I can be contacted on thehighlandtiger@yahoo.co.uk

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Centre For Fortean Zoology, the Orang Pendek evidence, and a few observations from yours truly

NEWLY UPDATED 1st December 2010 - Check latest post at the bottom of the article

As you may or may not be aware the Centre For Fortean Zoology, the CFZ, recently published the results of the DNA and structural analysis of the hair samples they bought back from Sumatra on their expedition to find the Orang Pendek last year in 2009.

Although I am still officially banned from posting comments on their site, I have still been posting them regardlessly. In response to my comments on this subject, they have actually posted them as seperate articles on their blog, for which I thank them.

This is an ongoing dialogue at present, and in order to get this out to the wider cryptozoological community, I will reproduce my comments and their replies in full here. Feel free to comment yourselves either here or on the CFZ blog site.

I will endeavor to include the whole conversation on just one post, so please check the date at the top of the post to see if there are any new additions.

The CFZ posts will be in block quotes, with my replies and comments in normal type in red.

Sunday, November 21, 2010
LARS THOMAS: Analysis of the orang pendek hairs collected in Sumatra during the 2009 expedition
In late 2009 I was given a sample of hairs collected in Sumatra earlier that year by Adam Davies, Richard Freeman and several others taking part in the expedition searching for evidence of the elusive orang pendek, the Indonesian “abominable snowman.”

A small part of the hair sample was subjected to a DNA-analysis, but due to the small amount of DNA extracted and the rather poor condition of it, no firm conclusion could be reached. The DNA did show some similarities to primate DNA, possibly orangutan, but no definite results could be obtained.

Following this I subjected the remaing hairs to a structural analysis to see if this could bring any information to light that might reveal the identity of the owner of the hairs.

I checked all of the remaining 6 hairs and they were all consistent with hairs from large primates or humans. They all had the rather large medulla with a lot of pigmentation typical of large primates, and the intermittent holes in the centre of the hairs, making them look somewhat like hollowed out tree trunks. I compared the hair samples with reference samples of 3 different species of gibbon, orangutan, chimpanzee and bonobo, gorilla and some 15 samples of human hairs in various colours, mainly red or reddish. I was never able to ascertain their identity with total certainty, although I could eliminate some. The hairs were not modern human, and they were not from siamangs or other gibbons. They have a very deep rusty-red colour, very similar to the colour of orangutan hairs, but varied in other structural details.

So based on these results alone I concluded that the hairs were from something closely related to orangutans or from a form of orangutan I had not seen before.

In the autumn of 2010 Tom Gilbert from the DNA Laboratory of the University of Copenhagen did a further DNA test of the remaining hairs. In this case he was able to extract a good amount of DNA enabling him to conclude that whoever used to wear these hairs were either human of very closely related to humans.

So the structural analysis point to either an orangutan or something very closely related to an orangutan. The DNA analysis on the other hand point to a human or something very closely related to humans.

Based on this information I am forced to conclude that Sumatra is home to a completely new species of large primate, but I am also well aware that these results can in no way be called conclusive evidence of the existence of these animals. But it should be more than enough reason for a new expedition to go back to the area, hopefully obtaining enough evidence and samples to come to a final conclusion.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The other day Lars Thomas posted his findings regarding the morphological and DNA analysis of the hair sample brought back from Sumatra by the 2009 CFZ expedition. This attracted several negative comments, and as I believe that this is a matter of some importance, rather than having Richard Freeman post his reply in the original thread, we have asked him to post his answer on the main bloggo:

Andrew Sweeney, your comments are utterly absurd. Have you even bothered to read Lars’s account? He is a professional scientist who says that he is forced to conclude from our data that a new species of large primate exists in Sumatra; something you seem to have conveniently ignored. I call that a result.

To say that the expedition added nothing to our knowledge is just completely wrong. We saw tracks and learnt of foot structure. Dave Archer actually saw the creature and even managed to get a look at its face. His description gives us anatomical clues to the animal’s nature. Any eyewitness account is valuable in the sum of our knowledge.

Dan and Jum, the orang-utan has been extinct in west Sumatra since the 1880s. Dave Archer is adamant the animal he saw was not one of these. It was the guides who collected the hair samples from a tree stump using tweezers. They were next to some very clear tracks that showed a long, human-like heel and an ape-like forefoot with a well separated big toe. They were not orang-utan or gibbon prints, both of these are animals with which I am very familiar.

Thursday, November 25, 2010
On Thursday I received a message from the person calling themselves `The Highland Tiger`. He wrote hoping that we took his comments on this occasion "as a genuine observation". In that spirit, therefore, I reproduce what he had to say:

From what I can gather from the conclusions made by both Lars and Richard Freeman, it appears that the DNA results of being close to human are being ignored, largely in favour of the hair analysis. I find this very worrying as it appears on the surface to be a case of trying to fit the evidence to the theory.

Hair analysis is very subjective process and is literally in the eye of the beholder. Different experts may come to different conclusions in investigating hair samples. DNA results are less subjective.

The reason the DNA samples claim to be almost human is more than likely through contamination. Yes I know the researchers claim they did not touch the hairs, but to be honest it is hard enough to prevent contamination in a laboratory, let alone obtaining clean samples in the field, is hard and I don't blame the field team for this.

I understand Karl Shuker has given an example of the king cheetah to explain a possibilty of both DNA and hair analysis being correct. However, this is only one case and we can in no way extrapolate this example in order to fit the evidence to the theory again, as Richard seems to have done.

I am actually in agreement with Dr Dan Holdsworth in that I feel the DNA results have probably been compromised by contamination.

The hairs are interesting in that I have no problem in accepting them as orangutan hairs, (and as such in finding a new population of orangs you have had a success)

Now this find is more exciting to the wider zoological world. Are you intending to contact orangutan researchers, and allow them to look at the hairs themselves. To find and confirm a new orangutan population is very important on a wordwide conservation scale, and needs to be released to mainstream zoological research and not kept in the restricted confines of cryptozoological research"

The most important thing about these DNA results are that whatever the hairs are, they are NOT from an orang utan. I would like to stress this. If there had been evidence suggesting that there was at least one orang utan living in that stretch of jungle, we would of course have made the hairs available to the relevant authorities. If there is any chance that there is a hitherto unsuspected population of these increasingly beleagured great apes then it is our sacred duty to do what we can to save them, and the discovery of a new population would be immensely important.

But the hairs, whatever they are from, are NOT from an orang utan.

However, we are not claiming that they are from an orang pendek either. Neither Richard nor Lars is ignoring the startlingly human-like DNA, and yes, the possibility of contamination is something that is always a possibility.

But as Lars writes, the results are inconclusive, although as a zoologist with many years experience, the hairs, together with all the anecdotal evidence that has been collected, Dave Archer and Sahar Didmus's eyewitness testimonies, and the various hair samples and footprints secured over the years have convinced him that there is an unknown species of higher primate living in Sumatra.

But no. Both Richard and I agree with Lars and HT that the DNA evidence - though interesting - is far from being conclusive, which is why we intend to go back to Sumatra with more equipment and more manpower to continue the hunt.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jon, I thank you for posting my comments. I understand that you wish to accept the findings of your experts. However, do you not think it prudent to contact orangutan specialists for their opinion of the hair samples. For them to confirm the identity of the hair samples would in my opinion have more validity in the wider zoological world. You need confirmation of the hair samples. not from just a generalist such as Lars, but from someone who is an expert in orangutan physiology. You need to eliminate any possibility it is of a known orangutan sub species, before you can claim it is of a new species.

And for the record, Richard Freeman is incorrect, in saying that orangutans have been missing from Western Sumatra since the 1880's. The IUCN report indicates that there were reports up to as recently as the 1960's. I really feel you need to get as many professional opinions on the hairs as you can.

We wrote to Lars Thomas, who replied:

'Unfortunately it will not be possible to send anything to anybody - in order to get enough DNA out of the hairs, all the rest of them had to be sacrificed. The actual extraction process destroys the hairs. All that remains are my notes and drawings and the various pictures taken from the screen of the big microscope during the Weird Weekend. But intriguingly enough, a couple of days ago I got a call from a Danish guy, who used to work as a tourist guide in Indonesia. He had stumbled onto the CFZ blog and read about the orang pendek. He claims to have some long orange/reddish brown hairs in his position he found in Sumatra about 10 years ago, at a place where some local had seen an orang pendek. He never though much about it at the time, and just kept the hairs as a fun souvenir of his time in Indonesia.'

As far as the dates when orang utans were last seen in Kerinci National Park, Richard had been told that they had not been there since the 19th century. However, in the light of what THT has written, we have written to Debbie Martyr and the management of the park for clarification.

Sunday, November 28, 2010
SUMATRA HAIR SAMPLES: The dialogue between the CFZ and the person calling himself "The Highland Tiger" continues..
The dialogue continues. THT writes:

Thanks for posting my thoughts. I did wonder if the DNA testing had destroyed all the samples. Some people might say, "yeah yeah here we go, all proof has been destroyed etc", but in this instance I don't think this is the case. It is one of the drawbacks of DNA testing that samples are detroyed in the very nature of the test. That's life as Esther would say!

Can you confrm if any proper images were taken of the hairs. By that I mean photographs taken through the microscope and not photographs taken using a camera aimed at the screen.

I do hope it is not the latter, because if it is, then you must admit that is very poor scientific practice. I would expect, with microscopic equipment worth a small fortune, that the ability to photograph specimens would be a necessity.

If you do have good microscopic images of the hairs, then why not send those to some orangutan experts, even if it is just to get a second opinion.

After all, a second, third or even fourth opinion cannot hurt, and will only increase the credibility of your findings.

For the record, I do feel that of all cryptids in the world, the orang pendek is probably the most likely to be a real creature. But you do need to investigate every avenue in order to rule out the possibility of those hairs being from a known species.

Lars replies:

'The microscope I used were set up to record pictures of everything I put into it during the WW, but it is back with Olympus by now, and I am not sure whether they have the pictures or whether the production company has them. But I will check and let you know - and I will try and contact various primate experts I know.'

Monday, November 29, 2010


`The Highland Tiger` wrote:

Sometimes, the CFZ really make me want to scream and bang their heads together.

So it appears that images were taken, but no-one at the CFZ thought of actually holding on to copies of them for their records.

My whole agenda with the CFZ is to get them to start thinking more scientifically, and changes have been made for the better in recent months.

It is possible that you have evidence of a brand new species, but no-one at the entire Weird Weekend, or any member of the CFZ directorate thought there was any need to document the evidence properly. It is inexcusable, as a scientific organisation that no-one thought to keep any of the images taken of the hairs for the CFZ records. You are now keeping your fingers crossed that someone else has kept copies.

You all knew the samples would be destroyed during DNA extraction.

Personally, I would not have destroyed all the hairs. I would have kept a few back, for the records.

I really do hope that the images can be found, and they are passed on to primate experts.

If you have lost all evidence, either through DNA testing, or through the inability to do something basic like saving a photograph, then you really do need to have a rethink on how you conduct future scientific research".

I replied:

"Once again you have ignored the facts in order to take a
cheap shot at the CFZ. I will remind you of these facts:

1. You claim
that "the CFZ" have lost the pictures. This is simply not true. The CFZ do not
have a laboratory or anyone qualified or experienced in extracting DNA samples.
All work was done by two labs in Denmark. As far as the pictures are concerned,
they have not been lost. They were used in a documentary made by Danish TV, and
Lars was not sure whether they are at the TV Company or with the microscopy

2. The DNA extracted by Tom Gilbert was not orang utan DNA. To
expect the CFZ (and me in particular) to ignore the findings of two eminent
scientist in order to follow the instructions of someone who has a peculiar
interest in other people's qualifications but is presumably unqualified himself
(we don't know because he is too cowardly to come out from behind a facile nom
de guerre) really is ridiculous.

3. When you first wrote to me on this
matter you said that you were not going to go public with your queries. I
decided, therefore, to do you the courtesy of allowing you to address the
general readership with your concerns. I note, sadly, that this entire exchange
has been placed on your site "in order to get this out to the wider
cryptozoological community". My discussion with you on this matter is therefore
at an end.

I have sent the following reply to Jon Downes, we will see if he posts a reply on his blog. Again I will make no comment on this dialogue, other than what I have said in my replies. I'll let the public make up their own minds

Jon, I really cannot understand the attitude you have taken here. I can only assume you did not read my last comment properly.

I'll address each point you have made.

I have not claimed you have lost the photographs, as you stated. I said "If" you have lost the photographs through someone not thinking it was necessary to do so, then that would poor scientific practice. I had already explained that I understood the reasons why DNA testing would have destroyed the evidence.

Fingers crossed that the production company have saved those images. I just wish you had done so yourself. Do you not think it was an oversight that no-one at the CFZ thought to save those images.

Your second point, is a complete deviation from my previous comment. I was not talking about the DNA results, but the hair analysis, and I have never questioned any of the qualifications of the people who have conducted the DNA testing. Would you not consider apologising to me for insinuating falsely to your readers that I had done so.

Regarding point 3. Yes I did say that I would not go public with my comments, but it was you yourself Jon, that decided to put this dialogue into the public arena by putting it on your blog. It was not me. I would have been quite happy to have discussed this via email. By you putting this dialogue online, I felt there was no need for me to withold anything on my blog. If you have read my blog, you will note that all I have done is reprint the posts from your blog, in their entirety with no alteration. I have included links to your blog entries, so people can view then on your blog. I have asked that if anyone wishes to comment then they can do so either on your blog or mine.

At all times I have been courteous and thanked you for asnwering my questions and thoughts.

One has to wonder what has changed for you to state that our "discussion is at an end".

I find it a shame that as soon as the questions get difficult and call into question some of your research methodolgy, you refuse to answer. Do you honestly think it looks very good for the CFZ by you taking this line.

I await your reply with interest.

1st December 2010

Although I am still waiting for Mr Downes to reply to my comments, I thought I would post the following comments from Dr Dan Holdsworth who is a regular contributor and poster on the CFZ blog. This was posted in the comments section of the last post Mr Downes placed on his blog about our dialogue.

Dr Dan Holdsworth said...
My opinion in this matter is that the observed DNA was mostly from contamination of the sample at some point. I prefer to use the logical tool Occam's Razor in these matters, and prefer the simplest explanation in the matter.

We know that the hairs were collected from a rain forest environment (hot and humid) by people who probably didn't take great pains to avoid contamination by human epithelial cells. We also know that Lars examined the hairs and found them to closely resemble Orangutan hairs, i.e. to be within the probable range of variation that Orangutan hairs are capable of, so therefore either from an Orang utan or something very closely related to it.

We also know that the DNA analysis would have had to have used PCR to amplify the initial sample to provide a decent sample for typing, and that PCR is peculiarly sensitive to contamination. In particular, it tends to amplify undamaged, long-chain DNA preferentially over degraded, short-chain DNA.

This leads me to prefer the hair analysis Lars performed over the DNA analysis, since to give equal weight to both would force me to believe that a human can produce hair that's damn nigh identical to Orangutan hair, yet retain a human-like DNA profile.

I also tend to have a little sympathy with "The Highland Tiger" in his criticisms of CFZ data retention policies; as I frequently tell people, you can never have enough

I find it interesting that Dr Holdsworth makes the same conclusions as myself, and yet it is only me that is prevented from saying so.

To be Continued................................................