A powerful figure emerges from the shadows of a forest, only to lumber back into the cover of trees.
It’s a scene captured from the corner of a thousand human eyes, but no one is closer to seeing a Bigfoot or a Sasquatch square in the face. If anyone were to meet the mythical creature’s gaze, they might be surprised by what they find when they look back at them.
A computer scientist named Floe Foxon has shown that most Bigfoot sightings in the US and Canada were likely black bears trudging around on their hind legs.
American black bears (Ursus americanus) usually walk on all fours, but will stand on their hind legs if it means they get a clearer view or a stronger whiff of something interesting. And from this position they can appear eerily human-like – albeit quite hairy.
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This is not the first time scientists have proposed black bears as an explanation for the Bigfoot phenomenon.
In 2005, a scientist compared estimated black bear populations with reported sightings in the northwestern corner of the United States. However, he concluded that a different animal species than the American black bear is responsible for the sightings of this mythical creature.
But in 2009, another paper based in the same region showed a high degree of overlap between black bear populations and sasquatches patches.
Foxon has now expanded on previous results by extending the analysis to all locations in the United States and Canada where black bears and humans live in close proximity to each other.
The data he used for Bigfoot sightings came from the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, which maintains a geographic database of eyewitness reports mostly from the twentieth century and beyond.
Foxon then compared this information with local data on black bear density and distribution as well as human population densities. He says this is an improvement over the simplified estimates used in previous articles.
According to Foxon’s rigorous regression model—which shows whether changes seen in one variable are associated with changes in another—Bigfoot sightings are largely explained by misidentified black bears.
In areas with high numbers of black bears and people, more people see Bigfoot, and this is especially true in the Pacific Northwest.
In Texas and Florida, however, black bears are not nearly as common, despite sasquatch sightings being common in those two states.
“In particular, sasquatch sightings have been reported in states with no known black bear populations,” admits Foxon.
“While this can be interpreted as evidence for the existence of an unknown hominid in North America, it is also explained by the misidentification of other animals (including humans), among other possibilities.”
Big foot? This recording was taken on 10/24/13 by Josh Highcliff.
9 miles west of Tunica, Mississippi while hunting on his property.
When it rose he fled in fear. It has been hailed as one of the best Sasquatch videos ever made. What do you think? #paranormal #scary pic.twitter.com/ifv4e9dhlL
— The Insomnia Society (@insomsociety) 10 January 2023
Generally, however, states like Texas and Florida are exceptions to the rule. On average, Foxon has found that one sasquatch sighting is expected for every 900 black bears in a given US state or Canadian province.
Elsewhere in the world, bears can also trick people into seeing mythical hominids.
In the mountains of Asia, for example, it is likely that the Yeti is actually just an Asiatic black bear, Himalayan brown bear, or Tibetan brown bear covered in snow.
Physical evidence that has been collected by the Yeti in the past, such as teeth and hair, has always been found to belong to another known animal, usually a bear.
“In closing,” writes Foxon, “if bigfoot is there, there might be a lot of bears.”
The study was published in bioRxiv.