Do you wonder what rat tastes like? Do you question what it is like to hunt a small Bigfoot in the jungles of Sumatra? All these questions and more will be answered in our interview with adventurer and author Pat Spain.
You can find Pat’s recent book, A Little Bigfoot: On the Hunt in Sumatra: or, How I Learned There Are Some Things That Really Do Not Taste Like Chicken, on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3Hibvh3
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PAT SPAIN: If it’s a myth, then why has this stuck while other myths have faded? And if it’s a real creature, then let’s talk about what this could be.
JIM HAROLD: That’s adventurer Pat Spain on his searches for many cryptids, including Bigfoot – up next on the Paranormal Podcast.
This is the Paranormal Podcast with Jim Harold.
JIM HAROLD: Welcome to the Paranormal Podcast. I am Jim Harold, and so glad to be with you once again. I’m excited today because not only do we have a renaissance man, we have none other than the great-nephew of the one and only Charles Fort – the man who invented, thusly, Forteana. Pat Spain is our guest. He is a wildlife biologist, cryptozoologist, biotech expert, TV presenter, keynote speaker, author, and cancer survivor with a passion for adventure. We’re so glad to have him today.
You may very well know him from his popular TV series, Legend Hunter, that aired on Travel Channel. He has a new book out that we’re going to talk about, along with his other adventures. It’s called A Little Bigfoot: On the Hunt in Sumatra. Pat Spain, thank you for joining us today. We appreciate your time, and so glad to speak with you.
PAT SPAIN: Thanks a lot for having me. Really glad to be here.
JIM HAROLD: I think an appropriate place to start with you is the fact that you have this relation with Charles Fort. Did that get you on this road? Do you think that kind of got you guided in this direction, which is a very unique thing to do, to go on this legend tripping kind of thing?
PAT SPAIN: You can call me weird, it’s all right. I agree. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: No, I’m weird too. I’ve been doing podcasts on Bigfoot and the supernatural since 2005, so I would fall into that bucket as well.
PAT SPAIN: Excellent.
JIM HAROLD: Is the Charles Fort thing a big reason you think you ended up where you ended up?
PAT SPAIN: Nature versus nature I guess is where this goes. I think it’s in my DNA, but I wasn’t aware of the Fort connection until well into my interest in the strange side of biology.
JIM HAROLD: Ooh.
PAT SPAIN: Yeah. I grew up just wanting to know everything there is to know about wildlife. When I was a little, little kid, five years old, anytime we went to the library I wanted to take out wildlife books. And not just little kid books; I wanted to get encyclopedias and books about really in-depth works on different frog species that I could find in the area. And even before I could read, I had my mother reading me these books. [laughs] So that was always my interest.
When you’re the kid who is catching snakes in your backyard, you tend to get a crowd gathered around you, so even as a young child, I was giving impromptu talks to other neighborhood kids and spouting off the things that I’d learned in these library books. Whenever I was home sick, I could rent whatever video I wanted – VHS. I’m aging myself here. [laughs] But I would go to the video store and I would rent an episode of Life on Earth with David Attenborough. That was my absolute favorite. I must’ve seen it a dozen times, the full series, which is a good time commitment. [laughs] That and then the less-known aspects of biology were always what fascinated me the most. That’s what got me into marine biology, which is what I majored in in college.
As I was getting older, of course I got books on cryptozoology, and I read Loren Coleman, I read Heuvelmans, I read the books that I could get at the Scholastic book fair at my school. I can remember poring over things about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and just being so interested in this.
My grandmother on my father’s side used to joke around and say, “You’re just like your Uncle Charlie.” I had no idea who my Uncle Charlie was. I thought this might’ve been a family relation that maybe I just didn’t remember from barbeques growing up or something like that. But I was probably in I’d say either eighth grade or freshman year of high school, and my grandmother saw me reading The Book of the Damned and she said, “You know, that’s your Uncle Charlie.” I said, “What are you taking about?” She said, “Yeah, Charles Fort. That’s your Uncle Charlie.”
JIM HAROLD: That’s funny.
PAT SPAIN: Yeah. So she goes into her backroom at her house and pulls out all these first-edition books of Charles Fort’s that are made out to different members of our family, signed and dedicated to different relatives that I had. I had absolutely no idea until that moment that there was any connection between the man and myself.
JIM HAROLD: That is so awesome. So let me ask you this, because I think it’s very interesting that you have an involvement in mainstream science, but yet you’re still interested in cryptozoology. It’s my sense – and maybe it’s wrong – that most people in mainstream science say, “That’s all a bunch of hooey, that’s silliness. Let’s get back to the books.” It seems like you’ve been able to strike a balance. Can you talk about that? Because it seems like to me – you know the old saying, “Children put childish things away,” and most people along your track would go on to become a biologist but put Bigfoot in the past with the Scholastic book fair. Why have you decided to keep that piece of it alive for you?
PAT SPAIN: It’s a great question. I look at it the same way that I think Dr. Darren Naish does, out of England. He says that the study of hidden and unknown creatures is biology. That is biology, and when cryptozoology comes into play, really the only difference is you’re taking some cultural anthropology and mixing it with biology. Biologists all over the world right now are looking for undiscovered animals. They’re looking for creatures that have not been given a Latin name yet.
And where I feel cryptozoology comes in is cryptozoology puts a little bit more stock in what Indigenous peoples are seeing and telling stories about. I don’t really look at cryptozoology in that aspect as being distinct from biology. I’d say it’s just a different term that we’re using to explain wildlife biology. I don’t really go into the – not degrading this in any way, not saying this is anything bad, but the paranormal side of things are where the biologist ends and where it gets into more “these are somebody’s beliefs, this is someone’s system of something that’s a little less scientific.” I’m very interested in it, but that’s no longer a biological search.
So when I talk to someone who’s talking about a cryptid, one of the first things that I’ll ask is, “Is this animal in the world of biology or is this a spiritual creature?” If it’s a spiritual creature, I still want to know about it. I still want to learn everything I can because my minor in college was philosophy, with a focus on cultural anthropology. I find all of those stories really fascinating. I want to look at the biological basis for those stories, but I do separate the ones that are a really interesting story that can tell us a lot about a group of people, can tell us a lot about a belief system, and a physical creature.
JIM HAROLD: It’s interesting. Not that I want to talk about myself a lot, but I kind of have a weird demarcation between paranormal stuff and cryptozoology – and I do podcasts on both. I am a believer in the paranormal in general. I believe that there’s something to ghosts. I believe there’s something to the afterlife. I believe there’s something to UFOs, and maybe there’s more explanations than we currently can explain on that.
However, when it comes to cryptozoology, I tend to be more of a skeptic when it comes to paranormal explanations. In other words, I believe if Bigfoot exists, he’s a hairy hominid that has relatively low population and has done a really good job of avoiding man. I’m not a believer in this “appears out of nowhere, disappears out of nowhere” kind of Bigfoot. Same with sea creatures and so forth. So it’s really weird; I have this dichotomy where I’ll believe in a ghost, but I don’t believe in spiritual Bigfoot. It’s kind of weird, but it’s the way I’ve laid out things in my mind.
PAT SPAIN: It’s whatever makes sense in your head. I think the important thing, just like Charles Fort, is not just writing something off immediately; it’s looking into it. And that’s where my interests lie. Where do these stories come from? What’s the reason why this has been a persistent story? If it’s a myth, then why has this stuck while other myths have faded? And if it’s a real creature, then let’s talk about what this could be.
That’s one of the issues in modern-day cryptozoology. If I use the Yeti, for example, if science identified a species of bear in the region where the Yeti is spotted that is unknown to science right now, it’s something unique, it follows the same patterns that we describe the Yeti as having, it eats the salty moss during certain times of year, it changes color just like a snowshoe hare – something like this – I would love it. I would be absolutely enthralled by this story. I would want to know everything there is to know about it. I would want to go to the region and try to find these animals. But I think that the general public would go, “Interesting, but it’s not the Yeti.”
I think that’s the problem with cryptozoology. We can talk about sea serpents. If we discover a new species of squid, I will be excited. I can’t wait to find out more about this. I want to know all about this. But the public would still say, “Yeah, but it’s not a sea serpent.” So we have this idea of what a cryptid is, and unless we find that exact creature that matches every phenomenal description of what it is, then I think the general public would say, “Yeah, but that’s not what we wanted it to be; therefore, we’re going to keep this myth going.” And I find that both interesting and a little disheartening. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: It’s really interesting you mention that because I’m a little more – my opinion of it is that I’m very believing when it comes to odd creatures under the ocean or those sorts of things, or underwater, because to me that is so much more of an obscure – although there’s some very remote wilderness and so forth, but I’ve heard it said before that we know less about the deep floor of the ocean than we do of outer space. Don’t know how true that is, but I’ve heard it before. So I guess what I’m saying is, I have an easier time buying water-born cryptids than I do land-based cryptids. Do you have an opinion on that?
PAT SPAIN: I would 100% agree with you. The depth of the ocean, for sure. The expression that I’ve always heard is the surface of the moon. We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the depth of the ocean. I’ve been down 1,000 feet underwater, and it is a completely different world. It feels completely unique. It feels like there’s the possibility for anything at any moment to be discovered. And expeditions that go down there are discovering new creatures all the time. Even really conservative marine biologists will say there are almost certainly still large creatures left to be discovered in the depth.
There’s also the open ocean. Just think about the area in between continents, this broad swath of open ocean that really the only humans that are crossing this are either flying over it or going over it in shipping boats that are not looking for new species. So an animal that’s really existing in just the open ocean, not really ever coming close to shore, or living in the deepest parts of the ocean, has the biggest chance of going unknown for the longest period of time. Look at the megamouth shark, one of the largest shark species on Earth. It wasn’t discovered until I want to say the late ’70s, like ’76 or something.
So there’s a lot of things. We’re still discovering new species of whales. Now, granted, they don’t look all that dissimilar from whale species that we know. We’re discovering new species by using DNA to determine that there’s a new population and that they do constitute a distinct species, but they are still a new species. We’re discovering new species of pinniped, and these are air-breathing creatures. So yeah, there’s a lot of things in the ocean that are left to be found.
I have a pretty high expectation that some of them will be pretty unusual and will be unique. There’s an expression that I’ve heard that there’s – I want to say it’s something like 60,000 species of the insect weevil, and there’s one platypus. [laughs] So 60,000 weevils for every one platypus, but that one platypus is pretty amazing, and it does exist. And I think under the deep oceans, we have a pretty good chance of finding another platypus.
JIM HAROLD: Let me ask you this. When it comes to land-based, Bigfoot – and again, I’m a pretty open-minded guy. I’ve been doing these shows a long time, and I really believe many of the things we talk about do exist. I sometimes get upset with mainstream science that they’re too quick to pooh-pooh things.
But one thing that I tend to lean towards skepticism with is Bigfoot. One day you’ll ask me and I’ll say they’ve never found a body. And I know the excuses why: because nature takes care of its own and you don’t walk through the woods and typically see a bear carcass or anything like that, and all the different reasons why we’ve never discovered a Bigfoot body or any kind of remains or anything. I think mainstream science has gotten behind. Some people would say there’s almost a conspiratorial piece to that, that mainstream science has the proof that they’re hiding it.
Now, on the next day you ask me, I’ll say, well, there’s some really credible people who have had some really interesting reports, and people who know the wilderness, they know the woods, and they’re credible people, and they’re not making this up. Or the Patterson–Gimlin film when stabilized – boy, that looks a lot more convincing than I originally thought it did, and it almost looks like muscle tone you’re seeing move in that slow-motion movie when it’s stabilized.
So again, it depends on what day you ask me. Where do you fall on the question of Bigfoot?
PAT SPAIN: I would say in the exact same camp that you’re in. [laughs] Everything you’re saying, those are the same answers that I give regularly when asked that question. I look at someone like Dr. Meldrum and I have an enormous amount of respect for him. The work that he’s doing is nothing short of remarkable. It’s fascinating. I look at Cliff Barackman from Finding Bigfoot and I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s a friend; I know that he’s a levelheaded guy. I talk to people who’ve had sightings, and yeah, I don’t think that people are making it up. I think that they’re seeing something.
And then I go back to, but why don’t we have any footage other than the Patterson–Gimlin? And that footage is amazing, it is. When you watched it as a kid, I remember being 100% convinced that this is a real animal. And then you get older and start to think, “Well, maybe it looks a little boxy, maybe it looks a little like a suit.” And then you look at the stabilized footage and you go, “No, that’s a real animal.” [laughs] Yeah, so I’m with you. It’s really hard.
I am on the fence. I would not be surprised either way. I think each year that passes, it’s a little bit harder to justify not having better evidence than we do. With each time that they do a DNA study of hair samples that are found, I get really excited and then I get disappointed. I think that in the next 5 to 10 years, with eDNA technology, that is going to be the key to really getting the answer behind a lot of modern-day cryptids.
JIM HAROLD: What is that? Explain that, please.
PAT SPAIN: Environmental DNA is a relatively new technology, last few years, that is revolutionizing field biology. And I don’t say that lightly. It really is revolutionizing field biology. You can go to a water source and collect a sample, run it through a filter, have that filter tested, and come back with a list of every species and unknown DNA that was collected, but what’s the closest relative to it, for every animal that’s used that water source in X number of days or weeks.
They’re using it to track invasive species. They’re using it to see if the Asian carp has spread to other bodies of water. They’re using it to find threatened species. If you’re determining if there’s going to be a building site here, before, it took a year of watching this area to see if any endangered species were utilizing this area. Do we have any evidence of blue-spotted salamander in New England, which is a threatened species here in New England? Now we can take a water sample from around the area and test it and say, “Yes, there are or have been blue-spotted salamanders in the area recently” or “No, there’s not.”
They’re using it for population assessment of animals in the rainforests. It’s just remarkable and ever-evolving, ever-improving technology. I think they used it – in fact, I know they did – for a Loch Ness Monster mission fairly recently. They found a lot more eel DNA than they expected to. There was no unknown. I’ve done a trip to the Loch to film an episode up there; I did not find any evidence. I think that’s one that I’d be very happy to put in the category of a great story, a great myth, a beautiful region, everyone should go there, but I don’t think there is a massive surviving dinosaur or anything like that in Scotland.
But that kind of eDNA has just recently been used there and shown that there’s a lot more eels in the Loch than we thought there were. Also, I want to say that they found a couple different types of salmon than they expected to find utilizing different parts of the Loch or something like that. But yeah, that technology I think has the biggest potential to really show what is out there, and the more researchers – and it’s available. It’s not that expensive. It’s not so expensive where it’s exclusive. Some researchers can get out there. Just some really interested people who have a little bit of funding can get out there and start using this.
JIM HAROLD: Back to your adventures, because I want to start talking a little bit about the book – but before we get to this, you’ve been a lot of places and experienced a lot of things. How many countries do you think you’ve been to over the course of your life?
PAT SPAIN: Oh boy, I had to write this up for Travel Channel at one time. [laughs] I honestly don’t remember. It’s in the dozens. But yeah, it’s quite a few. These expeditions were just remarkable experiences. I’ve been pretty well-grounded since 2019, so I joke around and say I used to be a generalist of the world’s animals, and now I’m a true specialist of everything in my backyard. If you want to know any animal that’s using my backyard, I can tell you their entire life history. I can tell you what they’re doing, what plants they’re eating, when they’re here, when they’re not here.
I have two young kids as well; I have an eight year old and a four year old, and it’s just been amazing the last few years to really focus on getting them outside in our yard and seeing the world through their eyes, and really getting to be a true specialist on what we find here in Massachusetts.
JIM HAROLD: I’m looking at your bio. Here’s some of the things that Pat has experienced. He’s been charged by a silverback gorilla, initiated into a remote Amazonian tribe, and he participated in the most extreme ceremony in the world, the Bullet Ant Ritual, and that has nearly 1 million YouTube views. He’s been 1,000 feet under the ocean in a three-man sub. I think you referenced that. Nearly been shot down in a helicopter. He’s eaten cat in Sumatra and a rat in Cameroon. He has lain down in a pit of 275,000 snakes. You’ve got to be joking. And he spent up to 19 hours a day for four years running experiments in a spacesuit inside a sterile bubble in a state-of-the-art biotech lab.
Boy, I feel like I’ve been a piker. I’ve been sitting in this room for the last 10 years, talking into a mic. Jeez, you’ve been out there, out and about. What is a common thread between these adventures, and why did you feel very driven to do this?
PAT SPAIN: I think it’s just enthusiasm for the unknown. My drive is curiosity. I want to know answers to things, the answers that people can’t give me. So I want to go out there and find it for myself, and I want to experience it. The world is such an interesting place. It’s so fascinating, and there’s so many things left to be discovered. It’s frustrating to me when I hear “everything’s been done, we’ve seen it all, we’ve done it all, we know all about it.” It’s just absolutely not true. Every time I go to a new place, there’s something new to discover. There’s some new food to try. There’s some new custom to learn.
That’s true even in the United States. You go to different parts of the United States, you find completely different things. We are not nearly as homogenized as I think some people would think, especially when I’m traveling overseas and we start playing the “Ask me any question about where I live,” and people’s misconceptions about the homogenization of entire regions of the world is really fascinating.
When you mentioned Cameroon – a lot of people in America still think of Africa as a monolith, and it’s so far from it. The different regions of Africa are so completely unique and so completely different that even though I’ve spent some time in three countries in West Africa, I’ve never even come close to scratching the surface of that continent. The same thing with Asia. I’ve been to quite a few Asian countries, but it’s so distinct and so different everywhere that you go. I’m just very curious and really fascinated by it all.
JIM HAROLD: When we get back from the break, I want to talk to you about the book. I also want to talk to you about how we overcome fear and how you’ve overcome fear and lain in a pit of 275,000 snakes, because that’s interesting to me how you do that. We’ll be back with Pat Spain right after this.
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If you love the Paranormal Podcast, be sure to check out Jim Harold’s Campfire, where ordinary people share their extraordinary stories of ghosts, UFOs, cryptids, and terrifying encounters. Find it for free wherever you listen to this podcast. Tune in to Jim Harold’s Campfire today. Now, we return to the Paranormal Podcast.
JIM HAROLD: We’re back on the Paranormal Podcast. Our guest is Pat Spain. He has a new book out called A Little Bigfoot: On the Hunt in Sumatra: Or, How I Learned There Are Some Things That Really Do Not Taste Like Chicken. Before we get to the book, all those things that you’ve done – I mean, I know there’s certain things I’m afraid of. Snakes are one of them. Maybe you’ve never been afraid of snakes, but how do you overcome fear and do those kind of things and push through fear if you may encounter it?
PAT SPAIN: The fear of snakes is one of the most common. There’s something evolutionarily in our brains that tells us that we should avoid these wormlike things that we know there’s a few of them that could be dangerous to us.
In certain places that I’ve gone – I was staying with the Baka pygmies in Cameroon, and they did not make a distinction between venomous and nonvenomous snakes. They were all treated the same. Did not want to know which ones were which; it was just, “No, we stay away from snakes. We don’t touch them.” The same with millipedes and centipedes, and those are obviously very, very different creatures. Centipedes could put you in the hospital with a bite. That’s really bad. Millipedes are completely harmless unless you bite one, and then some of them secrete cyanide. I can remember catching a millipede and putting it on my face and letting it crawl around on my face, and they thought I was the craziest person on Earth. [laughs]
So when you talk about a fear of snakes, I do understand. I have helped a few friends get over that fear of snakes, so I’m happy to do that with you if you’d like to at some point. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: Someday, Pat. Someday. [laughs]
PAT SPAIN: The last step in that that I’ve found for at least a few people is actually having them get bitten by a nonvenomous snake, because it’s nothing. When a garter snake bites you – the most common snake that we find in the Eastern United States is a garter snake. I’ve been bitten by them sometimes and not even known that I was bitten. It hurts more to walk through a pricker bush than it does. So we put all this fear and all this terror into something that’s really not that dangerous at all.
I think that’s my way. Usually I throw myself into it. I do some research on it and I find out, is this actually dangerous? And if it really isn’t, and it’s just this fear we have built up in our head, then once you’ve done it once, you’re sort of over it, I guess. My irrational fear – I do have irrational fears, of course – my top irrational fear is radiation. I used to work in a lab where we had a hot lab. We had a lab that used radioactive material. I knew intellectually that it was harmless, that I was exposed to more radiation when I was getting on a plane. But for some reason I had this mental block that every time I’d go in that room, I would hold my breath, I would try to be in there for as short as possible. The idea that there was something that could potentially harm me that I couldn’t see freaked me out really, really bad.
To a degree, I had the same kind of fear of parasites. I’ve been infected with a number of parasites, from loa loa worm in the Central African Republic – it’s from the bite of a fly, and it’s these little worms that get into your blood. The first few times you get infected, you get tons of them in your body and then they naturally die off and it makes you itchy all over. Your entire body is itchy. Your face is itchy, the palms of your hands, your feet. But if you’re infected multiple times, eventually the worms can develop as adults and you can be talking to someone and see a worm crawl across their eyeball.
That freaked me out so bad, but it was one of those – it just became kind of normal, almost. Real exposure therapy, I guess is the shortest way to say. That’s the way that I’ve overcome most of the fears, is through exposure therapy.
The 275,000 snakes. I have to say, that number is somewhat pulled out of the air because the surveys that you’ll read list anywhere from about 70,000 to 400,000. So I just picked a number somewhere in the middle of that. But it’s a lot of snakes. It’s the largest concentration of snakes on Earth, and it’s actually in Manitoba, Canada. So in north central Canada.
JIM HAROLD: Huh.
PAT SPAIN: Yeah, bizarre. They’re red-sided garter snakes, primarily, although there may be a few other species in there depending on the day and the time that you’re there. But all these snakes den together over the winter, and then they emerge in these enormous numbers in the spring. This is a strategy that garter snakes and rattlesnake and other snake species take in any colder climate. They den together. But in this region, it’s just a confluence of factors that lead to this absolutely remarkable number of them to create the largest concentration of snakes on Earth.
After I spent a couple years recovering from a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment and hospital stays and tons of surgeries and everything else, I needed to do something to show myself that I could still be this explorer, I was still physically and mentally capable of going on these adventures and doing this. And I decided that the way to do that was to go up to the snake dens in Manitoba and lie down in this pit of snakes and film it. I got permission from the Canadian government to do this; I convinced two of my crazy friends, who I filmed with for years, to hop in a car with me and drive 34 hours straight up to Manitoba, stay for a couple days to film with these snakes, and then hop in the car and drive back. That was the way to prove to myself that cancer truly hadn’t beaten me.
JIM HAROLD: Congratulations to you for dealing with that and overcoming it. I give you all the salute in the world for that. That kind of adventurous spirit I think had to be very, very helpful in that fight.
PAT SPAIN: Absolutely.
JIM HAROLD: I wanted to talk to you about the book, A Little Bigfoot: On the Hunt in Sumatra: Or, How I Learned There Are Some Things That Really Do Not Taste Like Chicken. Give us the premise of the book.
PAT SPAIN: Sure, absolutely. It’s actually a part of a six-book series. I did not plan on writing six books; I planned on writing one book. And over the course of years that I’ve been working on this, I ended up with a whole lot of pages. It was well over 800 pages. I shopped it around to a number of different publishers and publishing agents and spent a while doing that, and eventually found a publisher in John Hunt Publishing, where they seemed to get it. They got what I was going for, they got the kind of feel that I was looking for, and they really liked it, so they agreed to publish this. But they said right off the bat, “This is way too long.” I said, “Oh, I know it. Absolutely. I put everything in there, and now let’s scale it back.”
In the course of scaling it back, they had a few other people at their company read it and they said, “You know what? What if we asked you to write more and we made this a six-book series instead of cutting it back to a single book?” I thought, that’s interesting. That could be a lot of fun. They gave me how to break it down, they helped me to break it down into the distinct six books, and one of those is this. On the Hunt is the name of the series, and then each book is around one location, a particular cryptid, which is the reason I was in that location, and then the subtitle is my homage to Dr. Strangelove – you know, “Or, How I Stopped Worrying…”
JIM HAROLD: Oh, I love that. That’s one of my top three movies.
PAT SPAIN: Absolutely. It’s great. I love Kubrick, I love that film. It’s my father’s favorite movie. That was the inspiration for all of my subtitles of all six books. They all have an “Or, How I…” something. That gives you the tone of the book. It’s not really a cryptozoology book, but there is cryptozoology in it. It’s almost like – I’m certainly not comparing myself to Bourdain by any means; he was one of the best of all time. Between him and Jeremy Wade and a few others, I think they’re the greatest hosts that have ever been on TV. Hazen Audel is amazing.
But either way, when Bourdain was doing a show about food, it wasn’t really about food, even though that was the intro into it. These books aren’t really about cryptids, even though that’s the intro to them. That’s the reason that I’m there. They’re sort of travel adventure stories. They’re the crazy, bizarre, and often funny situations that you get yourself in when you’re a Bostonian who finds himself in the middle of the Congo, exploring a living dinosaur, or in rural Sumatra, hours and hours or days’ hike from the nearest village when you’re looking for a little Bigfoot, Orang Pendek.
There’s all those travel stories, and then there’s one story on the cryptid itself, and it’s really more about what’s the legend behind the cryptid, why does this story persist, and what are my thoughts on it. Do I think that this is a real creature or do I think this stays in the world of legends? And regardless, it’s fascinating and interesting.
With Orang Pendek, I had my mind changed. I went to Sumatra believing that this was most likely mistaken identity for either an orangutan or a gibbon. I think sometimes it is, but I think sometimes it’s not. I had my mind changed, and I do think that there is – either was very recently, or hopefully still is – and undiscovered primate species in Sumatra and potentially some of the other surrounding islands in Indonesia.
JIM HAROLD: So you think there may actually be something to that. That’s interesting. Give us a description of the Orang Pendek, just a brief primer on what it is purported to be.
PAT SPAIN: Sure, absolutely. I think Loren Coleman gets it right when he talks about a couple different species potentially that are behind the sightings of Orang Pendek. And different regions of Indonesia have different names for it, but there’s one that tends to be more humanlike, more hominin. That is more similar to what we now know is Homo floresiensis, the “Hobbit” that Dr. Mike Morwood discovered and has described, and we’re still getting tons of information about on the island of Flores.
Then there’s the Orang Pendek that I focused on, which is more of a primate species. It appears, from the descriptions, to be similar to a gibbon, but ground-dwelling and much more nocturnal. Gibbons are the most nocturnal of the great apes. They’re the only ape species that we know is active at night. This Orang Pendek appears to be primarily active at night. It appears to be truly nocturnal. It also appears to be ground-dwelling. And the features that are described – it being incredibly broad-shouldered, very, very strong, walking effortlessly but still retaining a little bit of some gibbon-like traits – it seems like this would be an evolutionary advantage. It would have a new niche that it could fulfill. There’s certainly enough food to support it. The diet is described in detail.
And the Indigenous folks in Sumatra describe this just like they do frogs and toads and snakes and other things that they see. It’s not anything out of the ordinary. The only thing that they’ll say is, “My grandparents saw them much more frequently than my parents, who saw them more frequently than we do. I’ve only seen one or two in my life. My parents saw them dozens of times, and their grandparents, it was just normal to have Orang Pendek around in your area.” It’s hard to say whether that’s a direct lineage or whether they’re just using “grandparents” as previous generations. But this is also unfortunately not an unusual occurrence in Sumatra, where a lot of animal species are getting more rare or going extinct.
So it was just treated like a normal creature, and they say that it does not have a home range; it’s a wanderer. They started to see a decline in the populations as the forests became less contiguous, as they were being broken up by palm oil plantations or rubber plantations or farms, and as people encroach into the forest, do clear-cutting to create farmland, they started seeing less and less of them.
One of the things that really stuck with me is that all of the recent sightings that I am aware of have been adults. There have not been any recent sightings of young Orang Pendek. I think that that lends some credence to the sightings because they’re saying that these are aging individuals that are unfortunately remnant populations. This would be like what we see with some other mammal species that exist in small numbers, where eventually you get to a point where there’s no longer a sustainable population. You still have a few that are hanging around because they’re a long-lived species, but unfortunately it’s right on the precipice there.
I would like to think that that’s not true. I’d like to hope that on one of the other islands, maybe, there is still a surviving population. But that was what the evidence pointed me towards while I was there.
JIM HAROLD: Do you think that may be the case in many of these cases across the world where cryptids – land-based, sea-based, wherever they might be – are reported? That we’re basically talking about possibly a creature that does exist, it’s undiscovered, maybe in small populations in remote areas?
PAT SPAIN: For sure. We’ve seen this with other species that are now named. The coelacanth is a great example. Up until the scientists there found one in a fish market, this was something that was unknown to Western science, but the Indigenous people had been eating them for years. They could tell you all about them. They knew that they were deep sea, they knew what region to find them in, they knew how to cook them. They knew all about this, and nobody took the reports at all seriously or listened to it, even though this was known by the local people as being there. We see that time and time again with other animals. There’s a bird species in India that was this “devil bird” that was shown to be a true species, and it was given a Latin name.
One of the things in cryptozoology is when we ignore Indigenous reports, we do it at our own detriment. I went in with a totally open mind. I may have had a preconceived idea of what I thought, but I was willing to have my mind changed, as happened with Orang Pendek and with the Mapinguari in Brazil. I think that’s another example of a potential remnant population existing in small numbers in a very specific region – a surviving giant ground sloth. I think it’s entirely plausible in this region for it to be a surviving population of giant ground sloth.
Essentially, it’s a nature preserve. It’s a region where Westerners are not allowed to go because there are uncontacted tribes there. So in order to go into that region, you need to get special permission from the Brazilian government. You need to go through physical examinations and all this – which is great, and I think that it should be preserved in that. But because of that and because of the lack of the Indigenous peoples ever hunting one throughout their entire history – they’ve never hunted this creature – I think there could still be a surviving population of them.
We know that giant ground sloths in most cases were hunted to extinction by humans. So if, because of a creation story or because of a cultural impact, they never hunted this creature, and then the Western world develops and they protect this area from Westerners going to that region, so the only people who are there are the Indigenous people, and they have a history of never hunting this, why couldn’t the animal survive to modern time?
JIM HAROLD: Indeed, indeed. Very interesting indeed. I see you as the type of person who’s going to be doing this till they’re 70 or 80 years old. You just seem like you have adventure built into your spirit, whether that’s in your backyard in Massachusetts or whether that’s traveling the globe. I suspect that’s the case. Is that right?
PAT SPAIN: Yeah, I absolutely agree. It’s just one of those things that I can’t help. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time – we’ve been together for 20-something years now. When we were dating, we’d go to the beach, have a nice day on the beach, and I could sit and read a book for a little while and then I’d be over in the tide pools, turning over rocks and trying to find everything that I could. That’s what I love to do.
We go to barbeques at our friends’ house, we go to different events, and I’m walking around the edge of their yard, looking for snakes and frogs and things. [laughs] It’s just what interests me, and as soon as I let my mind wander for a minute, that’s where I end up. And my kids are now the same, so my wife has to deal with all three of us doing this. [laughs] I’m joking. She does the same thing. She’s as interested in all this stuff as we are.
But yeah, we’ll be out there and that’s just the normal thing for us. There’s always an aquarium filled with something going in our house, or an experiment to learn more about something going in just about every room of our house.
My daughter right now wants to be an entomologist when she grows up, which I’m thrilled with. I have no idea if she’ll stick with it, and there’s absolutely zero pressure from me, but to encourage that, we’ve raised – last year I think we hatched out about 3,000 mantises. We hatched out dozens of different moths. I think at our peak, we had about 300 or 400 caterpillars that we were going all over the neighborhood to collect the leaves for, and I would teach her about the different plants. This is a way to get her into botany as well because you have to know what plants all these animals eat. So we’d go on different hikes to look for “Where’s the closest sweetgum tree in our town?” because that’s one of our caterpillars needs. We get to know the neighbors by asking them if we can pick the leaves off their trees.
Very long way of saying yes, you’re right. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: One last question: what does rat taste like, anyway?
PAT SPAIN: One of the most common questions that I get is, “What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?” And not to sound pretentious by any means, but that’s a very hard question to answer, because what’s weird? I instinctively know what’s weird to an American audience, but still, the weirdest and strangest and most completely unique foods that I’ve ever had are fruits and vegetables. Which no one wants to hear about, but those are fascinating. They taste like nothing else on Earth. To have the opportunity to eat a particular fruit that only grew on the side of one mountain in one part of Sumatra is remarkable. It’s almost impossible to describe what this fruit is like.
But people want to hear about meat. [laughs] Meat really falls into a few categories. There’s poultry, there’s mammal, there’s reptile – reptile and amphibian are similar – and there’s fish. Really, things taste approximately like one of those. Rat – I guess the closest is a dry pork, is what I’d say. But it was in a really delicious sauce and it was served with rice, and it was fine. But when they first served it to us, it was funny because there’s a whole bunch of meat with tiny little bones. I asked the very kind person who brought this over to us, “Excuse me, what is this?” He looked at me and goes, “Meat.” I was like, “Okay, but what kind of meat?” He goes, “Meat.” I was like, “Thank you. Excellent. It’s delicious.” [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: It’s so funny because it’s probably the kind of thing – if you ate it, you’d be like, “Oh, that’s really good.” But some of us, including me, would probably gag at the thought if we knew what it was. But we’d probably eat it just fine if we didn’t know.
PAT SPAIN: Exactly. That’s how so many things are. You might have brownies that are made with cricket flour and not know it and you’d be like, “Oh, they’re really good brownies.” Then you find out it has cricket flour and you get a little bit grossed out, and I’m not sure why. I was vegetarian for a very, very long time, and the reason why I stopped being vegetarian is my body wasn’t able to do it in a really healthy way without putting an enormous effort into it. My doctor joked with me and said, “I’m going to write you a prescription for a chicken sandwich.” [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: [laughs] Oh, that’s funny.
PAT SPAIN: I threw the doors more wide than most and started eating really where my line is. The line that I have is I won’t eat anything that’s currently alive, and I won’t eat any primate. That just feels too close to human. But anything else is really fair game. I do my best to try to do things that are humanely killed. I don’t want anything that’s been in a factory situation or that’s been abused or anything like that. I do my best to try to avoid that. But as far as species go – as sad as it is, pigs are very, very smart, empathetic, wonderful creatures, and I find it a little bit disingenuous for somebody to eat bacon but to scoff at the idea of eating a rat.
JIM HAROLD: That’s a good point. I was just thinking of this the other day. I was eating some meat and I’m like, “Wait. You know what this is, right?” In this case it was dead cow. And then I’m like, “Well, it’s delicious. Let’s continue on.”
PAT SPAIN: Yeah, it’s just something we push out of our mind, and we’re very separated from it in the Western world, whereas in most other parts of the world, they’re very, very connected to the things they’re eating. It’s harder to put it out of your mind when the head of the animal is on the table looking at you. [laughs]
JIM HAROLD: “Look what you did.”
PAT SPAIN: Right.
JIM HAROLD: Pat Spain, it has been a lot of fun. I hope everybody checks out A Little Bigfoot: On the Hunt in Sumatra: Or, How I Learned There Are Some Things That Really Do Not Taste Like Chicken. I see it here on Amazon, of course, Kindle and paperback, and I’m assuming folks can get it everywhere else fine books are sold?
PAT SPAIN: That’s correct, absolutely.
JIM HAROLD: And website? Where can people go if they want to check in to everything else you do in addition to the books?
PAT SPAIN: Patspain.com.
JIM HAROLD: Excellent. We’ve had a lot of fun today. We’ve enjoyed our time with Pat, and we’ve enjoyed our time with you. Thank you for joining us, and we’ll talk to you next time. Have a great week, everybody! Bye-bye.
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