|Posted by Jim Bevan on October 1, 2012 at 4:35 AM|
Every culture has its beliefs in “wild men” or hominoid creatures that share the traits of both humans and lesser primates. North America is awash with such tales, from the more well-known cryptids such as the Sasquatch and Skunk Ape, to lesser known entities like the Honey Island Swamp Monster and the Fouke Monster. Other nations have their own recorded tales of unknown hominids: the yeti of Nepal, the Gray Man of Scotland, Maricoxi rumored to inhabit the deep jungles of South America, and the Almas that allegedly roam the Caucasus mountains of central Asia. In all cases, these beasts are rumored to inhabit areas that are still widely uncharted by humans, where there is great potential to discover new species of animal. Such is the case with the Orang Pendek (trans. “short person”;), a diminutive ape-like being said to inhabit remote forests on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Sightings from local natives, colonial settlers, and scientists over the past century have bolstered the credence of its possible existence. Could there be an evolutionary offshoot roaming the jungles of Sumatra?
Eyewitness accounts of the Pendek tend to vary, though there are several traits that remain consistent among all sightings. It’s an ape-like animal, about 3 feet or shorter in height (hence its name). It has short legs, powerful arms, a broad chest, and is covered in short grayish-brown fur. Some might claim this is simply an ape, but witnesses claim that unlike the other apes that inhabit the island, the Pendek is bipedal (able to walk upright on two legs.) Since the only primates known to walk upright are humans, this has led some to speculate that the Pendek may be another rumored “missing link” between modern humans and our more primitive ancestors.
The most common witnesses to see the Pendek before the 19h century were local inhabitants of Sumatra, which may have kept it as a being of regional folklore. This changed with the first known sighting by a foreigner in 1818 by William Marsden, the British Secretary in Resident on Sumatra. Dutch settlers emigrating to the island in the late 19th and early 20th century had numerous encounters with Pendeks. One witness in 1924 was prepared to shoot it out of a tree after seeing it, but felt that to do so would be committing murder given how human it appeared. The stories spread over the decades, drawing in naturalists and researchers who sought to unravel the mystery.
There have been several long-term investigations to try and identify the Pendek. The most prominent expedition began in 1990, journalist Deborah Martyr and photographer Jeremy Holden embarked on a project funded by conservation society Fauna and Flora International to try and capture the Pendek on film. Despite 15 years of work and the use of extensive camera-trapping techniques, no evidence was obtained, though both Martyr and Holden claimed to have seen the Pendek. The only compelling piece of evidence is a foot print cast found in the Kerinci region in 2001 by British researchers Adam Davies, Adam Sanderson, and Keith Towley. When the print was examined by a biologist at Cambridge University, it was announced that while it shared the features of several primate prints, it did not match that of any known primate. Several hair samples were also obtained, though DNA analysis showed these hairs to be human in origin.
Adding credibility to the possibility of the Pendek’s existence is an archaeological discovery from 2003. On the Indonesian island of Flores, several fossilized hominid remains were found by a joint Australian-Indonesian archaeological team. These remains were very similar to human skeletons, however the bone structure and cranial size suggested rather short individuals, estimated to be only about one meter tall. The new species, dubbed Homo floresiensis, was declared to be an evolutionary offshoot from Homo sapiens, though there is still speculation over whether or not these fossils belonged to humans who simply suffered from dwarfism or some other disorder that stunted their growth. The species is believed to have died out at least 12,000 years ago, much less time between the present day and the extinction dates of other hominids such as Neanderthals. Believers in the Pendek have said, given this information, it is plausible that some members of this species could have traveled to neighboring islands and adapted to their environments in the dense jungles, thriving away from civilization, only occasionally spotted by outsiders.
The idea that a prehistoric species closely related to humans still survives today is quite intriguing, and proponents have sources that bolster their claims. However, a more rational examination reveals a more mundane explanation. The most obvious identity of the Pendek is an ape such as a gibbon or orangutan that has simply been misidentified. Both of these species have been documented as showing bipedal movement in studies examining how humans developed their movement stance as they evolved. It’s possible that Pendek sightings are glimpses of apes that have adapted a more advanced movement system. The Pendek may also be a misidentified sun bear, which has paw prints that bear a close resemblance to human footprints. However, if the print cast has any validity, it may be a species of ape previously unknown to science that is capable of bipedalism. If this was the case, it would be a colossal discovery in the field of zoology. Until an actual specimen is made available for study, though, this all remains speculation.
Categories: Manic Expression's Monster Extravaganza