Humans are retreating and nature is taking back control.
That’s how the narrative surrounding mankind's exit from wild spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic goes. We’ve heard stories of elephants busting into a Wuhan village and drink themselves stupid on corn wine or goats taking over small Welsh towns. “Nature is healing,” the memes tells us.
Now, while some, if not most, of this is schlock twisted to go viral, there remains a truth to it. The majority of humans are staying inside, returning the outside domain to the animals (and not all of them delightful; rats are taking back the daytime streets as their reliable food sources dry up).
But what of the rarest beast, the ones who have always socially distanced from humans?
I am, of course, speaking of the majestic sasquatch.
What are the elusive bipedal creatures doing? Are they streaming back into typically busy parks with the glee of a horse let out pasture for the first time after a long, dark winter? For the people who investigate them, the hunt goes on but it’s not business as usual. The researchers are forced to search alone or not at all, and the industry built around sasquatches is struggling to find its footing during the pandemic.
“They see the change,” said Todd Standing, a B.C. sasquatch researcher who took the government to court two years ago for not recognizing bigfoot’s existence (he lost). “I'm seeing animals moving slowly out and, you know, kind of taking the territory back. It's almost like… nature is fighting back from the human virus.”
Standing said sasquatches are normally extremely timid “but they’ll inch back into it and be extremely cautious. I suspect even right now they're going to push into new territory, into the fringes of their territory.”
It's an awe-inspiring sight to imagine: A gangly, hairy, muscular boy, slowly striding—like only sasquatches can—onto some turf in northern Oregon, reclaiming the square of land in a small victory for the whole of Bigfoot-kind.
But, even with that glorious picture in mind, there isn’t a consensus among sasquatch researchers on the effects lockdowns are having on them. Cliff Barackman, who runs the Oregon-based North American Bigfoot Center, and has starred in the TV shows Finding Bigfoot, thinks that sasquatches probably haven’t even noticed there’s a pandemic going on.
“Do you notice when there are no flies in your garage? Probably not,” said Barackman. “In all seriousness, they probably don't give a damn. They hardly notice humans and they're mostly out at night.”
Barackman says that if there is any impact to the sasquatch population it’s merely that they’re not able to get some easy food from trash left behind by campers. But even that is a stretch.
A researcher with Alberta Sasquatch—who didn’t want to be named because they’re not public with their sasquatch research—also said it was likely business as usual “for North America's most elusive residents.”
“To be perfectly honest with you, B.C.'s year-after-year record wildfires probably do more to upset their pattern of life than anything,” they said.
Perhaps more worrisome for the sasquatch hunters is if the Bigfoot is susceptible to COVID-19, which could have dire consequences on its population. Sasquatches are apes, after all, the researchers say, and human viruses have in the past done great damage to our close relatives.
A recent article in Science says that scientists believe apes could become infected with coronavirus and that primatologists are making every effort they can to ensure it doesn’t transmit to the population. Tony Goldberg, a disease ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, told the magazine that, since apes can’t conduct social distancing and be treated in the same way as humans, “the case fatality rate is going to be sky high.”
One sasquatch researcher, Thomas Sewid, searches for the creature on Canada’s West Coast. Sewid says he wears a mask when he’s going out to search for the creatures because he’s worried about spreading the virus to the sasquatch population.
“I'm getting word out to my fellow investigators: try to wear your mask when you're out there in the bush. Don't try to get a close interaction right now. Not until this pandemic runs its course,” Sewid told VICE. ”Because we know the populations are growing in North America. We don't want to jeopardize that by bringing them…COVID-19.”
But not all trackers feel this way. “I don't think the sasquatches are in any danger,” said Barackman. “ Like, when's the last time you were within 6 feet of a sasquatch?”
Standing is not taking any chances. He’s continuing his research into sasquatches but doing it alone. ”There's no better way for me to isolate than to go into the bush,” he said. Standing doesn’t wear a mask though; after many years of research into the creatures, he's only come close enough to transmit the disease three times so he’s not too concerned. Besides, he has an elderly mother so he’s been diligent in self-isolating and taking the coronavirus seriously.
“I just do post-production, talk to people on the phones, look at stuff… I've been completely isolated. But even still, I wouldn't give a sasquatch an apple or whatever," he said. "I take that precaution because it would kill them, I have no doubt.”
But just like many other industries right now, times aren’t great for squatchers. Standing has been forced to push back his expeditions by a month at least and doesn't know exactly when he can resume investigating. Sewid has had to postpone a conference he was organizing in honour of a now dead sasquatch researcher.
Many sasquatch excursions that would lead curious tourists into the realm of the majestic creature have likewise been pushed back or cancelled. Barackman, who was forced to temporarily close the North American Bigfoot Center, says times have been difficult but the museum’s still managing to scrape by.
If anything, the sasquatches are doing better than us during the pandemic, the researchers said unanimously. In fact, there’s at least one thing we could learn from them.
“Sasquatches are masters at social distancing to begin with,” said Barackman. “That's part of the problem of being a Bigfoot researcher—it's hard to get close to these things. So they've already got that part down.”
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