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Sunday, November 21, 2010

LARS THOMAS: Analysis of the orang pendek hairs collected in Sumatra during the 2009 expedition

In late 2009 I was given a sample of hairs collected in Sumatra earlier that year by Adam Davies, Richard Freeman and several others taking part in the expedition searching for evidence of the elusive orang pendek, the Indonesian “abominable snowman.”

A small part of the hair sample was subjected to a DNA-analysis, but due to the small amount of DNA extracted and the rather poor condition of it, no firm conclusion could be reached. The DNA did show some similarities to primate DNA, possibly orangutan, but no definite results could be obtained.

Following this I subjected the remaing hairs to a structural analysis to see if this could bring any information to light that might reveal the identity of the owner of the hairs.

I checked all of the remaining 6 hairs and they were all consistent with hairs from large primates or humans. They all had the rather large medulla with a lot of pigmentation typical of large primates, and the intermittent holes in the centre of the hairs, making them look somewhat like hollowed out tree trunks. I compared the hair samples with reference samples of 3 different species of gibbon, orangutan, chimpanzee and bonobo, gorilla and some 15 samples of human hairs in various colours, mainly red or reddish. I was never able to ascertain their identity with total certainty, although I could eliminate some. The hairs were not modern human, and they were not from siamangs or other gibbons. They have a very deep rusty-red colour, very similar to the colour of orangutan hairs, but varied in other structural details.

So based on these results alone I concluded that the hairs were from something closely related to orangutans or from a form of orangutan I had not seen before.

In the autumn of 2010 Tom Gilbert from the DNA Laboratory of the University of Copenhagen did a further DNA test of the remaining hairs. In this case he was able to extract a good amount of DNA enabling him to conclude that whoever used to wear these hairs were either human of very closely related to humans.

So the structural analysis point to either an orangutan or something very closely related to an orangutan. The DNA analysis on the other hand point to a human or something very closely related to humans.

Based on this information I am forced to conclude that Sumatra is home to a completely new species of large primate, but I am also well aware that these results can in no way be called conclusive evidence of the existence of these animals. But it should be more than enough reason for a new expedition to go back to the area, hopefully obtaining enough evidence and samples to come to a final conclusion.


Dale Drinnon said...

Damn. Two very concrete but very different possibilities and they cannot BOTH be correct: There is evidence for something like an Orangutan and something like a small human in the different Orang Pendek accounts. It would have been really nice to have been able to say "This is from Orang Pendek A (Which leaves tracks that feature an opposed big toe)" or "This is from Orang Pendek B (Which leaves tracks that do not have an opposed big toe)" But the test results say neither thing conclusively.

All we can hope for is further and better samples and hope that after THOSE are tested we can compare THOSE results with THESE ones to see what exactly it was that we had THIS time around.

Anonymous said...

Humans and Orangs diverged quite a long time ago, so I would expect the DNA analysis to be able to separate the two. However, the hair structural analysis pointed to something else entirely.

Based on these results, I would have liked to have seen the DNA of the original collectors (Richard Freeman et al) analysed by the same methods, since I am rather suspicious that the DNA sample consists partly of human DNA contamination, and partly of Orang or Orang-like DNA. I am also rather inclined to favour the hair structural analysis over the DNA analysis, since it is much less likely to be affected by contamination.

What I would like to see done is more hair analysis of the hair of definite Orangs that were known to be in and around the area sampled. I am somewhat suspicious that the zoo Orang hairs that I'm assuming Lars is using as reference samples may not encompass the complete range of variation that is possible for wild Orangs, so a wider sample range would be nice.

To summarise: the Borneo expedition looks to have found hairs from an animal which either is, or is very closely related to Orang utans which are known to exist in that area. Whether the Orang pendek exists is impossible to determine (though I suspect that it does) from these samples, but I'm still hopeful.

Richard Freeman said...

Actually i think it can be both. We are dealing with a new species that could be radicaly different from anything known to science. A creature with ape-like hair, a long human-like heel, ape-like toes but geneticaly closer to man.
I admit to being surprised at the DNA results as i thoght the orang-pendek was a new species of terestrial orang-utan.
Debbie Martyr told me that there was supposed to be a race of tiny, hairy peole, quite distinct from the larger orang-pendek. They used fire and tools (the true orang-pendek has no fire and apart from throwing sticks when angry seems to have little tool use.)
If the true orang-pendek is closer to man than ape then we have a major discovery and a major mystery to boot. Is this a Homo erectus descendent that has adapted to jungle life and bocome more ape like? We need to get back out there soon and find out. I'm proposing baiting certain semi-cultivaed ares with fruit fr several weeks befre we visit. The creatures may come to associate the areas with food and visit on a regular basis.

rafa said...

Hi there:
I'm Dr. Rafael Segui
I'm glad to travel with you to search orang pendek

Andrew Sweeney said...

"...these results can in no way be called conclusive evidence of the existence of these animals."


On 11 September 2009, on the CFZ Sumatra 2009 blog, under the press release, I posted the comment:

"The mention of Jon Downes's chupacabra hunt outlines the typical cryptozoological expedition:

"1. Go to a place the cryptozoologist thinks is exotic;

"2. Bring back nothing conclusive;

"3. Write a book about it.

"How will this one be any different?"

Your admission demonstrates that this one was no different.

Since we've demonstrated that the result of your expedition was predictable before you even embarked, then the amount of knowledge your expedition contributed was zero, other than to confirm the predictability of the result.

Given the predictability of the result, then in my opinion, any further expedition along similar lines would have to be the result not of perserverance but of perseveration.

rafa said...

Hi there:
I'm Dr. Rafael Segui.
I'm glad to travel with you in the next expedition to search orang pendek if you need some people with medical experience in tropics

Jum said...

Uh, sounds to me like the by far most likely result is "orangutan". What a surprise.

Dr Karl Shuker said...

I agree entirely with Richard that both results could be correct and not mutually exclusive - for full details, see my latest ShukerNature blog, posted earlier today. All the best, Karl

CFZ Australia said...

Based on your outlook Andrew Sweeney, no one would ever go in search of anything if they didn't achieve success on the first couple of attempts! That the group brought back hair and tracks IMHO is quite an achievement. The fact that we can't get a definitive result should not be that surprising - working with hair and DNA is a process that is fraught with contamination and sample quality issues. Obviously this story is a long way from over, so perhaps instead of slinging arrows you might resort to suggestions instead of how future expeditions might go about nailing the proof needed to solve this intriguing mystery.

Adam Davies said...

In his report ,Lars very clearly concludes that there is an `unkown primate` in Sumatra. Exactly WHAT it is, is now open to question, and will no doubt form the debate as we move to the next stage.However, it is quite clear from this research that there is a new species out there.I find that very exciting!

Andrew Sweeney said...

CFZ Oz, we're not talking about a couple of attempts, are we? Since the start of the 20th century, how many people have sought the orang pendek, Bigfoot, and other crytozoological mainstays? How many have brought back conclusive proof? How many times do you need to get an inconclusive result - and have that result predicted beforehand - before you begin to examine your assumptions?

While cryptozoology has spent decades unable to prove conclusively the existence of a handful of creatures, biologists discover thousands of new species every year. Yes, the discovery of new vertebrates is relatively uncommon - but each year, the number is still in the hundreds.

If the return of hair and tracks is quite an achievement IYHO, then your standards of achievement must be low.

Just about every cryptozoological expedition brings back inconclusive physical evidence. That's how I was able to predict the result of this expedition more than a year in advance. Cryptozoological tourism survives because of inconclusive evidence: monster hunters can say, literally, "Well, we brought back something!", yet the mystery is never resolved - therefore, there's always an audience.

CFZ Australia said...

Andrew, you're clearly referring to the efforts of the CFZ expedition in your post, so let's not play semantics.
To say my standards are quite low because I'm excited about hair and tracks collected on the latest trip is just plain silly - there are many field surveys carried out all over the world in search of various (confirmed) creatures, and scientists are lucky to return with any kind of trace of their existence in a particular area - let alone suspected hair and tracks of their particular quarry.
I'd urge you to keep an open mind and park your pessimism somewhere else for the time being.
Surely even you *might* be excited by, at the very least, the discovery of a new species of ape should it prove to be in the case of the Orang Pendek?

Brains said...

Analyze the hair as well to find what diet the owner was eating this will help to find the area the hair owner is most likely to be found.
Happy Hunting.