Search For Pennsylvania Bigfoot, Mountain Lions Gains Momentum

pennlive - Eric Altman is awaiting test results on "some possible hair samples" he collected recently in Pennsylvania's "hot area" for bigfoot reports, Clearfield and Jefferson counties.

That part of the state accounts for most of Pennsylvania's creditable reports of bigfoot, or sasquatch, sightings each year, explained the director of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society.

In Central Pennsylvania, he said, Adams and York counties, "areas that are more remote, a little more wooded," provide some reports, but nothing like the dozens that have come out of the state's northcentral wilds.

In addition, Altman noted, investigators for the society have recorded "some unusual footprints that we can't really say are bigfoot."

Pending the test result on that hair or the discovery of better tracks, he said "the witness testimony is the best evidence that we've collected" in support of bigfoot's hidden presence in Pennsylvania. The society maintains a database of the reports, collected through an extensive survey form employed on each reported sighting or evidence.

In that database are reports like the following from Adams County.

"Feb. 15, 2007, Caledonia State Park: Witness was leaving work around 3:30 a.m., driving down Rt. 30 and took a right turn onto Rt. 233 north through Caledonia Park. After going about two miles, he grazed a deer and stopped to see if there was any damage.

"The witness could hear something big moving around and then heard the loudest cry or howling he had ever heard in his life. He jumped in his truck and drove away from the area. The witness stated he knows wildlife screams and sounds, but had never heard anything like this before."

Loren Coleman, one of the world's most published cyrtozoologists (researchers in the study of hidden species), said, "I'm very cautious of sound sightings." He noted that even the white-tailed deer is capable of producing vocalizations that most people do not recognize.

However, he believes there is something real causing some of the bigfoot reports. In the past month, he said, he's heard of at least 10 legitimate reports, in the northwestern U.S., not in Pennsylvania.

And, Coleman expects a bigfoot-type hominid - the orang pendek - to be documented in Indonesia in the foreseeable future by a well-funded, scientific team that has been searching for the species more than 20 years.

In Pennsylvania, he believes it's more likely that some unknown species of "mystery cat" will be documented, and even more likely that some smaller cryptid (hidden species) will be found.

Chad Arment, a Lancaster County man who writes and publishes books on cryptozoology, also expects a Pennsylvania discovery to involve something smaller than a bigfoot or a mountain lion. He noted the discovery in just the past 10 years in New Jersey of the largest terrestrial leech in North America.

Like most cryptid enthusiasts, however, he does not completely rule out the presence in Pennsylvania even of bigfoot.

Arment said, "There are some interesting old stories, particularly in Central Pennsylvania, of gorilla-like creatures.

"In Pennsylvania it would be a longshot. We do have so many people here, but at the same time we do have a fair amount of habitat."

Scott Weidensaul, a Friedensburg nature writer who researched cryptozoology for parts of his 2003 book, The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species, said, "It breaks my heart to say it, but I just don't think it's true. We would have had a body by now.

"There is something fundamental to our make-up that makes us believe in big, hairy monsters in the woods. Almost every culture has legends of large, hairy men in the woods. I want there to be big, hairy men in the woods."

Altman, on the other hand, commented, "I used to be about 85 percent positive that there was something out there. I still think that there's something out there. I believe people are seeing something they can't explain. But, most cases can be ruled off as misidentifications."

After 13 years of bigfoot evidence collection and investigation, Altman now places his confidence level at about 75 percent.

The stigma attached to reporting a sighting of a bigfoot hinders the search, he noted. "A lot of people who have these sightings don't want to be made fun of. A lot of people would like to keep a low profile.

"People often come out of the woodwork 10, 15, 20 years after the fact, when they finally feel comfortable enough to talk about it."

Such was the case in the wake of trail-camera photos that circulated on the Internet in fall 2007. Many claimed the images from Allegheny National Forest showed a bigfoot crawling about on all fours. The Pennsylvania Game Commission said it was a bear that had lost much of its hair to mange.

pennlive - Any day now, e-mailboxes, Internet chat rooms and forums likely will begin buzzing about a mountain lion killed somewhere in Pennsylvania, complete with photos of a giant cougar.

If the past repeats itself, the photos will in reality show a mountain lion hit by a pick-up truck on a highway near Flagstaff, Ariz., and subsequently put down by an officer of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, or a giant cat from Washington state that was reproduced without permission from an issue of the Boone and Crocket Club's magazine.

Such hoaxes have surfaced at least once or twice each year for decades, and they have become more frequent with the spread of the Internet.

However, some, more legitimate reports of sightings continue to surface, including hundreds every year in Pennsylvania.

While they're not intentional hoaxes, most of those reports subsequently provide no physical evidence to prove the claim or are shown to be cases of mistaken identity involving bobcats, housecats, coyotes and other species.

None have produced the evidence to confirm a modern-day, naturally occurring population of mountain lions.

"Pennsylvania's last known wild eastern mountain lion was killed in Berks County in 1874. And, except for Florida, the eastern mountain lion is believed to have been extirpated from the East Coast of the United States by 1900. But, over the years, mountain lion sightings have been reported throughout the state," said Jerry Feaser, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

"The overwhelming majority of cases we investigate are proven to be mistaken identity based on examination of tracks, photos or other physical evidence. Some cases are inconclusive.

"And, while some believe mountain lions exist in the wilds of Pennsylvania, we have no conclusive evidence to support such views."

He continued, "We have hundreds of thousands of hunters who are in the woods each year and no one has brought out a dead mountain lion yet. Trail cameras have only captured photos of bobcats, fishers and coyotes in areas that were alleged to be inhabited by mountain lions. No conclusive tracks, scat, hair or carcasses have been found.

"If someone does encounter a mountain lion, the most logical explanation would be that the animal escaped from or was released by someone who either legally or illegally brought the animal into Pennsylvania."

However, said Loren Coleman, one of the world's leading cryptozoologists (researchers of hidden species), "Pennsylvania is one of the better states" as a probable home to the mystery cats. "You have a tremendous deer population and then you have an amazing amount of terrain" that holds habitat perfect for large cats.

He prefers to call them "mystery cats," rather than mountain lions, "until we identify what they are," but believes "there's certainly some kind of large cats in your state that haven't been identified yet." He said he's seen the tracks and the claw marks left by the cats on sheep pens.

Coleman warned, "It's going to take a lot of evidence" to prove their existence. "It's a political issue, as well as a zoological issue."

Mystery cats are the most reported cryptid species in the eastern U.S., but they've escaped full detection and classification because they exist in the "very low numbers of an apex predator, and it's part of feline behavior not to be seen. Also, humans tend not to look up, while felines want to be above," he said.

In addition, Coleman noted, "cryptids often hide as dopplegangers to a known population. In Pennsylvania, the mountain lion reports are there historically, but I think there is another mystery cat, another population of cats hidden in the mountain lion reports."

Scott Weidensaul, a Schuylkill County nature write with some familiarity with cryptozoological research among his credits, commented, "If you asked me 20 years ago, I'd have said no. If you ask me today, I'd say it's highly unlikely, with the exception of a released or escaped pet."

Pointing to the huge amount of roadways crossing nearly all parts of Pennsylvania and yet never accounting for a documented mountain kill road-kill, he said, "Roads are a very effective way of sampling mountain lion populations."

On the other hand, asked Chad Arment, a Lancaster County cryptozoology author and publisher, "Is there stuff off there that haven't been discovered because no one's really looking for it?"
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