Scientists on the trail of Bigfoot
Scientists are on the trail of the legendary half-man half-beast that has stalked the wild forests of North America for three million years.
An expedition is being mounted next week by zoologists in a mountainous area of Michigan's Upper Peninsula after growing evidence the strange beast -called Sasquatch by native Americans -really exists.
Recent sightings of a hairy creature walking upright in this remote area have prompted researchers to begin scouring the landscape for bones, teeth and, of course, giant 2ft-long footprints.
The legend of Bigfoot has prompted excitement, hysteria and hoaxes in equal measure over the years. Grainy film footage captured by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin at Bluff Creek, California, in 1967 gave the world the first sighting of what a Sasquatch may look like -although sceptics claim the film was a fake.
Hollywood's version of the Sasquatch story, Bigfoot and the Hendersons, became a worldwide favourite with its plot of an all American family adopting a lumbering giant creature, with comical results. Cryptozoologlsts -scientists who study fabled and legendary beasts -believe the Bigfoot may be related to a primitive homonoid known as "gigantopithicus" who evolved three million years ago.
But as the debate rages, with countless books and websites dedicated to the controversy, researchers have decided to hit the tran and try to prove that the myth is real.
Matthew Moneymaker, of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organisation, said he hopes his team's search of the Upper Peninsula will yield results but the exact areas to be searched are being kept secret.
He said: "We hope to accomplish several things. First is a direct Sighting and recording that sighting. We'll also be looking for evidence supporting a presence.
"We are going to study the environment, which is typically remote. And we hope to meet local people who might have seen a Sasquatch or heard of someone who had an encounter.
Sasquatch is an omnivore and predator. His diet consists of both meat and vegetation. One of the signs we look for is a healthy population of deer and other mammals with hooves."
Among the research team are members of the organisation who claim to have glimpsed the Creature on previous expeditions.
Professor Jeff Meldrum, of Idaho State University, is convinced the Bigfoots exist. Meldrum, a professor of anthropolop and anatomy, has never seen Bigfoot, but said: "I've seen fresh footprints. Everything is relative to what your expertise is, and to my eye these footprints were almost as good as seeing the real thing because of the details and the message there in that trackway."
Legends of hairy, man-like creatures are found in many cultures. The Yeti has long terrified the inhabitants of the high Himalayas, but the story of the Abominable Snowman surfaced in Britain only in 1921.
That year, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Howard-Bury, leading an expedition to Everest, discovered huge footprints across a snowfield at 21,000 ft.
He thought they had been caused by a grey wolf, but was told by his terrified Sherpa guides that they were made by the "wild man of the snows".