Bhutan.

The Yeti appears to be an unknown species of ape, but sightings of such creatures, and perhaps more intriguingly, sightings of alleged primitive human-like creatures, which appear similar to the iconic Hollywood images of cave-men, still come in on a regular basis from around the world.

The Center for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] in North Devon (the world's largest organisation which searches for unknown animal species) is launching a major new expedition this week. The five explorers, led by zoologist Richard Freeman (38) - the Zoological Director of the Bideford-based centre - will be ignoring Foreign Office suggestions and flying to the tiny Russian state of Karbadino-Balkaria for a three week expedition.

In Russia they will be liaising with Ukranian biologist Grigoriy Panchenko who has been studying the creatures for fourteen years and who has had four sightings of the wild-men, which are known locally as Almasty.

The expedition is being backed by renowned academic Prof. Bryan Sykes of Oxford University, who hit the headlines a few years ago with his remarkable book The Seven Daughters of Eve which conclusively proved, through analysis of the mitochondrial DNA of a large sampling of people across the continent, that nearly everyone living in Europe today is descended from one of just seven women who lived between 10,000 and 45,000 years ago.

The Foreign Office website warns against travel to several Russian republics including Kabardino-Balkaria "as terrorism and kidnapping in these regions remain a serious problem", but in a statement released today Freeman explains why the expedition will still be going ahead.

"We haven't really got an option", he says. "If we pull out now, a lot of money and even more work will have been wasted. Grigoriy has told us that kidnapping and terrorism have not been an issue in the parts of the country where we are going, and anyway, the path of science MUST continue unhindered, if we are to push back the boundaries of human knowledge. There will be eight or ten of us in the party, if you include Grigoriy's guides, and any band of potential kidnappers would find that they had a fight on their hands".

The expedition will be tracking the Almasty and using sophisticated infra-red trigger cameras and ex-military night-sight equipment, but will also be carrying out a campaign of DNA testing amongst the inhabitants of the remote mountainous forests. "

According to local folklore the almasty can interbreed with humans" says Jonathan Downes (48), the Director of the Center for Fortean Zoology. "Professor Sykes has done some remarkable work with mitochondrial DNA, and if any of the people whom we are testing have any trace of DNA from anything other than a modern human, it will tell us that somewhere in the maternal line, one of his or her ancestors was not a member of the same species as the rest of us."

Although the expedition will not be returning to the UK until mid-July, you needn't wait until then for news from the expedition. Through the wonders of satellite technology the expedition website will be running updates every few days.

On the 17th August the team will be presenting their findings to the world as part of the three-day annual convention of the CFZ. Pollyanna Pickering will also be there and, following the interest that her revelations about a putative yeti scalp in Bhutan caused recently, will be taking questions from cryptozoological researchers from around the world.

No comments: