Wuhan - That ever elusive figure known as Bigfoot, or Yeren (wild man) to the Chinese, is bouncing back to life as a group of Chinese scientists and explorers scout around for international help to mount a new search for it - even though the debate over its existence has lingered for decades.
Bigfoot, also known elsewhere as the abominable snowman, in this case refers to a half-man, half-ape creature in the Shennongjia Nature Reserve, in a remote, mountainous part of Hubei province, in Central China.
An imagined recreation of the disputed ape-like creature, Bigfoot, stands in a museum in Shennongjia, Hubei province. [File photo/For China Daily]
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, authorities organized three high-profile expeditions to search for signs of Bigfoot, but came up empty handed.
In view of the large amount of expenditure required for these expeditions, the government decided to put a stop to them. Nonetheless, curiosity about the mysterious man-like creature still lingered among experts and ordinary folk alike.
Then, last November, the Wild Man Research Association was founded in Hubei, pulling in more than 100 members interested in the search for Yeren, including a number of scientists and experts.
These included the 75-year-old Wang Shancai, of the Hubei Relics and Archaeology Institute, who is vice-president of the association, and happens to be a strong believer in Bigfoot.
One of Wang's reasons for his passion: "Over 30 years, I've collected a large amount of data."
In spite of the fact that while those expeditions in the 1970s and 1980s yielded little other than some hair, a footprint, and some excrement suspected of belonging to Yeren, there was no conclusive proof, but Wang is undeterred. He said there were more than 400 people who claimed to have seen Bigfoot in the Shennongjia area over the last century.
To him, "that's strong proof".
And he's gotten support from a local "witness", Zhang Jiahong, a sheep rancher in the town of Muyu in the nature reserve, who says he saw two wild men as recently as September 2005.
What did they look like? Zhang told China Daily on Monday that they had "hairy faces, eyes like black holes, prominent noses, faces that resembled both a man and a monkey, disheveled hair, and stood more than 2 meters tall".
But that does not hold water with everyone, for example, Hu Hongxing. He is a 75-year-old Wuhan University professor who thinks that the search is nonsense and just a bunch of hype.
Hu's field is ornithology and he has been studying animals in the Shennongjia area for a long time. His reasoning goes like this: "That location is not consistent with that of ape man. There's a basic standard for judging whether it exists, for example, the species grouping and area of distribution. There's no area for wild man's activity in Shennongjia."
He concludes by pointing to the failure of the 1970s and 1980s expeditions.
Wang, pressing ahead, thinks it is normal to have different opinions. "Thirty years ago when we discovered golden monkeys in Shennongjia, some zoologists said it was impossible. It turned out that there were more than 500 of them living there," he concludes.
As for the new expedition, he has new ideas and blames the failure of the previous searches on their "unscientific" nature.
"It's difficult and expensive getting all the technology to cover a 3,200-square-kilometer range of mountains, a large part of which is primeval forest."
So, the association is looking for volunteers from around the world to join this latest high-tech search for Yeren.
What kind of people should apply? "We want devoted team members," said Luo Baosheng, vice-president of the group, "since it will involve a lot a hard work."
The search area has been broken up into target areas, Luo explained - especially caves that the creature would most likely inhabit.
According to Wang, the team's first hurdle is to come up with about 10 million yuan ($1.5 million), so they are talking to companies and other organizations about funding. There's no timetable yet for when they might start out on their trek.
Lest you think that China is a stranger to all this crypto-zoology, do not be so sure. After all, tales abound of mysterious, Loch Ness monster-like creatures inhabiting the remote reaches of the country's lakes.
And, Tibetans have long talked about the existence of the yeti, up there somewhere in the high snowy mountains of the Tibet autonomous region.
Reuters contributed to this story.