Scientist John Bindernagel spent decades stalking sasquatch

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In 1963, John Bindernagel shared with his university class a magazine report about a tall, hairy creature said to populate the forests of North America. His biology professor and classmates dismissed his interest with a laugh.

In the ensuing years, Mr. Bindernagel became a respected scientist who worked for the United Nations on three continents. After returning to Canada, his pursuit of a great ape of the woods became an obsession of sorts and he became world-renowned in cryptozoology circles for his work on a creature known variously as yeti, bigfoot, or sasquatch.

He made plaster casts of what he insisted were sasquatch footprints found on a Vancouver Island trail and claimed to have once heard the chimpanzee-like cry of the creature.

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He never stopped searching and some others never stopped laughing.

Mr. Bindernagel, who has died at the age of 76, preferred the term Sasquatch in recognition of the Coast Salish name Sasq’ets for a mammal he insisted was alive and not just a supernatural being of myth.

The wildlife biologist spent four decades in search of the elusive creature, aware of the ridicule his pursuit garnered in some circles, notably the popular media.

“I don’t go around trying to convince people that the Sasquatch exists,” he once said. “What I’m looking for is a forum to explain and tell the evidence we have and say this is worthy of scientific scrutiny.”

John Albert Bindernagel was born in Kitchener, Ont., on Dec. 22, 1941, to Mona (née Sparrer) and Albert Bindernagel, a painter and decorator. He was an only child who enjoyed the solitude of exploring the woods and examining the creatures who lived there.

He graduated with a biology degree from the University of Guelph in Ontario in 1964, and later completed a doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mr. Bindernagel worked on contract as a wildlife conservation adviser for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as at the Serengeti Research Institute in Tanzania. In Iran, he wrote a report about conflicts in the forest habitat of the Caspian red deer (Cervus elaphus maral).

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Even as he studied wildlife around the globe, he keenly followed reports of Sasquatch sightings in North America. In the 1970s, he moved to Courtenay on Vancouver Island, the forests of which he considered prime habitat for a giant hairy biped.

It was on a hike in Strathcona Provincial Park not far from his home, in 1988, that he encountered a trio of barefoot impressions in the soil that he was certain were those of sasquatch. Although he was in bear country, the prints lacked claws. He made plaster casts of the 38-centimetre (15-inch) prints, which he brought with him to university conferences, museum presentations and forums on mythical creatures, including those held during Sasquatch Daze at Harrison Hot Springs, a resort in B.C.’s Fraser Valley east of Vancouver that has used the sasquatch as a promotional lure for tourists for years.

Four years later, while hiking near Comox Lake, Mr. Bindernagel claimed to have heard a loud and resonant “whoop, whoop, whoop” call that reminded him of the great apes he had encountered in Africa.

He accumulated what he described as more than 2,000 witness accounts over a span of 150 years throughout the continent, including sightings in far-off Florida and even on the Niagara Peninsula.

Mr. Bindernagel wrote two books on the subject, North America’s Great Ape: The Sasquatch (1998) and The Discovery of the Sasquatch: Reconciling Culture, History and Science in the Discovery Process (2010), both released through his own Beachcomber Books imprint.

He never wavered in his belief that evidence of the existence of the creature would one day be confirmed.

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“When the discovery of the sasquatch as an extant North American mammal is finally acknowledged, we will owe a huge debt to the aboriginal people for their willingness to explain the sasquatch to disbelieving anthropologists,” he wrote in 2014.

Although he had an aural encounter, Mr. Bindernagel never saw his elusive quarry. He knew more physical evidence would be needed before his work would be recognized for its scientific acumen instead of being dismissed as delusion.

“Some people just won’t be convinced until we have a carcass and bones,” he acknowledged.

He expressed a weariness at having spent a lifetime gathering evidence of the creature’s existence only to have his work dismissed as sensational tabloid fodder. He railed against describing sasquatch as a monster in popular culture and found the modern shorthand of referring to the creature as “squatch” to be disrespectful to aboriginal culture. He might have been unaware that the derivation became popular after a professional basketball team named its hairy ape mascot Squatch.

Others were not reluctant to poke fun at his findings. The late humourist Arthur Black once examined the case.

“Either John Bindernagel had the tracks of sasquatch,” he wrote, “or Dennis Rodman was running around the Canadian wilderness with a terrible case of gout.”

Mr. Bindernagel died of cancer on Jan. 18. He leaves his wife, the former Joan Keyes, as well as a son, a daughter and four grandchildren.

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