Tura (Meghalaya), June 9 - Indian authorities have announced a scientific study to ascertain bizarre claims by tribal villagers encountering mystical monsters in the jungles of this northeastern state.
'A team of wildlife officials and other experts would conduct a study to find out if there is any truth in claims made by locals about sighting some hairy giants similar to the elusive Bigfoot,' Samphat Kumar, the district magistrate of West Garo Hills, told IANS.
The remote East and West Garo Hills districts bordering Bangladesh are gripped by curiosity after at least half-a-dozen Garo villagers claim to have seen the ape-like creature, locally known as the Mande Burung (jungle man), in separate sightings over the past three weeks.
'The sight was frightening - two adults and two smaller ones, huge and bulky, furry, heads looked as if they were wearing caps, and their colour was somewhat blackish brown,' said Wallen Sangma, a 40-year-old farmer.
Sangma said he saw the four creatures from a distance of about 30 to 40 meters in a thickly forested area near village Rongcekgre, about 350 km from the state capital Shillong, while looking for firewood. 'The four quietly vanished into the thick undergrowths.'
The Garos, most of who are Christians while some are animists, believe in the existence of Mande Burung and lots of folklores and legends are attached to the creature. According to local accounts, there are stories of villagers being abducted and breastfed by a female Mande Burung.
'There is no denying the fact that Mande Burung does exist in the Garo Hills and it would be too simplistic to write it off as some bear or gorilla or a figment of imagination,' said L.R. Marak, a noted writer and winner of India's highest literary prize, the Sahitya Akademi Award.
Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, is a figure in North American folklore and is said to inhabit remote forests. It is sometimes described as a large, hairy bipedal hominoid and many believe that this animal or its close relatives may be found around the world under different regional names, such as the Yeti of Tibet and Nepal and the Yowie of Australia.
A local group called the Achik Tourism Society has been trying to unravel the truth surrounding the mysterious creature since 1997, although with little or no scientific knowledge.
'We have taken photographs and video images of the footprints of the creature and their nesting. The footprints we shot were as big as 13 to 15 inches long,' said Dipu Marak, general secretary of the Achik Tourism Society.
The tourism society is now seeking a response from international researcher's who are working worldwide in the field of crypto zoology.
'Prima facie, the descriptions given by people who saw the creatures point to Mande Burung. There is no trace of any gorilla or unidentified animals inhabiting this region,' said T.K. Marak, president of the Achik Tourism Society and a zoology lecturer at the Tura government college in West Garo Hills.
Observations by the Society say the mystical monster is herbivorous and survives on wild berries, bananas, plantain tree shoots, barks and roots. 'They make a nest kind of thing using thatch and leaves with no roofs-just walls,' Dipu Marak said.
The Society members quoted villagers encountering the creature almost every year in various parts of the region.
'The belief is there and everybody talks about the Mande Burung. The need of the hour is a thorough scientific probe,' said Milton Sangma, a Garo tribal and former vice chancellor of the Northeastern Hill University in Meghalaya.
The Society claims to have hair samples from the forest, which they believe to be of the monsters. 'We shall send these samples for DNA and other forensic tests,' said Dipu Marak.
Curious locals have since started venturing into the wilds to look for the monster. 'Maybe only the fortunate ones have the chance to catch a glimpse of the Mande Burung,' said Abu Marak, a local who claims to have seen the monster about three weeks ago.
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