Bigfoot is a subject riddled with controversy; I get that. But bigfoot social structure? With little direct evidence, conflicting eyewitness reports, and various mutually exclusive theories of evolutionary origin, no sane commentator would ever seriously attempt to parse out the group dynamics of these creatures using only speculative primatology. So naturally that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
With mainstream science lending an attitude of ridicule towards the existence of this creature, coupled with baseless assumptions as to its population size and lifestyle, I feel it’s critical to set the record straight. There is little that can be established with certainty in the absence of direct observation of these creatures in the wild, and I wouldn’t hold my breath on that, but we can still make key inferences and work out which theories are worth exploring. While none of this can be definitive, we can still try to get a better understanding of this elusive creature and demonstrate that its lifestyle is not only possible, but precedented.
If we use officially recognized primate species as a starting point, we can work out a few theories as to how forest giants might go about their lives. The known great apes differ significantly, and there is no reason to assume that wood apes would match any of them precisely, but if any are in the ballpark, that would confirm that these creatures have a living arrangement that is indeed viable, and may additionally yield further insight as to their behaviour. In short, if we guess how they live, we might learn more about them. So today, we’re answering the question that has troubled cryptid researchers since the beginning. Is bigfoot a lone wolf?
Solitary (Orangutan Model)
It is fairly clear that most bigfoot sightings feature only a single individual, and the most common sightings with multiple specimens involve only a mother and a single child. This may imply that forest giants are solitary but social, much like the orangutan. Perhaps males are generally antagonistic toward one another, and females are more likely to get along. Perhaps all of them are desperately territorial, and they only band together when there is some pressing need to do so. Or perhaps they just have little reason to interact at all, with much of their lives spent in mutual disinterest, like two ships passing in the night.
An advantage of this theory is that it would likely reduce the food requirements and population density of these creatures, as their ranges wouldn’t typically overlap. This would make them rarer to see, much like the mountain lion, which is very likely inhabiting the eastern United States, yet mainstream science refuses to recognize the possibility.
This would accord well if sasquatch belonged to the subfamily Ponginae, as would be the case if bigfoot were related to Gigantopithecus. As this taxon is situated in Asia, it would allow easy access to the Bering Strait, and thus the New World. This would explain the presence of forest giants in North America, as well as Russia, but their relative absence in Europe and Africa.
All considered, I don’t find this point too convincing. Forest giants don’t seem to possess any notable pongine traits. Their typical appearance is more akin to the gorilla, with the possible exception of the Myakka skunk ape photos, and I learn towards these photos being a case of mistaken identity or an outright hoax. And considering that humans made it everywhere we did, and that there are yowie legends in Australia, I don’t think we can pin down this creature’s geographic origin.
A line of support for this model I find much more convincing would be the many eyes hypothesis, and the increase in boldness that accompanies larger groups. Great apes are capable of noticing and avoiding camera traps, and orangutans, who lived in the smallest groups, were nigh undetectable. They were quite simply too timid to expose themselves to the camera. Given that bigfoot is rarely featured on trailcams, (although far from never) it would make sense to reason that they lived a solitary existence, and were accordingly shy.
Splintered Troops (Chimpanzee & Gorilla Models)
On the other hand, we do have accounts of several specimens being seen at once, albeit rarely. (And given how rare it is to have any encounter with one of these creatures, that’s saying something.) It is possible that they form territorial bands like chimpanzees, but I don’t find the idea exceptionally plausible. Granting that their groups would likely be much less numerous, due to the larger size if nothing else, but I still don’t figure this as likely. While there have been reports of these creatures hunting cooperatively, I’m not sure this is the best way to explain it.
A more plausible alternative would be the breeding-oriented structure of the gorilla. This would render many individuals, specifically males, as functionally solitary, with patriarchal troops of a dominant male and harem, perhaps augmented by submissive males to help with hunting or predator defense. It would then figure that either most sightings were of lone individuals, or that these troops operated in a loose fashion, with individuals commonly wandering outside of visual contact with each other. The first figures well enough, but fails to explain why so many females are encountered alone or with nothing but a child. The second is foreign to known great apes, but it would make sense. Forest giants are quite fearsome, and their natural predators, like short-faced bears, have long since gone extinct. Unlike humans or gorillas, I think wood apes feel relatively safe while walking alone in the woods.
Families & Tribes (Neanderthal Model)
What I find to be more likely, however, is that they’re social structure is slightly more human. Perhaps they lived something like Neanderthals, with multiple family units forming a larger tribe, or maybe the family units lived separately. If these groups were small enough, it would make them difficult to detect, almost as if they were solitary, but still allow for things like cooperative hunting. When groups of these creatures are described, they aren’t typically more numerous than a family unit or two. In short, I think the Neanderthal model best accounts for all the evidence available, but it’s still up in the air.
This brings us back to the question of how humans these creatures are. Given that these creatures don’t appear to manufacture tools, use fire, or hunt with spears, I don’t think we’re closely related, and the most likely explanation for our similarities would be convergent evolution. This means that selective pressures may have resulted in similar group dynamics in distantly related species. The only piece of evidence that points to these creatures being closely related to us is the strangely compelling story of Zana, and it’s dubious that it’s related to bigfoot per se.
Bigfoot is most likely not an inherently solitary creature, although it is very likely that some individuals may live that way. If we suppose that their groups are small, and that they aren’t afraid to wander off from one another, then it figures that they would be just as shy as a solitary creature, with the exceptions likely coming from when multiple families are joined together to repel a threat, or when working together to take down large prey.
If you’ve ever seen The Legend of Boggy Creek, then you’ve been exposed to the idea that these creatures may be solitary and few in number. That may be the case, especially for lone males and social outcasts, but it doesn’t seem to represent the species as a whole. Then again, you might have figured as much if you’d seen the sequel.
I do look forward to more research coming in about primate social structures, and their reactions to game cameras, and their diets and ecologies; really, I do. It would yield some critical insight into the nature of wildmen. But, obviously, that all pales in comparison to the idea of shaving these mysterious creatures studied properly. Imagine seeing a BBC Earth special on the wood woads. Wouldn’t that be something? I guess all I can do is dream…or is it? Maybe, if we work hard enough, smart enough, we can bring these creatures into the limelight, and make this dream a reality.