Sunday, 22 June 2008

Richard's final statement before the expedition left...

So, it’s the eve of another CFZ expedition, this time behind the iron curtain. I’m never at rest before an expedition. I can only feel easy when we are actually in the field. I’m often asked what worries me most about these endeavours in far-flung places. The answer is all the burocracy and hold ups getting there. Late flights and red tape worry me more than diseases or beast attacks.

We are playing with the big boys this time. We have funding from Channel 4 (after years of struggling for support it’s great to be financed at last) and the support of Professor Bryan Sykes, the world’s leading geneticist.

We have looked for mystery primates before but the Almasty seems to be a form of man, however bestial it may appear. More man-like than the yeti or Sasquatch, this may be our closest living relative, a creature of the genus Homo rather than a pongid. If the Almasty is a primitive man, perhaps a surviving form of Homo erectus then it begets a whole set of biological and ethical problems. Where does it fit on the tree of life? Will it be afforded the same rights as Homo sapiens? Would a creature with no fire or culture and only basic tool use be looked on in the same was as the ‘lost tribes’ who have had no contact with ‘civilized’ man? Would the almasty’s discovery be its death knell at the hands of it’s younger evolutionary brother?

Professor Sykes has asked us to take DNA samples of the local populace. All over the world there are stories of hominids interbreeding with modern man. Last year in Guyana we heard a story of a di-di siering a hybrid child with a human woman. Identical stories are told in North America and Nepal. If any modern humans have hominid gene in their ansestory it should stick out like a sore thumb in their DNA?

Kabardino Balkaria is almost unknown in the west. I’d never heard of it until I stumbled across an article on Grigory Panchenko’s research a couple of years ago. All the other places the CFZ expeditions have taken me I have known something about. This time I know next to nothing and have no pre-conceptions.

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