WUHAN - Chinese scientists are considering launching a high-profile search for an ape-like Bigfoot creature in Central China's Hubei province, nearly 30 years after the last organized expedition to seek the legendary beast in the early 1980s.
Scientists are hoping the expedition could end the long-running debate on the existence of the creature, according to Wang Shancai, a 75-year-old expert with the Hubei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, who is also the vice president of the Hubei Wild Man Research Association -- organizer of the expedition.
Located deep in the remote mountains in Hubei, Shennongjia Nature Reserve has long been rumored to be the home of the elusive creature known in China as the "Yeren," or "Wild man." It is also referred to as "Bigfoot" after the legendary North American ape-man.
More than 400 people have claimed Bigfoot sightings in the Shennongjia area since last century, but no hard evidence has been found to prove its existence.
According to witnesses, the creature, which walks upright, is described to be more than 2 meters tall as an adult and has a gray, red or black hairy body.
Better technology, better approach
"Unlike expeditions three decades ago, the better technological support will help us get closer to solving the mystery," Wang said.
"We are now working together with the China Three Gorges University to develop long-time energy-supply devices to support cameras that will be installed in the ape man's possible habitat," said the archaeological anthropologist who has been studying the mysterious creature for more than 30 years.
China has organized three high-profile scientific expeditions for Bigfoot through the 1970s and 1980s. Researchers found hair, footprints, excrement and sleeping nests that were said to be Bigfoot's, but no hard evidence was reported.
The hairs were sent to different research institutions and universities in several cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan for identification in the 1980s. All of them returned similar test results -- the hair samples did not match either humans or any known animals, said Wang.
Apart from the poor technological support 30 years ago, experts also blamed the "unscientific searching methods" for the failure of the previous searches.
For example, mass mountain searches adopted in previous expeditions wasted a lot of time and energy, according to Wang, as the Shennongjia Nature Reserve has a total area of 3,200 square kilometers, which has hundreds of square kilometers of primeval forest that have not been visited by man before.
The searching method will be different this time: scientists have already narrowed down the searching areas into specific targets -- caves, as years of study show that the half-human, half-ape creatures are most likely to inhabit caves, said Luo Baosheng, also a vice president of the association.
"We will have three expedition teams search every cave in three important regions in Shennongjia where the unidentified beast would be mostly likely to appear," Luo said.
The association, made up of more than 100 scientists and explorers, was set up in November 2009 and started operating in April this year.
Expecting anthropological accomplishment
Previous studies have indicated that if the legendary creature does exist, it should be an unsuccessfully evolved species between the ape and human.
Theoretically, it should be extinct, according to Wang Shancai. However, if some of them survived, just like the giant pandas, it would help scientists learn the process of how primates evolved into humans and prove that an unknown half-human, half-ape primate existed before apes became men.
However, some scientists have denied the existence of such a creature, because of the lack of evidence. Besides, the creature needs to have survived in sufficient numbers to make it through tens of thousand of years until the present day.
"It is absolutely normal to have different opinions. Thirty years ago when we found golden monkeys in Shennongjia, some zoologists also said that was impossible, but it turned out that there were more than 500 of them living there," Wang said.
Besides, if findings of the expedition proved that the Bigfoot in people's mind was actually not the Wild Man, but an unknown new species, it would be very valuable as well, he said.
"It would end the debate and show us that the descriptions and stories about the wild man in historical documents in the past thousands of years were merely misunderstandings and wrong impressions," he added.
Discovering a new species itself will be a biological achievement as well, Wang said.
Exploring the kingdom of plants and animals
Besides seeking the Bigfoot, the expedition will also include researching rare and unknown plants and animals in the "Kingdom of Plants and Animals."
Dubbed "Noah's Arc" for animals and plants in the glacial period, the Shennongjia area provided shelter for animals and plants from glacier activities that were prevalent elsewhere during the Quaternary Period some 2.5 million years ago. It has preserved an array of plants that existed in the Tertiary Period and is widely called a home of living plant fossils.
With abundant rain and water resources and a middle-latitude location, Shennongjia is home to more than 3,700 species of plants and at least 1,050 kinds of animals. At least 40 plant species and 70 animal species are under key state protection.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) put Shennongjia on its World Network of Biosphere Reserves list in 1990.
"We found new plant or animal species almost every time in previous expeditions, therefore this time we will pay attention to plants and other animals as well," Luo Baosheng said.
The nature reserve is home to more than 100 plant species that have not been found anywhere else in the world. Since 2006, 23 new plant species have been found in Shennongjia, according to Yang Jinyuan, head of the reserve's scientific research institute.
Members of the expedition teams will be recruited globally, Luo said.
The applicants, either male or female, should be between 25 and 40 years old. With good physical health, they should also have basic biological knowledge and know how to use the camera.
Preference would be given to those who have outdoor experience, he added.
"Most importantly, we want the team members to be devoted, as there will be a lot a hard work in the process," said Luo.
However, there is no specific timetable yet for the expedition as the association is still in talks with several companies and institutions about the funding of the expedition which will cost at least 10 million yuan ($1.5 million), according to Wang Shancai.