Bigfoot report April 1: Warming could increase sightings in St. Lawrence County
By PAUL HETZLER
A week-long climate-change symposium at the University of Bologna in Italy resulted in broad agreement about potential changes in future animal population size and distribution. Although much of the news on the effects of climate change on animals is negative, there seems to be an unexpected bright spot on the horizon.
The current trend of temperate-zone species like grizzly bears and white-tail deer migrating north into the Arctic is likely to accelerate. At the same time, some polar-region populations are in steep decline as a result of reduced snow and ice cover. Arctic caribou, snow leopards and wolverines may be in worse shape than previously thought.Some of the “animals” benefiting from a changing climate are agricultural pests. Many destructive insects like the brown marmorated stink bug and the coffee berry borer have expanded both in range and population size in the past 25 years. This trend is also expected to accelerate.
However, computer modeling indicates a habitat expansion for at least one large mammal species. The reclusive hominid Gigantopithecus blacki, a primate once thought extinct, is better known as Bigfoot, Sasquatch or other names depending on region. While often associated with the Pacific Northwest, a fossil jaw of Gigantopithecus blacki was found in southern St. Lawrence County in 1957, indicating it may have always lived in New York State’s Adirondacks.
The Bigfoot Field Researchers’ Organization, an organization investigating this issue, has a record of about 100 sightings in New York. (See http://www.bfro.net/ for more information.) Many of these are in northern New York, with documented cases in Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Essex, and Fulton counties. Warren County leads the state with twelve sightings dating back to 1990. The fact that most encounters have been reported since 2000 suggests the trend towards more Gigantopithecus blacki is already underway.
Because they’re omnivores, Gigantopithecus blacki can fill a similar niche as black bears, coyotes and raccoons. Researchers believe that as their range expands, Gigantopithecus blacki will help clean up road kills, easing the burden on Public Works crews. It’s even possible that a larger “Bigfoot” population could help reduce solid waste at landfills by scavenging food.
Though their relative numbers will rise, Gigantopithecus blacki is a large species whose total numbers are unlikely to cause conflicts with humans. Wildlife biologists are already gearing up for a Gigantopithecus blacki rabies vaccination program.
Because some past “Bigfoot” reports have turned out to be hoaxes, many people still believe that Gigantopithecus blacki is the stuff of legend. However, one of the attendees at the recent climate-change symposium in Bologna, biologist Dr. Stanislaus Boguslavski of Paul Smith’s College, is working to change public opinion in NY State.
“Basic Algebra can prove climate change will result in more Gigantopithecus blacki in the Northeast,” Dr. Boguslavski says. “According to our data, climate change and Bigfoot are both equally controversial topics, which is great because you can set up an equation to factor out the term ‘controversial,’ thus leaving two topics, period. End of argument.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Happy April 1st.
Paul Hetzler is a forester and horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.