British conservationist and writer Debbie Martyr, aided by wildlife photographer Jeremy Holden and others, has pursued Sumatra’s orang-pendek (“short man”) or sedapa since 1989. She believes she has seen the animal herself and has collected footprint casts, unidentified hairs, and numerous eyewitness accounts of a primate something like a gibbon, but larger and habitually bipedal. While there is still no type specimen in hand, the search is quite “respectable” as cryptozoological quests go. No less an authority than the WWF's Dr. John MacKinnon once found what he believed were the animal's tracks, and Dr. Henry Gee of the journal Nature suggested the orang-pendek might be connected to the fossil discovery of diminutive humans on the island of Flores.
Martyr's search for the orang-pendek has been necessarily sporadic, interrupted by events like the tsunami and the battle against illegal logging and other threats to Sumatra's remaining wild forests. Martyr's conservation efforts are funded by Flora and Fauna International (FFI). She and her colleagues are trying to preserve habitat for Sumatra's wildlife, especially the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae or Panthera sumatrae).
I had a chance this week to ask Martyr via email what the latest news was on the orang-pendek.
She replied that the last sighting she knew of was in February 2007. She described it as "a good description and first hand witness report of two bipedal large bodied apes." Unfortunately, the area involved is now being clear-cut by farmers who seem to have some kind of government protection, as they are felling trees without interference despite being over 1km inside the boundary of the legally protected Kerenci Seblat National Park. The park is the location of Martyr's office, which she currently shares with an orphaned bear cub and two leopard cat kittens.
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