Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What is the orang-pendek?

Danish zoologist Lars Thomas has been studying hairs collected last year when Sumatra's enigmatic primate, which looks a bit like a short, slight man covered in reddish hair, was last seen. According to Karl Shuker, his report is that the DNA collected was very close to human, but the hair structure was apelike. This is not quite as contradictory as it seems. Shuker points to the strikingly marked "king" cheetah, which is a normal cheetah by DNA but has hairs structured like those of an unrelated species, the leopard. Possible identities for the orang-pendek include an unknown population of orangutans well out of their known range (this would require considerable observer error in the sighting reports, but such human error is hardly unknown), an ape related to the siamang/gibbon line, or some early offshoot from the human line, perhaps related to the Flores "hobbits."
COMMENT: My question was whether the mixed result could indicate it was ape hair accidentally contaminated by humans, but Shuker reports Thomas doesn't think that could have happened. The orang-pendek is very respectable as cryptozoological animals go, with experts keeping an open mind and good witnesses like British conservationist Debbie Martyr describing it in the field. What this result means is that we have not solved the mystery yet.
UPDATE: Lars Thomas has responded that the DNA came from the inside of the sample hairs, where contamination was not possible.

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