Do Sasquatches Really Exist? On Vancouver Island?

The proof is in the evidence left behind claims John Bindernagel.

Wildlife biologist John Bindernagel thinks so. And he has a shelf full of plaster cast footprints - including a set from Paradise Meadows to prove it.

In October 1988 Bindernagel was chaperoning a junior high school field trip to Lake Helen Mackenzie when a student pointed out a set of large footprints in a muddy patch of the trail.

"They all were walking along the trail. We (Bindernagel and his wife) were at the very back picking up sleeping bags, etc. The last girl said, 'what's that?' and pointed (a footprint) out in a low, muddy spot." There were five such tracks, and they all seemed to be following the trail, Bindernagel related.

Unfortunately it was three days before he and his wife could go back and take a plaster cast of the footprints, and by then they had been obliterated by use. The footprints were 15 inches long and one third wider than a normal human footprint. The step was about 40 inches - much longer than a human step.

Bindernagel's footprint cast is one of only 100 in existence, he said. More importantly, it made a believer out of his wife - who tolerates his passion for Sasquatch.

Bindernagel is a registered professional biologist with a degree in biology from the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ont. His interest in sasquatches began in 1963 when he was a third-year student in wildlife management at Guelph. His field work began in 1975 when he moved his family to B.C., partly so he could begin field work on this species.

Bindernagel studies sea birds and big game; he has worked in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Iran in addition to North America.

In 1996 he took two years off and wrote a field guide on the Sasquatch, entitled "North America's Great Ape: The Sasquatch (paperback, US$25 available at Cumberland Museum and from Beachcomber books, beachcom@island.net).

Bindernagel's research fills his cramped living room-slash-home office. He maintains a Web site devoted to his field research, and sasquatch footprint casts fill a wooden shelf.

There is a common pattern to most of his research: that sasquatch is, in fact, North America's great ape. One footprint cast from California shows unusual ridge patterns, not unlike the whorls of fingerprints, along the outside of the foot as well as the heel area. Great apes also have pronounced ridges on their feet.

It took Bindernagel a long time to publicly acknowledge his interest in sasquatches; over years of skepticism by his fellow scientists, he's lost a lot of his idealism, and developed a thick skin. But he's no fanatic, he said.

"I'm not saying it's an easy thing to accept. What I'm saying is we have so much evidence, it's time to at least start discussing it," he said.

There have been other Sasquatch sightings around the Mount Washington area besides Bindernagel's discovery. In fact, there have been 84 sightings from the Comox Valley-Campbell River corridor over the years. Bindernagel has had reports of a sasquatch sighting from a ski patrol member who was on the back side of the mountain, at McKay Lake. The ski patroller was treating a patient when he saw something that he thought was a sasquatch.

Several sightings have come from the Oyster River area, too. "I've got 20, 25 reports from Fanny Bay to the Oyster River," he said. "Mostly I get them second-hand."

Other reports have come in from Mary Wood Lake (Forbidden Plateau, early '90s) as well as Comox Lake (1980), three from Wolf Lake, one from Anderson Lake (late-80s) and another from a mushroom picker on the lower slopes of Mount Washington.

In the early '90s a man driving in the Bevan Road area says he saw one cross the road; it was 3:30 a.m. He and his brothers, also in their '20s, went to the RCMP with their sighting and were asked whether they were drinking or smoking something funny. They recanted.

Then there was a sighting from a grouse hunter south of Comox Lake, near Nim Nim Lake. The most recent sighting was two years ago at Divers Lake.

Further to that, Bindernagel told the Bremerton Sun in 1994 that, two years previously, he heard a strange, apelike call at a friend's cabin near Comox Lake.

"The only thing that I have ever heard which is similar is a chimpanzee in Uganda," he said. "It was a sort of 'whoo whoo whooop'."

What do you do if you come across a Sasquatch?

Document, document, document, says Bindernagel. Write down the details of your sighting, or phone or e-mail him with the details. Take notice of things like the size and composition of the sasquatch, where it is, what it's doing. And if possible, take a plaster cast of any footprints. It's best to get the plaster casts as early as possible, he said.

Hard evidence is going to be what convinces mainstream scientists that sasquatches are real, Bindernagel said. The skeptics look at things like a lack of a carcass to prove that sasquatches don't exist. Bindernagel is skeptical of the skeptics.

"As a wildlife biologist I've only found two bear skulls in 40 years of field observation, I know how quickly bones disperse."

Bindernagel is convinced that sasquatches are seen far more often than we know, simply because of the stigma attached to Sasquatch. "However many there are, there's more than we think. They're seen more commonly than we think but most sightings don't ... become reports."He hopes that will change in the future.

"I fully expect that wildlife biologists will recognize the sasquatch as a species in the not-too-distant future, and subsequent researchers will find B.C.'s shellfish-rich West Coast to be one of its prime habitats," he wrote in an article in Beautiful British Columbia magazine last summer.

"But until other North American biologists are willing to look beyond their own continent for possible explanations - and until we finally have irrefutable evidence that sasquatches exist - doubt will continue to linger, and witnesses will remain reluctant to speak out."

Anyone wanting to report a Sasquatch sighting can call Bindernagel at his office at (250) 338-8482.