Those who were present at this year’s Weird Weekend in Hartland in North Devon in August, saw me on several occasions brandishing a small glass vial containing a tuft of long red hairs that I was going to analyse at the earliest possible moment – or so I kept promising everybody. Unfortunately other matters, such as making a living, kept elbowing their way to the front of the line, and pushing the vial and other small matters towards the back, so it has taken me close to two months getting around to it.
So first of all, what are these hairs, and how come they are now in my possession? It is a fairly long story, but I shall try to make it short. In 1991 I was working as a tour guide in New Zealand, and on one of the trips I worked with a driver a few years younger than myself. We became friends and have stayed in touch ever since. Last year he came in to a serious amount of money and decided to spend them on the trip to end all trips. Until then he had never been outside of New Zealand. So off he went, and in March this year he was in Borneo where some locals gave him a tuft of hair, telling him it was from an upright manlike ape that lived in the jungle. And he should have it because it would bring him luck, and they think he needed it, as he had told them he was planning to go around the world. Luckily he remembered my interest in all matters cryptozoological, so he sent me a sample of the hairs to have a look at – and those are the hairs I have been waving about.
The next part of the story is of course, what are they? The hairs are fairly coarse and stiff, with a deep reddish brown colour. In a microscope they look slightly faded, and I have a sneaking suspicion they are quite old. If you study the surface pattern of protein scales, quite a lot of them have been rubbed off, which is typical of old hairs. They are clearly primate, with hollows in the central part of the hairs and a fairly narrow cortex, and because of the colour there are very few species they can be.
Unfortunately there is nothing strange or mysterious about them – they are not from an orang pendek. It would of course be especially interesting if they where, as they are from Borneo, where the number of orang pendek sightings is considerably lower than in Sumatra where several expeditions, including a handful of CFZ-organized efforts have been looking for the thing.
Alas - when I looked closer of the distribution of the melanin and the various internal structures of the hairs it became quite clear that they are from an orang-utan. I can only speculate as to whether my friend was tricked and some orang-utan hairs was passed off as something more than that, or whether those friendly locals really thought it was something special. Since he didn’t pay anything, I think they really thought they gave him something special.