With interests in science and nature, the author explores topics from a unique and sometimes controversial perspective.
Sightings of the tiny ape-man called Orang Pendek on the island of Sumatra have caught the attention of cryptozoologists and anthropologists alike.
Like a miniature Bigfoot, this humanoid creature is bipedal, ape-like, and covered with thick fur. Though it stands only about a meter tall it is incredibly powerful and said to have the strength to tear small trees straight out of the ground.
Even though Orang Pendek is most often described as a vegetarian, locals are wary not to get on the wrong side of the creature and they give it a wide berth. It isn’t normally dangerous, but with its incredible power and ferocity, it would make quick work of a human. This doesn’t stop the curious from seeking the beast, and cryptozoologists are taking an increased interest.
It may all sound like a myth or the runaway tales of villagers with a healthy respect for what lurks in the shadows of the jungle, but like many unknown animals, it could prove to be something far more explainable, and even more interesting.
Large terrestrial animals such as the Giant Panda and Mountain Gorilla were thought to exist only in legend until researchers documented them in the not-so-distant past. Given the density of the Sumatran forests, could Orang Pendek be a similar lost species?
What Is Orang Pendek?
The truth, for now, is that nobody really knows. Like Bigfoot, Orang Pendek is considered a cryptid, a creature officially unknown to science but thought by some to exist based on eyewitness testimony and rare evidence. No specimen, living or dead, has ever been recovered, and no physical evidence exists aside from some sketchy footprints.
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is a case of mistaken identity. Sumatra’s jungle has its share of primates, and some may be reasonably confused with a bipedal hominid under the right circumstance.
The gibbon and the orangutan are two such creatures. Gibbons can walk on two legs for short periods of time. Orangutans can look remarkably human and are tremendously strong. Though they spend much of their time up in trees, they may plod along on the ground on two feet from time to time.
Is it possible that the people of Sumatra are simply confusing known primates with the Orang Pendek?
An Undiscovered Primate
Some think the Orang Pendek may be an unknown species of primate, as yet to be classified by science.
Considering its size—roughly around that of a chimpanzee—the creature could go undetected in dense jungles like those of Sumatra for a very long time.
Keep in mind, that this creature is nothing new to the people who live near it. They have been seeing it and hearing tales about it their whole lives. While western science considers it undiscovered, the people of Sumatra know it exists, and consider it another creature of the forest.
Given the technology and world knowledge we possess today it might not sound reasonable that a population of rare apes could exist even in a remote part of the globe, but consider this: In 2007 researchers discovered a previously unknown population of more than 100,000 Western Lowland Gorillas in the Republic of Congo.
This is especially interesting considering that prior to this discovery less than 100,000 of these animals were believed to exist in the entire world. In other words, we didn’t know half of the Western Lowland Gorillas existed until 2007.
This is a creature already documented by science. If 100,000 gorillas can go undetected, is it unreasonable that another ape could remain hidden as well?
Another Kind of Human
An unknown ape would be pretty exciting, but there’s an even more intriguing theory out there to explain the identity of this elusive forest critter. It might make some people uncomfortable, and others might find it downright chilling, but Orang Pendek may be an unknown species of human.
We like to think we’re unique in nature. Nothing like us exists anywhere in the world. Our closest living relatives are chimpanzees, but they really aren’t anything like us at all, at least as far as we are concerned. But there have been many versions of us through history.
Several species of the genus Homo evolved and went extinct over the last several million years. The reason we think we’re so rare is that we humans, Homo sapiens, are the only extant members of our genus.
But what if there is another? Neanderthal, our last known relative in our genus, died out in the Pleistocene epoch. But could Orang Pendek represent another species within our same genus, either one long thought extinct or something totally unknown?
It’s an interesting idea, but where would we even start without a specimen to examine, or at least some more solid evidence?
Homo Floresiensis: The Hobbit
In 2003 a small, human-like skull and several bones were discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia.
The partial skeleton some are calling "the hobbit" marks the most recent extinction of a human species, more recent than even Neanderthal. But who did it belong to?
Researchers dubbed the find Homo floresiensis, a new species of humans within our own genus. But there has been a great deal of debate over Homo floresiensis, and there are those who don't agree with this classification.
Some researchers argue it may be simply a dwarf form of Homo sapiens.
Dwarf animals can evolve within isolated ecosystems such as remote islands. However, with such a small relative brain size, others counter that it must be a separate species.
The recovered Homo floresiensis skeleton is that of an adult female, who would have stood an estimated three feet tall. Males were likely a bit larger. This puts this new human species in the same general size range as Orang Pendek, and in the same general area of the world.
The island of Flores would have been isolated during the last ice age, but some researchers believe Homo Floresiensis may have traveled there by sea before the planet began to cool and sea levels rose.
Could it have made similar journeys to other reaches of the world?
So, might Homo floresiensis have lived alongside modern humans? With our species’ knack for storytelling, and considering that ancient humans often passed down history through word of mouth, is it possible there are stories of our ancestors’ interaction with this strange creature?
It sure is. Indonesian lore tells us of a human-like creature called the Ebu Gogo, which stood about four feet tall, walked upright, and was covered with fur. Legend says ancient humans thought of Ebu Gogo as a pest but viewed through the lens of history it was probably more of a scavenger and opportunist.
Ebu Gogo stole things from ancient humans, raided their food caches, and generally made a nuisance of itself. According to legend, our ancestors eventually had enough and exterminated them by blockading them in caves and suffocating them with smoke.
It seems possible that Ebu Gogo, Homo floresiensis, and Orang Pendek are all the same creatures. It’s reasonable that it may have escaped extinction and made its home on Sumatra. Or, perhaps its earliest ancestors made their way to Sumatra at the same time they were populating other parts of Indonesia.
This wraps it all up, nice and tidy. Eh, not so fast.
To the native Sumatran people who live at the edges of the jungle, the legend of Ebu Gogo might not go very far when it comes to explaining Orang Pendek. They’d likely tell you you’re talking about that other guy.
Orang Kardil is yet another Sumatran jungle dweller known to the local people. Where natives identify Orang Pendek as an animal of the forest, Orang Kardil is most certainly a small human, not an ape.
Like Ebu Gogo, this human-like creature is vicious and known to steal food and other items from the human villagers.
Organ Kardil (tiny people) hunt with spears, and there are stories of them killing humans when they cross paths. This sounds much more like what we would imagine Homo Floresiensis to be like if it were still around today.
At this point of convolution it starts to make sense to add one more possibility: If our human ancestors did share the Earth with Homo floresiensis, possibly fairly recently, is it possible that Orang Pendek, Orang Kardil, and any other similar creature, including leprechauns and fairies, are all based around stories of this ancient but extinct species?
Maybe, except people are still allegedly spotting the thing today.
Orang Pendek Sightings
Sumatran natives have long reported sightings of Orang Pendek, with various descriptions of its behavior. Forest hunters provide the most abundant source of sightings. However, with such a wide array of characteristics reported, some of which cross over to the supernatural, it sometimes becomes difficult to separate legitimate sightings from legend.
When Dutch settlers arrived in the early part of the 20th century Orang Pendek began to gain some attention in the Western world. In 1916 Dr. Edward Jacobson discovered footprints following a sighting by a member of his group. Sumatran Governor L.C. Westernenk noted events when he happened upon an Orang Pendek, which he described as a very large siamang with short hair.
An explorer named Van Herwaarden reported a lengthy encounter with the creature in 1924, sparking a flicker of interest in the scientific community. Van Herwaarden gives us perhaps the most detailed description of the creature, noting its features as it peered down at him from a nearby tree.
The fervor soon died out after several hoax attempts fell flat, and serious researchers decided to spend their time elsewhere. But visitors and local tribes continued to spot the Orang Pendek in the jungles, and a small band of researchers would continue the search.
Attempts to Find Orang Pendek
The longest-running and possibly most thorough investigation into the Orang Pendek phenomenon was a 15-year expedition by British travel writer Debbie Martyr and photographer Jeremy Holden.
Martyr became interested in the project while in Sumatra in 1989 when her guide explained in a matter-of-fact manner that sighting the creature was not uncommon, and he himself had seen it a few times.
Beginning in 1990, and with serious financial backing from Fauna and Flora International, Martyr and Holden set about documenting local eyewitness accounts and attempting to collect photographic evidence of the creature.
Unfortunately, the project provided little hard evidence aside from a few footprint casts. But both Martyr and Holden came away with their own eyewitness sightings.
In her account, Martyr marveled at how the creature moved like a person, which she found surprising, and said it resembled an agile gibbon with a muscular upper torso.
Holden’s sighting was far less detailed, as he only caught a glimpse of the animal as it moved away over a hillside.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that two researchers specifically looking for Orang Pendek were only able to manage a handful of sightings over a 15-year period. Like Bigfoot, the little hominid’s ability to elude detection seems to defy logic.
Is Orang Pendek Real?
A 2011 Orang Pendek expedition led by researcher Adam Davies gained a great deal of media and internet exposure. It was an intensive effort but only came away with hair samples and plaster casts of handprints and footprints.
No unknown animals were captured on the camera traps they employed. Researchers like Davies and Richard Freeman will not be deterred, and continue to lead the way.
The search of Orang Pendek is the life’s work of some, and utter nonsense to others. For most of us, it’s simply darned fascinating The dense jungles, relatively few researchers, and this strange connection to a species of tiny human once thought extinct make for interesting angles to the story.
There is certainly enough going on to warrant further investigation. Eyewitnesses are seeing something in the jungle, something that looks almost human, but not quite.
Could Orang Pendek be an unknown primate, or is there another species of human in the jungles of Sumatra? Are there two undocumented species of hominid?
Or, are the stories based around the miss-sighting of animals, and legends dating back to a time when modern humans shared the land with a now-extinct creature?
We’ll have to wait and see what becomes of the short man of Sumatra.
More on Strange Hominids Around the World
Orang Pendek is just one of many odd, bipedal creatures said to lurk in the dark corners of our planet. While there are many theories, it's unclear where they come from, if they are related, or even what they are. But witnesses across the globe spot them, and in some cases documented sightings span centuries.
Learn more about them in the articles below!
Bigfoot Around the World: Here's an overview of different Bigfoot-type creatures spotted across the world. From Orang Pendek, to the Yeti, there's something strange in the woods.
The Yowie of Australia: The Yowie is a Bigfoot-like creature spotted all over Australia. But it is really a Bigfoot relative, or something else entirely?
The Skunk Ape of Florida: Stinky, hairy and elusive, the Skunk Ape is a Sasquatch relative that lurks in the southern United States. Unlike many Bigfoot-like creatures, for this one there's a photo!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Tom Jagger on April 01, 2019:
In Indonesian, the word for dwarf is KERDIL..not kardil.
cryptid (author) from USA on April 01, 2015:
Why not indeed!
ben p on March 31, 2015:
What now? Hairy pygmys? Why not. There's dinosaur fish.
cryptid (author) from USA on October 10, 2012:
Thanks Georgie! You never know what out there in the little-explored jungles and forests.
Georgie Lowery from North Florida on October 10, 2012:
Very interesting. I do believe there are things out there that we just don't know about, we're arrogant to believe otherwise.
As always, well written and informative Hub. Thank you for sharing! :)