The Herald (South Africa)
Shining the spotlight on Knysna Forest ‘wild man’
● Patterson shines spotlight on Knysna Forest ‘wild man’
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.