Researchers Suggest Theoretical Model of Distribution for Sasquatch

A still image from the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1967.

A still image from the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage of 1967.

J.D. Lozier, of the University of Illinois' Department of Entomology, along with a team of researchers, published a paper recently in the Journal of Biogeography that detailed a theoretical distribution for a population of Bigfoot in North America.  The paper sought to show some potential pitfalls of Ecological Niche Modelling (ENM), using Bigfoot as its hypothetical subject.  

According to the study, "The basic premise of the ENM approach is to predict the occurrence of species on a landscape from georeferenced site locality data and sets of spatially explicit environmental data layers that are assumed to correlate with the species’ range." 

 "A potential source of error in publicly available data that may affect the accuracy of ecological niche models (ENMs), and one that is difficult to correct for, is incorrect (or incomplete) taxonomy," said the study.  "To draw attention to this potential problem, we construct ENMs for the North American Sasquatch (i.e. Bigfoot). Specifically, we use a large database of georeferenced putative sightings and footprints for Sasquatch in western North America, demonstrating how convincing environmentally predicted distributions of a taxon’s potential range can be generated from questionable site-occurrence data."

The study based its model on sighting data taken from the archives of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), ranging from 1944 to 2005.

 Map of Bigfoot encounters from Washington, Oregon and California used in the analyses. Points represent visual/auditory detection, and foot symbols represent coordinates where footprint data were available. Shading indicates topography, with lighter values representing lower elevations.  Image and copy credit: J.D. Lozier

 Map of Bigfoot encounters from Washington, Oregon and California used in the analyses. Points represent visual/auditory detection, and foot symbols represent coordinates where footprint data were available. Shading indicates topography, with lighter values representing lower elevations.  Image and copy credit: J.D. Lozier

The study showed that "the predicted distribution of Sasquatch appears similar to that which might be expected for other large mammals of western North America, including the American black bear, sightings of which are thought to be sometimes confused as Bigfoot encounters."

The researchers pointed out that although they attempted to study only those cases of Bigfoot sightings that would appear to be distinct from encounters with black bears, their distribution patterns are too similar to ignore.

"We selected records for which physical specimens were available, allowing us to reasonably assume that black bears were not misidentified, and for which site localities could be georeferenced to a named place at minimum," concluded the researchers. "Although it is possible that Sasquatch and U. americanus share such remarkably similar bioclimatic requirements, we nonetheless suspect that many Bigfoot sightings are, in fact, of black bears."

Ultimately, the team hoped to highlight the questionability of forming strong opinions regarding the behavior of an animal based on largely anecdotal data.

"The point of this paper has been to point out how very sensible-looking, well-performing ENMs can be constructed from questionable observation data," said the study.

The researchers were careful not to come out in favor of or against research of Bigfoot, but instead urge caution when attempting to recreate the habits of unknown animals.

"We stress that our aim here is not to disparage the value of literature records or public specimen databases, or to discourage the use of species distribution modelling, but rather to encourage careful scrutiny of specimen records prior to their use in ENMs."