The Littlest Cryptid

When we think of cryptozoological animals–that is, strange creatures whose existence remains unconfirmed by science, and who may or may not be imaginary–we usually think big. Whether it’s the leviathan-sized Loch Ness Monster or the towering Bigfoot, cryptids usually wear XXL, if not XXXXL. That’s why the Orang-Pendek (translation: “short man”) a diminutive humanoid ape that some believe is hiding somewhere in the wilds of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is so fascinating. 

At between three and five feet tall, here’s a cryptid that most adult humans could reach down and pat on the head. That is, if we really do have a hirsuite, evolutionary cousin, roughly between the size of a small chimpanzee and Napoleon, luring in the Sumatran forests, nibbling on ginger root and hunting for meat with tiny axes. But then again, we haven’t estalished to a surety that he’s not there, either.
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As detailed in Gregory L. Forth’s 1999 scholarly treatise, Images of the Wildman in Southeast Asia,sightings of the Orang-Pendek date back at into the early 1900s. Various reports from that time describe the Orang-Pendek as being apelike but having some curiously humanoid anatomical features, such as arms that were slightly longer than a person’s but shorter than those of knuckle-walking primates. One early investigator found child-sized tracks, ascribed to the Orang-Pendek, that indicated that the creature had a big toe. (The possibility that the tracks actually may have belonged to a human child doesn’t seem to have been considered.) Some accounts describe the creature as lacking a chin and having large canine teeth and a flat forehead that “recedes sharply to the back.” Others depict it as having a humanlike face. How exactly the investigators got that information is a mystery, since their accounts also noted that human inhabitants of the region were scared to death of the creature–which some believe has superhuman strength–and kept their distance.

A 1932 article in The Age, an Australian newspaper, reports that an Indonesian Rajah, or prince, sent a search party out to capture or kill an Orang-Pendek so that it could be studied. The hunters reportedly stalked a female and her infant, but apparently were unable to get them. The article says mother and child both “ran erect,” and that the adult was about the size of “a European child of 12.” The unnamed writer concluded that a live capture of the creature “is improbable.”

The most recent apparent encounter with the elusive ape-man reportedly occurred in 2009. when a team from the UK’s Centre for Fortean Zoology claim to have caught a fleeting glimpse of an Orang-Pendek and brought back samples of hair for DNA analysis. (Unfortunately, at least so far, the results don’t seem to  have been released.) Zoologist Richard Freeman, who headed the expedition, was quoted in an article in the Telegraph, a UK newspaper, as saying that he believes the Orang-Pendek is nothing more than an undiscovered primate species.

Be sure to tune in to Beast Hunter
tomorrow night at 9P et/pt. Follow @patrickspain the #beasthunter on twitter as he live-tweets tomorrow night’s series premiere of Man Ape of Sumatra. In the meantime, check out this sneak preview: