Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Pink Boots and a Sasquatch: Dr. Mayor searches for Bigfoot

Dr. Mireya Mayor is a prominent primatologist, a very accomplished explorer, and a filmmaker/TV host/science communicator who knows how to get viewers to watch and listen. Her book Pink Boots and a Machete is an amusing, sometimes harrowing story about her explorations. So I was intrigued and a bit puzzled when Travel Channel announced she would be headlining Expedition: Bigfoot.


EB is the latest in a number of TV shows about looking for Bigfoot (none of them having found a damn thing worth paying attention to.)  The announcement says her team is "using an advanced data algorithm and groundbreaking science and tools to analyze five decades of Bigfoot sightings and to pinpoint when and where to encounter this elusive beast." A host, a survival expert, and two longtim Bigfoot hunters round out the cast.  
I asked Dr. Mayor via FaceBook what she thought the chances were of finding an unknown ape, mentioning I'd kept up on the subject for 40+ years and given up in the face of negative evidence: no bones, no DNA, no known possible ancestor species in North America.  She replied that we were still finding unknown species and, with thousands of witnesses reporting Bigfoot sightings, only one needed to be right.  
I grant her point, and I wish her and her team the luck that has eluded everyone to date.  I strongly doubt Bigfoot exists, but I very much want it to. The idea that our exploration and exploitation of the planet has missed something so spectacular is a seductive one.  
Mayor has a credential no one else who's looked for Bigfoot has: she has, in fact, discovered a new primate. Granted, it was a "mouse lemur" that weighs in at maybe 55 grams, but Microcebus mittermeieri, or Mittermeier’s Mouse Lemur,.was important, being one of three species discovered by the team she was on. These led to a revision of the mouse lemurs and more understanding of their only habitat, the fast-disappearing forests of MadagascarI wrote about Mayor's find in my book Shadows of Existence in 2006.  
So if I believed there was something to find and had the means to fund an expedition, Mayor is probably the first person I'd want to send looking for Bigfoot.
The idea of using a "new algorithm" and data analysis to look for likely hot spots is a valid one. I recall a pioneering effort from 2003, when herpetologist Chris Raxworthy used specimen locality data and satellite imagery to map the habitats of Madagascar’s chameleons. They found areas of “error” where the predicted distribution did not match the field data. When herpetologists checked these areas in person, they found seven previously unknown species. But the algorithm is only as good as the data, and I look forward to reading or seeing about what sort of database they are using. Cross-checking credible sightings with likely habitat would be interesting, the fly in the ointment being that any analysis of credibility is subjective and therefore suspect.
The show's announcement concludes, weirdly, by spoiling the ending, saying the team finds "a hot spot where inexplicable events occur and one of the greatest pieces of video evidence in Bigfoot history is recorded." That also means, if read between the lines, that they did not find hard evidence of Bigfoot.  Which is really too bad. But I'll try to catch the show anyway to see what they do find.
Papers on the lemur discoveries:
Edward E. Louis; Melissa S. Coles; Rambinintsoa Andriantompohavana; Julie A. Sommer; Shannon E. Engberg; John R. Zaonarivelo; Mireya I. Mayor; Rick A. Brenneman (2006). "Revision of the Mouse Lemurs (Microcebus) of Eastern Madagascar," International Journal of Primatology. 27 (2): 347–389.
Mittermeier, R.; Ganzhorn, J.; Konstant, W.; Glander, K.; Tattersall, I.; Groves, C.; Rylands, A.; Hapke, A.; Ratsimbazafy, J.; Mayor, M.; Louis, E.; Rumpler, Y.; Schwitzer, C. & Rasoloarison, R. (December 2008). "Lemur Diversity in Madagascar" (PDF). International Journal of Primatology. 29 (6): 1607–165.
Other sources not linked to in text:
Tyson, Peter.  2000.  The Eighth Continent: Life, Death, and Rediscovery in the Lost World of Madagascar.  New York: William Morrow.  374pp. 
"3 new lemurs named in Madagascar," released by Conservation International, 21 June 2006.

1 comment:

Zeekwolfe said...

Make no mistake, bigfoot exists...some of the time. I saw a report about a hunter with a .308 rifle using magnum ammunition shooting a bigfoot. The hunter said he could see a puff of dust where the bullet hit. The bigfoot ran a few steps and vanished. The hunter was astonished and said the animal seemed to go into another dimension.