Geographical Index > United States > Indiana > Monroe County > Article # 275
Media Article # 275
Friday, February 1, 2002
Ape? Bear? Bigfoot? Sightings pose mystery
By Kurt Van der Dussen
Residents nervous after spotting creature in forest area south of Lake Monroe
HARDIN RIDGE — First a piranha, then a python, then a monitor lizard and now an ape?
Indiana Fish and Wildlife Division officials and an Indiana University anthropologist aren't ruling out the possibility that the creature folks have spotted along Chapel Hill Road in remote, rugged Polk Township could be some sort of ape.
The most recent sighting occurred at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the house of Rick Deckard and his sister, Sue Taylor, on Chapel Hill Road west of the entrance to the Hardin Ridge Recreation Area, south of Lake Monroe in Hoosier National Forest.
Two friends, Dale Moore and Penny Howell, had just driven up when they spotted the animal about 200 feet away at the back of the cleared property.
They described it as standing in a sort of crouch on its rear legs, long front legs hanging down in front of it. They said it was covered in very long, nearly black hair, and guessed its height at around 5 feet and its weight at 200 pounds or more.
They said when the creature saw them, it turned and moved away, down the slope into the woods. Howell said she saw a patch of white fur atop its head and down its neck.
It left tracks in the damp clay — tracks still visible Thursday afternoon.
The tracks were about 4-by-5 inches, with four toe impressions and a heel mark. As it was four-toed rather than five-toed, they ruled out a bear.
The prints were similar to cougar tracks, but for one feature. Many of the toeprints were tipped by deep punctures in the clay, apparently from long claws. In one print, three claws had cut deep incisions 1 1/2 inches long.
DNR wildlife biologist Jim Mitchell said later Thursday that cougars don't leave claw marks when they walk.
While boots wouldn't dent the still-wet clay Thursday, the animal's tracks were pressed a good half-inch or more into it. In some spots they had stripped grass off the clay.
The prints were more than double the size of one left by Deckard's big German shepherd.
Moore and Howell said the dog was in the back yard when they spotted the strange animal Wednesday. The dog was only 30 feet from it, but it wasn't barking. Instead, it was standing stock-still.
"It was twice as big as that dog," Howell recalled Thursday. "I've never seen an animal like that in my life. It scared the crap out of me."
Howell was still nervous Thursday afternoon. "It's got me scared," she said. "What if it grabbed a kid and dragged him down into the woods?"
Moore had said by phone Wednesday evening he thought it looked and walked like a bear. But Howell said Thursday its appearance and movements were more "apelike."
At nearby Hardin Ridge Store, employee Christi Kline said the sighting was the third she'd heard of in the past six months to a year, all describing the same animal.
She said a woman had seen it at the Hardin Ridge area entrance and that it didn't seem to show any fear and didn't run away.
Kline also said that one night a delivery man came in shaking with fear and saying he had just seen "Bigfoot." "We know it's not Bigfoot, but whatever it was, it scared him," she said.
Moore, Howell and Deckard also dismissed any Bigfoot notions, saying it was clearly an animal. "I don't believe in no Bigfoot or nothin'," Moore said Wednesday evening.
Veteran state conservation officer Marlin Dodge said Thursday that a so-called Bigfoot sighting wouldn't be unusual.
"I've had a lot of complaints over the years on a Bigfoot, a lot of 'em in that area," he said.
Dodge and three other DNR officials and wildlife biologists offered no explanation of what folks have seen. But they were not discounting the possibility that some non-native animal is in the area.
At the Paynetown DNR office, Paynetown property manager Bruce Whiting reported black panther sightings, the latest "over around Fairfax."
At the Bloomington Fish and Wildlife Division office, wildlife biologists Mitchell and Gary Langell studied a sketch of the footprint. Given the print and the description of the animal Mitchell got Wednesday from Deckard by phone an hour after the sighting, the two were not ruling out an escaped exotic animal.
Mitchell said he told Deckard that sometimes people see things and "misidentify" what they see — an idea Deckard had related and contemptuously dismissed earlier at his house.
"I'm a bow hunter," said the 49-year-old lifelong resident of the Chapel Hill area. "I know a bear when I see one. I know a panther when I see one. This isn't a bear or a panther.
"We've got a panther back there, too, but this is not a panther. It walks on its rear legs," he said.
Mitchell was more inclined to believe the animal runs on all fours, which was what he said he was first told Wednesday.
But he and Langell said the idea that some exotic animal had escaped its owner was quite possible. And they said an escaped ape of some sort might be the best explanation.
Mitchell referred the case to IU anthropologist Dick Adams, who planned to go to the site today to see the prints. He also agreed an ape was a strong possibility.
"It very well could be; this sounds very much like an orang," he said, referring to an orangutan, the large, shaggy-haired ape that is native to Borneo and Sumatra and that some people keep as an exotic pet.
But the black hair of the Chapel Hill Road animal wouldn't match the reddish-brown hair of an orangutan, he said.
Dodge disputed the ape theory. "This doesn't sound like an ape to me," he said. "The only ape I know of that would weigh 200 pounds is a gorilla."
But he admitted an escaped exotic animal could be running loose.
Last year alone, a species of piranha was caught in Griffy Lake, a 12-foot python that had escaped its Bloomington owner was recovered crawling around Yellowwood State Forest, and a monitor lizard native to the South Pacific was spotted and chased for several hours at Lake Lemon.
"I've taken all kinds of animals out in this county," Dodge said. "I've taken bears, cougars, lions," — all escaped from owners.
"We'll go down there and take a look and see what we come up with," he said. "I don't know what it is."
Reporter Kurt Van der Dussen can be reached at 331-4372 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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