Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Beast of Tunbridge Wells

Following on the heels of yesterday's post about Dr. Melba Ketchum and the maybe-perhaps-sort-of confirmation of Sasquatch DNA from a hair sample, we now have a story wherein the Brits (not to be outdone by a bunch of upstart Americans) are claiming their own Bigfoot-clone.  [Source]

Nicknamed "The Beast of Tunbridge Wells," this cryptid is described as an eight-foot-tall beast, human-shaped but covered with hair, with "long arms" and "demonic red eyes."  Some locals are afraid to go outside at night because there have been so many sightings in the past six months; but the story claims that the thing has been seen for seventy or more years, and describe a sighting that occurred in 1942 and was told to a "man named Graham S."

Well, far be it from me to doubt any anecdotal reports from "a man named Graham S.," but let me just interject a bit of a science lesson that may raise some questions in your mind.

There's a concept in ecology called "minimum viable population."  This is the number of organisms needed in a population to assure that (assuming nothing changes) the birth rate equals or exceeds the death rate.  It is quite difficult to estimate, and depends on a great many factors, including the number of offspring per mating, mortality in the young, dependency on available resources, size of the territory, and so on.  To give two extreme examples that will illustrate this:  the MVP for mosquitoes is probably pretty damn close to two, as long as one was male and one was female, and they were near enough to find each other and had a source of food and water.  Mosquitoes can produce so many young from one mating that it's likely you could rebuild a sizable population in short order from those two survivors.  Elephants, on the other hand, reproduce very slowly, and the young are slow to reach sexual maturity; in order to have a population large enough for the birth rate to equal or exceed the death rate (from natural causes, predators, poaching, and so on), you would need hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals in the population.

Get it?  Now, let's consider how many Britsquatches we'd need to have a viable, sustainable population.

To get a handle on this, I referred to the paper "Estimates of Minimum Viable Population Sizes for Vertebrates and Factors Influencing Those Estimates," by David Reed, Julian O'Grady, Barry Brook, Jonathan Ballou, and Richard Frankham, which appeared in the Journal of Biological Conservation in 2003.  The paper is lucidly written but relies on some rather specialized models and technical mathematics; if you want to give it a go, you can access it here.  The main thing of interest for our purposes is in the Appendix, wherein Reed et al. use their techniques to make an upper and lower bound estimate for MVP; the lower bound is just using raw birth and death rates, the upper bound generated from a mathematical formula that estimates the number of individuals required to give a 99% likelihood of the population sustaining for forty generations.  Interestingly, there is a large primate species listed -- the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei).  And Reed et al. place the lower bound for MVP for the Mountain Gorilla at 849, and the upper bound at somewhat over 11,000 individuals.

So assuming the Tunbridge Britsquatch (Sasquatchius anglicus kentei) has a similar MVP, and has been wandering about the highways and byways of southeastern England since time immemorial (or at least since 1942), you can't just claim that there are two, or four, or even a dozen of them... you have to believe that there are thousands.

Maybe some of my readers live in southeastern England, and might be able to explain how there could be a thousand (or more) eight-foot-tall hairy hominids hiding out down there, doing all the things animals do -- feeding (and an animal that size would need a lot of food), making noise, sleeping, mating, dying, and so on -- and they've only been seen a handful of times near Tunbridge Wells.  That such a thing could happen in the trackless woods of the Pacific Northwest, or the icy reaches of the Himalayas, I might be able to believe.

But Kent?  Really?

I'm sorry, but this just sounds preposterous to me.  As much as I'd love to see some cryptid discovered, and confirmed by science, I'm betting this won't be the one.  In fact, I think what we should be doing is looking for some prankster in Tunbridge Wells with a gorilla suit.


  1. They actually live in Wales, where they can blend in with the general population, and only occasionally take day trips to Kent.

  2. Even the most elusive of creatures get photographed. There are creatures who rarely get photographed due to how sneaky they are, yet we still find their bodies, bones, feces, etc. It becomes unequivocal that the creature in question exists because the physical evidence is there. Most of these elusive creatures are such due to being small, quadrupedal, and hide well in brush. Meanwhile, a 300+ pound, tall, bipedal creature, remaining all but completely undetected from cameras, leaving no physical evidence, or corpses... and in the dearth of physical evidence, we have a wealth of hoaxers.

    The African Golden Cat is so elusive it has only been photographed a couple of times... and nobody cares... and nobody is challenging the validity of those photographs and, whether with a grainy night vision camera or not, produce unequivocal images of a golden cat.

    If sasquatch existed, we would have clear physical evidence in the form of feces. Since it is the sloughing of red blood cells from stomach linings that makes virtually all mammal's feces brown, it stands to reason that feces would produce DNA that settled the argument.