Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Monday, May 17, 2010

DALE DRINNON: Orangs and Yetis at All Sizes

L: Yeti Territory (Mt Everest region double-circled)
R: Yeti and Orangutan with male head peak

The search for the orang pendek has been the focus of much interest at the CFZ. The orang pendek is frequently singled out as the cryptid most likely to be discovered next and added to the known species category. The press releases very frequently simplify the situation for the layman to more easily get the thrust of the argument. There is more than one kind of orang pendek and the name does not specifically refer to any one thing in particular.

L: "Heuvelmans Yeti Compared to Orangutan Proportions" R: BH Orang Pendek As Dwarfed Solo Man

The names orang pendek and orang utan are used in what Sanderson calls Kitchen-Malay, a sort of creole trade language, in which the word 'orang' means 'person' (i.e, a human being). 'Orang pendek' means 'short or stocky person' and 'orang utan' means 'person who lives in the forest.' Both names can and are in common usage to mean regular human beings with just such determining characteristics. The native terms 'sedapa' for orang pendek and 'mias' for orang utans are preferable, and this is the situation as stated by Ivan T. Sanderson in 1961 in his book Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life.

L: "O.pendek track compared to other feet" R: "Hypothetical Orangutans matched against Human height extremes"

Now because we have a situation where a creature is named by a non-specific name, we have a situation where more than one kind of creature is being reported under that name. The situation is exactly the same as in the case of the South American Didi: one of the types is a hominid with long head-hair and human-style feet with non-opposed toes. The other is a kind of an ape with non-differentiated head-hair and an opposable toe on its foot. In both the Old World and the New.

Eyewitness drawings of orang pendek

This has caused some disconcerting situations as the orang pendek being related to the Flores 'Hobbits' by many researchers, while at the same time the same researchers incongruously show casts of ape tracks with opposed big toes as evidence for the theory. The earliest known tracks attributed to the orang pendek are human tracks and they are comparable to small neanderthal tracks. That is why I made my paste-up showing how the orang pendek could be a dwarfed form of Solo Man (The paste-up was done before the discovery of the Flores 'Hobbits' and the two pendek figures would be at approximate female and male average heights.)

Now the ape-like pendek is clearly like an orangutan in the shape of its skull and facial profile (I am ignoring the occasional reports of an outsized Siamang also confusing the issue) And as a matter of fact, on the islands of both Sumatra and Borneo, known orangutan habitats, there are not only reports of 'little ones'; there are also reports of giants. The giants in Sumatra are known as orang gadang (great big people) and there is a very famous case of one giant orangutan being killed and sent to a museum mentioned in all the old natural history books. That one was over seven feet tall when the dead body (NOT the stretched skin) was measured. Chad Arment in Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation (2004) discusses this case.

Going by human records, it might well be possible for orangutans to range from under three feet tall to over eight feet tall as adults (male heights). It is even conceivable that the end populations might form inbreeding populations of unusually large or unusually small average sizes through the process of genetic drift.

Now it just so happens that a comparable situation is reported in the Yetis of the Himalayan region (Ivan Sanderson does at one point specify 'The Meh-Teh [classic yeti] is NOT a Himalayan inhabitant' but there is clearer evidence for them in the Everest region and around Assam) where the basic type of creature is very like an orangutan and in this area there are not only reports of the big yetis over seven feet tall, there are reports of the dwarf kind or Teh-lma. This last kind is very like the ape-like version of the orang pendek, although the tracks attributed to it are probably mistakes (on the occasion reported by Gerald Russell, the tracks were in association with a sighting, and the reported creature was much too large to have made the tracks)

L: Orang utan skull R: Orang pendek track

So I think there is a good chance that both the large and small orangs (sedapas, or orang gugus) and the large and small 'yetis' are genetically-isolated offshoots of the known orangutans, and the parallel situation among the yetis developed by a parallel process. The yetis would be related to the orangutans, but the severe differences in foot structure and habitat make it likely they are not the same species. They may well represent the more generalizsed ancestors of the more specialised known orangutans (pongo). In his checklist Heuvelmans concludes the listing of the yeti by saying 'it is equally possible that the so-called Snowman is merely a particular form of orang-utan, more terrestrial than the tree-dwelling kind', and this entry immediately follows another entry for mainland-Asiatic orangutans (Olo-banda and Bir sindic in Assam, in English translation 'Big Monkey', equivalent to Mahalangur used around Mount Everest)

(P.S, I am NOT advocating the existence of the orang pendek in the form of two or more cryptids, i.e, unknown species. To my classification the more human type is simply a Homo sapiens sub-type while the ape-like form is an orangutan variant, and I would defer to any good genetic evidence that establishes it as a new species as opposed to an unusual population of the same species.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I probably need to leave a note to mention that while I provide the material for these blogs, Jon kindly puts them up for me. That ordinarily does not make a big difference between presentations, but Jon's arrangement of photos on the page is sometimes quite different than the way I would arrange them. I am stating that as a comment and not meant as a criticism: Jon and I just have different ways of doing things and sometimes the end results look strange even to me.

Second point is, Jon writes the blurbs and I do not. Today's blurb reads "18th May: CRYPTOZOOLOGY: Dale Drinnon takes a look at Asian mystery hominids" and to be more correct it should say "Hominids and Pongids" because (Technically) humans and apes are two distinct families of mammals (And this is rightly disputed by some authorities, but the usual taxonomic convention insists on making the distinction. Humans are Hominids and Apes are Pongids)

Again, I make this remark as a clarification and not as a criticism of Jon for doing his blog the way he wants it. Some unfriendly CFZ-critics might run us down for something as simple as that by making a big stink over it.