If you think Bigfoot is a hoax, you're not alone. In 2003, the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the New York Times fingered deceased Washington state prankster Ray Wallace as the perpetrator of a decades-long Bigfoot sham; his family claimed he created the Sasquatch legend with suits and fake footprints. More recently, in August 2008 a news-making Bigfoot corpse in Georgia was revealed to be a gussied-up Halloween costume ordered on the Internet.
But those reports haven’t stopped people like Matt Moneymaker, president of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, from seeking the big, hairy truth. He’s led scores of people on $300 four-day Bigfoot treks to North America’s mountain ranges, home (in his estimation) to 10,000 Sasquatches. He dismisses the claim that Wallace invented Bigfoot, and notes that Sasquatch sightings occurred hundreds of years before Wallace was even born. What's more, he knows from firsthand experience that Bigfoot is real.
“We’ve proven it over and over and over again,” Moneymaker says. “I’ve taken hundreds of people out on expeditions and many people have had encounters during those expeditions. We prove it every month to people who are willing to go out and experience it.”
Bigfoot is just one of dozens of mysterious creatures that may roam the world. Believers argue that while these so-called cryptids have not yet been catalogued by science, they most certainly exist. Out in the wilds of the world, creatures like Orang Pendek in Sumatra (a diminutive ape/human hybrid), Mokele-mbembe in the Republic of Congo (a living dinosaur) and Phaya Naga in the Mekong River (a fire-breathing snakelike creature) are lurking.
As the host of the SciFi Channel’s "Destination Truth", Joshua Gates investigates reports of unexplained creatures in remote corners of the world. While the show rarely ends with definitive proof that any particular cryptid exists, he and his team have unearthed convincing proof of some creatures—most notably a Yeti footprint found in Nepal. Gates describes himself as an “open-minded skeptic” who holds out for the possibility that cryptids may be hiding out there.
“There is a real sense that there are mysteries that have not been solved in places like the Amazon and elsewhere,” Gates says. “And that’s borne out by how every year, they are cataloging not just new plants and new fungi ... they’re actually cataloging new vertebrates.”
Despite ubiquitous GPS systems and Google maps, broad swaths of the world remain uncharted, perhaps allowing cryptids to go undetected. But, partly thanks to technology, this is a boom time for cryptozoology, the study of mysterious creatures. Websites like cryptomundo.com (run by famed cryptozoologist Loren Coleman) and Moneymaker's BFRO.net are read by international audiences willing to explore where strange animals are spotted. Adherents believe that with a global network of searchers, proof of the existence of mysterious creatures can come soon.
Modern cameras may also help snag sightings of elusive prey. One Japanese expedition is using cutting-edge motion detection cameras (and sponsorship money from Japanese brewery Suntory and electronics company Nikon) to look for Nepal's Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman (or, Bigfoot's snowbound cousin). Likewise, the Orang Pedenk Project in Indonesia hopes to use heat- and motion-sensitive cameras to capture photos of the small apelike creatures that walk like men.
The most famous cryptids, like Bigfoot, are popular among curious travelers. In fact, according to a recent British poll, Scotland's Loch Ness is the most popular tourist destination in the United Kingdom, no doubt thanks to its most famous possible resident, the Loch Ness Monster. While Nessie is notoriously bashful, area attractions like the Loch Ness Research Center draw hundreds of visitors every year.
Less savory beasts also attract fans. When the Chupacabra was first reported in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, enterprising locals organized island tours to look for this creature that reportedly sucks blood from animals. “It is taken seriously, but it’s more of a joke than anything,” Puerto Rico Tourism Company spokesperson Mari Jo Laborde says. “Every once in a while there’s an appearance that makes the newspaper, like a story about the Chupacabra showing up somewhere. But it’s more of a folktale than something people fear.” As sightings in Puerto Rico have died down, the Chupacabra has spread to other countries, most recently in the American Southwest.
While Bigfoot, Nessie and Chupacabra are notoriously elusive, they are arguably the most accessible cryptids. Travelers searching for encounters with other creatures need to set out into wilder terrain, like Papua New Guinea, where the mysterious winged Ropen has been reported, or the Amazon, purported home of the giant anaconda and one-eyed sloth creature call the Mapinguary.
“In general, these stories have more life in cultures that are still developing,” Gates says. “What happens is the more industrialized and modernized and integrated with the world, the more these stories tend to slip away.”