Orang Pendek

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Orang Pendek

Orang Pendek, translated in Indonesian as Short Person or Short Person of the Forest, is the name given to a short hominid creature reported to be living in the remote rain forests of Sumatra in the Indonesian Islands. Oral traditions of the native people of Sumatra suggest that the Orang Pendek have been coexisting with the island’s human population for centuries, regarding it mainly with tolerance and respect as a peaceful creature which only attacks small game for food. Over the years, as foreign explorers and settlers began to arrive in Sumatra, they too had their own encounters with the Orang Pendek, and their descriptions, along with those of the natives, were all remarkably similar.

Physical Characteristics

Orang Pendek is often described as a short, bipedal hominid ranging from 3 to 5 feet in height, with a strong chest, and short fur covering the creature’s body. The fur is said to come in various colors, from dark orange to brown to black, and is described as flowing from the head down the back. Witnesses who encounter Orang Pendek often tell of a creature that looks like a primate but moves and behaves more like a human, walking upright, biped-ally, with no more effort than a person.

Perhaps the best physical description of the Orang Pendek came from Dutch Explorer Van Herwaarden, who crossed paths with the creature in 1923 while hog hunting on the small island of Pulau Rimau, in Sumatra, off the western coast of Malaysia. He description of the unknown primate went on as follows…
“…was also hairy on the front of its body; the color there was a little lighter than on the back. The very dark hair on its head fell to just below the shoulder blades or even almost to the waist. It was fairly think and very shaggy. The lower part of its face seemed to end in more of a point than a man’s; this brown face was almost hairless, whilst its forehead seemed to be high rather than low. Its eyebrows were frankly moving; they were of the darkest color, very lively, and like human eyes. The nose was broad with fairly large nostrils, but in no way clumsy. Its lips were quite ordinary, but the width of its mouth was strikingly wide when open. Its canines showed clearly from time to time as its mouth twitched nervously.

They seemed fairly large to me, at all events they where more developed than a man’s. The incisors were regular. The color of the teeth was yellowish white. Its chin was somewhat receding. For a moment, during a quick movement, I was able to see its right ear, which was exactly like a little human ear. Its hands where slightly hairy on the back. Had it been standing, its arms would have reached to a little about its knees, they where therefore long, but its legs seemed to me rather short. I did not see its feet, but I did see some toes which were shaped in a very normal manner. The specimen was of the female sex and about five feet high. There was nothing repulsive or ugly about its face, nor was it at all apelike.”

Diet

Orang Pendek is often sighting when it ventures out of remote rain forests to more populated areas, mainly farmland on the edge of the forest, allegedly in search of crops like corn, potatoes and various kinds of fruit, including the Durian fruit, thought by some to be a favorite of the Orang Pendek.  Locals also claim that Orang Pendek will seek out Ginger Root, young plant shoots, insects from rotting logs, river crabs and various small game animals.

Habitat

Although creatures similar to the Orang Pendek, and possibly even other populations of the creature, have historically been reported through out various islands in and around Sumatra, the majority of recent sightings occur mainly in the Kerinci region of central Sumatra, more specifically in the Kerinci Seblat National Park, located within the Bukit Barisan mountain range. Due to the park’s remoteness and difficult terrain, Kerinci Seblat National Park remains one of the last bastions of safety for many of the islands indigenous animal species who have seen much of their territory lost to over logging. The park features Mt. Kerinci, the second highest peak in Indonesia, and some of the most remote rain forest in the world, it is home to many rare and endangered animal species, including an ever shrinking population of Sumatran Tigers.

Sightings

Sightings or Orang Pendek can be traced back to the islands original inhabitants, The Suku Anak Dalam, who have lived throughout their history in the area’s forests, far from towns and cities. The Orang Pendek has been part of their oral tradition for centuries, describing the creature as a co inhabitant of the forest and occasionally leaving it offerings of tobacco to keep it happy.

Indonesia was a Dutch settelment in the early 1900’s, as such the first written documentation of the Orang Pendek can be attributed to early Dutch settlers. These early written accounts includes that of Mr. Van Heerwarden, who’s eye witness account was listed above, and that of a gentleman referred to as Mr. Oostingh, who wrote the following after encountering a creature which looked like a man, siting on a log, facing away from him…

“I saw that he had short hair, cut short, I thought; and I suddenly realized that his neck was oddly leathery and extremely filthy. “That chap’s got a very dirty and wrinkled neck!” I said to myself. His body was as large as a medium-sized native’s and he had thick square shoulders, not sloping at all…he seemed to be quite as tall as I. Then I saw that it was not a man. It was not an orang-utan. I had seen one of these large apes a short time before. It was more like a monstrously large siamang, but a siamang has long hair, and there was no doubt that it had short hair.”

In 1998, Deborah Martyr, an Orang Pendek researcher, reported seeing  the creature in a tree during one of her many expeditions to Sumatra.

Local villages provide the bulk of modern day sightings, though undocumented, many claim that they have seen the Orang Pendek themselves, or at least known someone who has seen the elusive creature.

Expeditions

In the 1990’s British researcher Debbie Martyr, and photographer Jeremy Holden, engaged in a series of expeditions in search of the Orang Pendek. Partially funded by Fauna and Flora International, the pair set out to document eye witness accounts of the Orang Pendek as well as obtain photographic proof of the creature using camera traps set up in the forest. Debbie Martyr and Jeremy Holden ultimately did not succeed in capturing photographic evidence of Orang Pendek, however they claim to have collected several casts of suspected Orang Pendek foot print and each claim to have had their individual encounters with the creature. The pair conducted their research for roughly 15 years before Debbie Martyr moved on to head the Tiger Protection and Conservation United in Sumatra.

From 2005 through 2009 National Geographic funded a camera trapping program that attempted, but ultimately failed, to produce photographic evidence of the Orang Pendek.

In 2008 a team of researchers from the TV Show Monster Quest, which aired on the History Channel from 2007 to 2010, visited Sumatra in search of Orang Pendek. The researcher were joined by British photographer Jeremy Holden, who worked with noted Orang Pendek researcher Debbie Marty, and spent ten days in the forests of Sumatra setting up camera traps and searching for physical evidence. In the end the team found some interesting signs of a possible Orang Pendek, including foot print that were casts, but the expedition did not produce any concrete evidence.

In 2013, the Animal Planet show Finding Bigfoot aired an episode in which the team traveled to Sumatra in search of the Orang Pendek, however returned home with no substantial evidence.

Evidence

Physical Evidence for the existence of Orang Pendek is sparse, mainly consisting of inconclusive hair samples and casts of foot print that could just as easily belong to the native sun bear or orangutan as they could a yet to be identified primate, though some note worthy examples do exist.

British Travelers Adam Davies, Andrew Sanderson and Keith Townley discovered hair samples and foot prints of what they believed to be the Orang Pendek traveling in Kerinci. From 2001 to 2003 those hair samples, as well as casts of the foot print they discovered were analyzed by scientists including primate biologist Dr. David Chivers, biological anthropologist Dr. Todd Disotell, and hair analyst Hans Brunner. Dr. Chivers compared the casts with those of known primates and other local animals, stating the following:

“the cast of the footprint taken was definitely an ape with a unique blend of features from gibbon, orangutan, chimpanzee, and human. From further examination the print did not match any known primate species and I can conclude that this points towards there being a large unknown primate in the forests of Sumatra”

Hans Brunner’s would later collaborate Dr. Chivers’ conclusion after comparing the hairs to those of other primates and local animals, suggesting that they may have originated from a previously undocumented species of primate. Dr. Disotell could have provided hard scientific evidence of this new primate species, presumably the Orang Pendek, but after DNA testing the hair samples, he could find nothing human DNA in the sample. While the DNA test did not corroborate Dr. Chivers and Dr. Brunner’s findings, Dr. Disotell did caution his findings could have simply been the result of DNA contamination from improper handling of the samples.

As an interesting side note, Adam Davies and Dr. Chivers both appeared in the Monster Quest episode mentioned above, which featured Davies traveling back to Samatra as part of the expedition team on a ten day search for the Orang Pendek.

Theories

Over the years, many theories as to the identity of the Orang Pendek have been proposed.
Misidentification: Sumatra is home to a number of rare animals that in some ways could fit eye witness descriptions of the Orang Pendek. The Sun Bear is one such animal, with it’s small size and human like foot prints, it is often cited a possible explanation for Orang Pendek sightings.  In addition to Sun Bears, Sumatra is home to a population of gibbons, which could occasionally decent from the tree tops and be mistaken for Orang Pendek. While these two animals match some of the eye witness accounts of Orang Pendek, the fall short of matching them perfectly. Additionally, local eyewitnesses who have seen Orang Pendek claim to be familiar with animals like the sun bear and gibbon, and they are confident that the Orang Pendek is a completely different animal.

Unidentified Primate: Due to some of the physical characteristics of the Orang Pendek often being similar to, but different than, known primate species, there are some researchers who believe that the Orang Pendek may be an undiscovered species of primate. Due to the remote nature of the rain forest and the immense biodiversity of the area, a yet to be discovered primate could conceivably exist in Sumatra.

Surviving Homid: This theory really gained traction with the discovery of Homo Floresiensis, or Flores Man, on the island of Flores in Indonesia in 2003. The remains of Flores Man would have stood about 3 feet tall and the species itself is thought to have lived as recently as 12,000 years ago.   The island of Sumatra and the site in Flores, where the remains were found, are relatively close, one could easily imagine an intelligent hominid species, which Homo Floresiensis was thought to be, migrating through out the Indonesian Island chain. Whether a relic population of nomadic Homo Floresiensis settled in the Sumatran rain forest and survived undocumented to this day however has yet to be proven, and remains little more than wishful thinking.

Organizations

www.orangpendek.org – Is the only research project into the Orang Pendek we could locate, but it looks like they may no longer be in operation.

 

Written by Sean – PACC Admin

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