When scientists discovered, in 2003, fossils of a small human-like creature on the Indonesian island of Flores, the news literally shook the world. It wasn’t that a race of human-like creatures closely related to us existed in the past. What shook the world was that they lived just 12,000 years ago. This means that they were living at the same time human beings like you and I were living. Many of us cannot comprehend that not too long ago, there was more than one type of human living in the same place. They knew about each other. They saw each other. Who knows, perhaps they may even have fought each other. Or perhaps they were just friendly neighbours. My kind living here… your kind living over there.
Today there is just us human beings, and the rest of the animal world. The time when different kinds of humans lived together is past. But is it? What if they were still around, living in some remote part of the world, not yet discovered? What if there was another human-like creature living close to us? Would that scare you or excite you?
Those of us living on Borneo and Sumatra will know of the tales of another creature. It is a small human, under four feet tall – about the size of a 10yr old child. The stories tell that It is covered with dark hair. It walks and runs on two feet, has hands and feet just like us, and its face is just like ours. It lives deep in the forests. Occasional sightings have usually been up mountainous areas, far from human settlements. It always runs away when encountered.
The majority of sightings seem to have come from the central mountains of Sumatra, called the Kerinci-Seblat range, reaching altitudes of over 2,000m. On Borneo, occasional reported sightings have been from the remote mountainous terrain of Brunei, and in the Kenyah territories of Sarawak and eastern Kalimantan, also up in mountains. People call this creature the Orang Pendek, which means Short Person in the Malay language.
No specimen on this creature has ever been obtained. There is no proof of its existence, only tales from the forest. The question is this: why would there be such stories? Maybe one or two “creative” people might have made up a story about meeting a strange creature in the forest. But if it is not just one or two, but repeated stories from across the ages? Tribal grandfathers telling of meeting a small human. His grandfather also telling him the same story. Could there be some truth in it?
Could they have seen some creature in the forest that resembled a human? Perhaps an orang utan walking on the forest floor? Could a sun bear be mistaken for an upright walking human-like creature? These are intriguing questions. What would happen if tomorrow scientists actually captured such a creature on Borneo?
One can imagine a special laboratory being set up to study this creature, if it was alive. Scientists from all over the world would come to examine it, take its blood, x-ray it from all sides, take samples of its muscles, bone and hair. Hundreds of tests would be conducted on it. Finally, medical and scientific papers will be published giving it a name, identifying it as a new species of animal on Earth.
Everybody would want to see it. Indonesian, Bruneian and Malaysian governments would have to give it some sort of protection status, since it must be a rare animal. There would be global media coverage of this exciting new find. Field biologists will begin organising surveys of the areas where it was captured, to learn more about the forests it lives in, what it eats, how it moves and where it sleeps. How many more are there out there?
Zoos around the world would want to have specimens of this creature to exhibit. Rich private collectors of rare and exotic animals (dead or alive) would offer handsome rewards to anyone who can get them a living specimen. This would mean it wouldn’t only be the scientists heading out into the forests looking for this creature! It is likely to become a race, a free-for-all, of people searching for this creature. And let’s not forget the documentary film-makers and iPhone owners, all trying to be the first to film this creature.
Let’s just say that wherever such a creature was found, that place would turn into a circus. A national park would be gazetted, logging concessions in the area would be cancelled, plans for oil palm plantations would be put on hold. Private investors and politicians would start buying land in the area, and major hotels would be commissioning feasibility studies for tourism. What chance would any remaining Orang Pendek have once they are found out?
Now here’s a really crazy scary possibility – what if it spoke a language?