Amateur researchers in the United States continue to eagerly search for the mysterious creature known as Bigfoot, staking out California's redwood forests at night in their hunt for the elusive beast. Despite many claimed sightings, the existence of Sasquatch has never been proven. Yet that hasn't stopped the obsessed from pursuing his giant footprints.
The plaintive howl echoes through the forest sounding like a muffled "whoop, whoop, whoop." Brandon Kiel pauses to listen in the dark, holding his breath for a moment before drawing air into his lungs.
Once again, Kiel cups his hands in front of his mouth and imitates the call: "whoop, whoop, whoop." The sound echoes back through the night, but all else is silence. Bigfoot isn't answering.
"The season is favorable," Kiel says, with a touch of disappointment. "But it's always possible that the animals are not in the area." The blueberries are ripe, and the calves of the Roosevelt elk, one of Bigfoot's favorite foods, haven't matured yet.
Kiel, 41, is a field researcher with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), a group based in the United States. The creature he is looking for is said to be clever, shy and stealthy -- an expert at camouflaging itself. But here in the redwood forests of northern California, Kiel is hoping he'll be blessed with hunter's luck. He and 20 fellow field researchers are on an expedition to track down Bigfoot. The Believers Kiel calls the ominous creature "Squatch," short for "Sasquatch," a word in a Native American language that means "wild man of the woods". The shaggy, mythical creature -- half ape, half human -- is believed to be powerfully built, reach heights of up to 2.5 meters (over 8 feet) and weigh up to 230 kilograms (500 pounds), and it allegedly spends its time skulking through the forests of North America. So far, there is no real evidence of the existence of this alleged primate species. Indeed, human beings have never actually gotten their hands on a Sasquatch, either dead or alive.
Nevertheless, experienced "Squatchers" like Kiel are convinced that the animal exists. Even the Native Americans in the region had songs praising this mysterious miniature version of King Kong. Dozens of huge footprints have been found. Hundreds of eyewitnesses from the Canadian province of British Columbia all the way down to Florida -- including police officers, park rangers and professors -- claim to have laid eyes on the creature. The literature even mentions tufts of hair and a Bigfoot toenail found near the Grand Canyon.
"I am convinced that the Sasquatch exists," says British Columbia wildlife biologist John Bindernagel. For years, Bindernagel has put his academic reputation on the line by not only believing in Sasquatch, but also studying it. "I estimate the population of the animal to be several thousand at least," says Bindernagel, who has already written several books on Bigfoot.
Bindernagel also has a theory on how Bigfoot reached the American wilderness. He speculates that Gigantopithecus, an extinct genus of giant ape, once migrated from Asia across the same land bridge in what is now the Bering Strait that the first humans are believed to have crossed to reach North America.