The Centre for Fortean Zoology was founded in the UK in 1992 - nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades it has expanded to become a truly global organisation. We opened our American office in 2001, our Australian office in 2009, and now - in our 19th year - we are proud to welcome CFZ Canada to the CFZ global family.

Wednesday 8 April 2020

My Name is Daryl

There's a very cute insurance advertisement on tv right now.  At the end of the ad, the woman is chatting with Sasquatch, and calls him "BigFoot".  He replies, "My name is Daryl" and that is a facet of the study we don't often talk about-the psychology of the beast.

If we accept that Sasquatch, or in this case Daryl, is significantly human, we have to consider that he also has emotion. Without good evidence of interaction between multiple animals, or even interaction with humans, it's hard to gage what sort of emotional capacity this big guy has. Most often, we compare him to either gorillas or humans. Both of these have the capacity to feel and express emotion.

Given those things, what can we infer about Sasquatch? Gorillas in the wild have been well

documented to show affection. Dian Fossey’s work in the field, along with Jane Goodall who studied chimpanzees, and BirutÄ— Galdikas, who studied orangutans, not only document habits like food gathering or confrontation. All three extensively documented the interactions between the animals, and often the interaction between the researchers and the subjects.

In 1959, American zoologist George Schaller carried out a yearlong pioneering study of the mountain gorilla. In the field at Mt Mikeno in Congo. Recognized by many as the world's preeminent field biologist, he studied and lived with the mountain gorillas of the Virunga Volcanoes along the northern edge of Rowanda. It wasn't until the publication of The Mountain Gorilla: Ecology and Behavior in 1963, that the general public was introduced to how profoundly intelligent and gentle gorillas really are. Until then most believed they were considered not only dangerous when provoked, but dangerous all of the time in interactions with all species.

Shaller and Fossey were not the only field researchers to admire (and to provide valid, important information), but they are excellent resources for understanding the emotional side to gorillas. These creatures have individual personalities and rich social lives. Gorillas communicate through at least 22 distinct sounds, and a variety of other ways, including facial expressions, sounds, postures and gestures. They communicate feelings from playful laughter to frightened screams. They even belches in contented bliss after a particularly good meal.

In gorilla families, there is a distinct pair of parents and up to about 28 other individuals of both sexes. Like humans, they show loyalty, compassion, and protection of those who are younger or injured or in some other way not fully functional at an healthy adult level. Also like humans, gorillas often greet each other by touching their noses together. They are also known to give a reassuring embrace. Their reaction to challenge from other adults is also similar to human, although more guttural. It's not unusual for a dominant male gorilla to fight to the death to protect his family, but it is also common for the dominant male to kill the children in his family to get the attention and reproductive needs met.

We are most familiar with human emotion, of course. This is largely because we have them, and we can be empathetic with others of our species. While we usually don't kill our children out of jealousy, we do often have the emotion behind it. We also easily see those among us that have personality "flaws" like addiction or psychosis. Similarities between the emotional development of the bonobos and that of human children suggest that great apes regulate their emotions in a human-like way. Research by Zanna Clay, PhD, and Frans de Waal, PhD, showed that bonobos recovered quickly and easily from their own emotional upheavals. Clay notes that bonobos more often gave body comfort (kissing, embracing, touching) to those in distress. They show hints at emotion regulation, such as the ability to temper strong emotions and avoid over-arousal. In some cases, they do this better than humans.

If we accept that Sasquatch is a composition of the evolution of apes and humans, it follows that Sasquatch, like Daryl, would have these emotions. Field research has shown that they are definitely curious. Reports of the animal visiting campsites and going through the items there, as well as reports of them standing in the distance or some sheltered space and observing human researchers are common. Humans have a fascination with the divide between their species and animals, so it follows that bigfoot would be equally fascinated with the similarities and differences between their species and humans.

No documentation exists of how Sasquatch feels about us, or even about others of the same species. It is logical to assume they have families, with times that are both loving and challenging. All animals show fear in some way. But what about the more complicated emotions like grief and a sense of humor? Dr Gary Stanley's work with Koko (the gorilla who could communicate with American Sign Language) has given us insight. Koko's trainer and long-term companion, Penny Patterson, thought Koko signed in novel ways and showed complex emotions. Patterson documented that when a cat that Koko loved was killed in an accident, Koko signed: “Cat, cry, have-sorry, Koko-love.” Linguists and experts in sign languages disagreed with some of Patterson's conclusions. Sign language has complex grammars, like spoken tongues in expressiveness. Koko’s ability fell short of a fluent human signer, and Ms Patterson was Koko's interpreter. This invited the question of how much she was inferring what Koko “must have meant”.

Despite the disagreements between researchers, it is abundantly clear that gorillas and humans both have extensive emotional capacity. It follows, then, that sasquatch would have this as well. In fiction, like "Harry and the Hendersons" and the more recent " Missing Link" it is clear how much the missing "stars" connect and express feelings. In the similar "Smallfoot" offering, the roles are reversed. The sasquatch in that film sees humans as mythical creatures in the yetis’ imaginations. Across the board, the "beasts" are shown to have not only empathy, but also the ability to feel lonely. This may not be too far from reality. Given the relatively small number of living sasquatch, it is reasonable to imagine feelings of loneliness, and even fear that the loneliness will not end.  Perhaps if we consider this as we do our fieldwork, it will bring us closer not only to answers, but also to a connection with the beast.

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