There are a couple of scientists who take the Sasquatch phenomenon seriously. One of them is Angelo Capparella, an American zoologist who teaches at Illinois State University. He has recently joined the North American Wood Ape Conservancy (NAWAC). In this interview Capparella explains why he thinks that the Sasquatch is a real creature, why a lot of scientists steer clear of the subject, and why proof of the animal may already be at hand – locked away somewhere in a museum collection.
Angelo, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you’re focusing on in your research programs?
Angelo Capparella: Currently, as a vertebrate zoologist and curator of vertebrate collections, I have various projects ongoing, most involving graduate or undergraduate students.
With Greg Tito, we are studying the geographic variation and taxonomy of the Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, a widespread Neotropical bird that I collected specimens of for many years. With Stephanie Scherer, we are modelling the likely distribution of the Scarlet-banded Barbet, a species that I was involved in discovering in Peru. With Taylor Joray, we are using stable isotopes to determine the breeding origins of American Kestrels, and with Rachael DiPietro we are doing the same with the Ovenbird.
Finally, I am doing vertebrate biodiversity surveys in central Illinois with undergraduate students.
How did you become involved with Bigfoot research and especially the North American Wood Ape Conservancy (NAWAC)?
In terms of Bigfoot, I’ve had a long-time interest. In the 1990s until 2005, I started going with the now late Richard Greenwell on some of his expeditions to northern California.
In terms of NAWAC, just before driving to Oregon to attend the 2015 Beachfoot Sasquatch conference I stumbled across NAWAC’s on-line monograph. I was very impressed with their efforts, and recognized that they had carried forward an approach that the late Richard Greenwell had pioneered.
What was Greenwell’s approach?
Find a good area based on habitat parameters. 2. Deploy as many methods as feasible to get visual, behavioral and DNA evidence. 3. And most importantly, work the same area (if productive) for several years. This latter method what I learned at LSU is successful in discovering new bird species in South America.
At Beachfoot, I met Bob and Kathy Strain, members of NAWAC who gave a presentation there, and found that the operating philosophy of NAWAC matched mine, especially their recognition that only a physical specimen will unequivocally prove Bigfoot’s existence and provide information on its phylogenetic relationships. At NAWAC’s fall annual membership retreat in 2015, I attended and gave a presentation on the Greenwell expeditions along with my assessment of where the evidence now points in terms of the identity of this species. I did a follow-up talk at their 2016 meeting.
Have you always been interested in Bigfoot and cryptozoology?
Yes. As a teenage zoologist I read Heuvelmans’ “On the Track of Unknown Animals” and Sanderson’s “Abominable Snowman: Legend Come to Life”, and John Green’s various books. In the 1980s, I joined the International Society for Cryptozoology and later became a member of the Editorial Board and then the Board of Directors until it folded in 2005 with the untimely passing of Richard Greenwell.
Have you stayed in the so called Area X? if yes, what did you experience?
I have stayed one week in the new portion of Area X that is being explored. I was impressed with the extensive habitat, low human occupancy, and difficulty of working in the environment. During my week, we had a camp environs visitation and I was able to record one of the vocalizations.
What’s your impression of the organization?
I am very impressed with their dedication to scientific research principles, especially their understanding of the critical need to collect a physical specimen for any substantial further progress to be made in this field. I am impressed with the diversity of expertise and experience among their members. I like that they are spending all of their effort at one site, developing a deep knowledge of the animal’s habitat and habits.
Bigfoot is a very controversial topic among scientists. I’ve talked with a lot of professors. They laugh at it. What are the reasons for this in your opinion?
Depends on the professor. Many have little experience with systematic biology (part of my field) or with wilderness field work. Others have little knowledge of the legitimate parts of Sasquatch research as the flaky parts garner more media attention. Still others recognize that involvement in the field can take time away from more rewarded research (in terms of grants and promotion) that is less risky.
So you have been a cryprozoologist for quite some time. What other cryptids are you interested in and have you done cryptozoological expeditions apart from Bigfoot?
I’m interested in all of those that seem plausible. I have written a little about the Thunderbird and did some field work years ago investigating eastern cougar reports, including melanistic ones, in eastern North Carolina.
What fascinates you especially about the Bigfoot phenomenon?
If this is North America’s great ape as Bindernagel argues, then it implies a separate evolutionary pathway for bipedalism and the occurrence of a new great ape clade species in North America. And that might argue for reports on other continents to be taken more seriously.
Can you tell me more about your role in the NAWAC?
I am an Investigator. I put together a DNA sampling kit for handling hair, blood, scat and other tissue.
I’m also impressed by their work. I think it’s the right approach. The Ouachita Project Monograph is a great collection of observations. One problem I have is this: Why call it wood ape? You can’t know it’s an ape, right? Why not call it anomaly or phenomenon or something like that? It could also be a hominin and not an ape. If it exists.
I believe that in their monograph they explain that the term “Wood Ape” is the term used in the Ouachitas over a long time. True, the name does imply evolutionary relationship when it isn’t yet known.
Another thing that bothers me is the eyeshine. It’s mentioned numerous times in the Monograph. But Eyeshine is not an ape thing. What’s your take on it?
Considering the diverse evolutionary pathways known for acquiring eyeshine, it isn’t too hard to imagine such a structure evolving in a largely nocturnal ape.
What do you think about the fact that no Bigfoot bones and no recent clear photos/videos have been put forward? It is a strong argument by skeptics in my opinion. Do you also consider it a problem? How would you describe your attitude towards the subject? Are you a skeptic? Are you confident that they exist? Are you on the fence?
Jeff Meldrum in his book addresses the taphonomy issue regarding no Bigfoot bones. And having worked in many museums, it wouldn’t surprise me if some post-cranial skeletal remains don’t exist uncataloged or misidentified in a museum collection. Lack of clear photos/videos (other than the Patterson film) is an interesting aspect of this phenomenon. But the positive evidence outweighs the negative evidence in my mind. Once we get a specimen, we’ll certainly be able to retrospectively better understand these points.
I would say that I believe, based on the principle of consilience, that there is an undescribed species of primate so therefore it is worthy of serious scientific investigation. However, I agree we do not yet have scientifically rigorous proof of this.
– The picture of Capparella was shot by David Proeber and published at The Pantagraph.
– The picture of the Ouachitas was shot by Justin Meissen (via Flickr).
– The picture in the preview on the homepage was provided by Illinois State University.