Shin­ing the spot­light on Knysna For­est ‘wild man’

● Pat­ter­son shines spot­light on Knysna For­est ‘wild man’

The Herald (South Africa) - - Front Page - Guy Rogers rogersg@the­herald.co.za

When Gareth Pat­ter­son got his first glimpse of an otang, he was struck like a thun­der­bolt, to the core of his be­ing.

“Pro­found shock is what I felt and, in the days fol­low­ing, dis­be­lief and con­fu­sion.

“You are see­ing what science does not yet ac­knowl­edge the ex­is­tence of.”

Speak­ing yes­ter­day about his new book Be­yond the Se­cret Ele­phants, he said part of his in­ten­tion with the book was to change the sit­u­a­tion where otang wit­nesses typ­i­cally did not tell close friends or even their fam­i­lies of what they had seen, for fear of ridicule.

“Since the book was pub­lished, sev­eral more eye­wit­nesses have con­tacted me with their en­coun­ters,” Pat­ter­son said.

“And this was in part what I had hoped for — that it would give eye­wit­nesses an im­por­tant val­i­da­tion of their own ex­pe­ri­ences.”

In the book, he de­scribes how he was walk­ing in a sec­tion of the Knysna For­est near his home one day when he was star­tled by a crash­ing sound from the wall of fyn­bos on his left.

He turned and saw an ex­tra­or­di­nary thing.

“Leap­ing away into the fyn­bos, prob­a­bly three to four me­tres in front of me, I saw a bipedal homi­noid be­ing. Otang!

“It was ap­prox­i­mately 5½ feet in height [1.67m], though hunched as it leapt away, and had dark brown-black hair.”

Pat­ter­son was con­vinced by its mus­cu­lar bulk that it was male.

“Though I can­not prove it, it seemed pos­si­ble he had seen me ap­proach­ing from afar and had de­cided to leap away only when I was ex­tremely close to him, al­most mis­chie­vously.”

Here he writes of a relict homi­noid called the otang, a rem­nant species which lives — ac­cord­ing to Pat­ter­son, the ev­i­dence he presents and the peo­ple he quotes — in the Knysna For­est.

Other relict homi­noids in­clude the yeti of Ti­bet, the sasquatch of the Pa­cific north­west US, orang pen­dek of In­done­sia and ogo of Zim­babwe.

While these and other “wild men” have made for won­der­ful sto­ries and car­toons down the years, there is se­ri­ous sci­en­tific in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der way into the pos­si­bil­ity that they ex­ist.

Con­sid­er­ing some of these other crea­tures against the back­drop of his own find­ings, Pat­ter­son para­phrases an im­por­tant state­ment about hu­mankind by the edi­tor of the Relict Homi­noid In­quiry jour­nal, Idaho Univer­sity-based anatomy and an­thro­pol­ogy aca­demic Dr Jeff Mel­drum.

“Our evo­lu­tion has not been a lin­ear process.

“It is like a braided stream with many cour­ses merg­ing, min­gling and branch­ing away.”

Pat­ter­son worked with Ge­orge Adam­son re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing li­ons in Kenya be­fore mov­ing on to un­der­take the same work in Botswana, and then con­tin­u­ing through to SA.

Ar­riv­ing in Knysna in 2001, he was ini­tially fo­cused on study­ing the myth­i­cal for­est ele­phants but kept hear­ing anec­dotes about the otang.

De­scrip­tions of sight­ings by var­i­ous peo­ple, in­clud­ing tourists, for­est work­ers, his neigh­bour when he was a child and an old San woman who lived in a com­mu­nity on the edge of the for­est, shaped a pic­ture in his mind.

Com­mon to all these ac­counts was how quickly it moved and the au­thor con­veys this de­tail vividly, cap­tur­ing it in the reader’s mind’s eye — trans­fix­ing it for a mo­ment, as in a bakkie’s head­lights — trans­mut­ing it from fic­tion to fact.

Pat­ter­son turns to the pre­his­toric finds made re­cently on the South­ern Cape coast which point to the ori­gins of the San and all hu­mankind.

Dis­cov­er­ies in­clude a com­pre­hen­sive set of foot­prints in a cave in the Knysna area which were made most likely by Homo sapi­ens, ac­cord­ing to pro­ject head Dr Charles Helm.

Boost­ing his ar­gu­ment, he in­cludes on one of his pic­ture pages a pho­to­graph of a strange Bush­man paint­ing.

Taken by an­thro­pol­o­gist Bert Wood­house, the photo shows a con­fronta­tion be­tween a party of armed Bush­men and a group of pow­er­fully built homi­noids.

Pat­ter­son said he was hop­ing that new con­ser­va­tion zones could be in­stalled to se­cure the habi­tat of both the Knysna ele­phant and the otang.

“For the sake of both, we should cre­ate cor­ri­dors link­ing por­tions of their for­mer habi­tat which in­cludes for­est, moun­tain fyn­bos, coastal plain and coastal fyn­bos.”

● Be­yond the Se­cret Ele­phants by Gareth Pat­ter­son is pub­lished by Tracey McDon­ald Pub­lish­ers.

Pic­ture: STE­WART PAT­TER­SON

ON THE TRAIL: Au­thor Gareth Pat­ter­son takes DNA sam­ples from ele­phant dung in the Knysna For­est

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