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Scientist developing drone to hunt for 'Bigfoot'

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Efforts to prove that Bigfoot is real has long been seen as somewhat of a fringe pursuit, much in the same vain as searching for the Loch Ness monster and UFO-spotting. But lately, a few unlikely scientists have joined in the hunt for signs of the mythical creature.

Earlier this year, a researcher at Oxford offered to conduct DNA analysis on remains purported to belong to the legendary beast. And on Monday, Idaho State University approved the "Falcon Project," a proposal by faculty professor Jeff Meldrum to build a remote-controlled blimp to locate evidence of Bigfoot's existence. However, the school and state research institution won't foot the bill, which Meldrum estimates would cost somewhere in the ballpark of $300,000 to carry out. Instead, he plans to raise the funds through private donations from supporters of the project.

Still, the move has drawn harsh criticism by the academic community, many of whom have dismissed the anthropologist's Sasquatch research as nothing more than a frivolous inquiry that has thus far failed to turn up even a shred of credible evidence. Most reports of claimed encounters and sightings have been of the unsubstantiated anecdotal variety and video footage as well as photos of the supposed bipedal hominid have been repeatedly debunked by skeptics as either a hoax or a case of people mistakenly identifying other animals, such as bears. Also, nothing in the current physical paleontology record accounts for a hairy, striding primate that's described as standing over seven feet tall.

“One could do deep-ocean research for SpongeBob SquarePants,” physics professor Douglas Wells told the LA Times. “That doesn’t make it science.”

Despite intense scrutiny from his peers, Meldrum remains steadfast in his belief that Bigfoot is lurking somewhere out there. His theory is that Bigfoot is a likely descendant of an actual prehistoric giant ape named Gigantopithecus that inhabited modern day China, and after evolutionarily splitting off, crossed the connecting Bering straight land mass into North America.

In 2006, he published “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science," in which he argues that the plausibility of such a primate is compelling enough to warrant a thorough scientific investigation. He has since partnered with William Barnes, an investigator who claims he crossed paths with the creature in 1997, to draw up plans for an airship equipped with a thermal-imaging camera that can scan remote forest regions from the Pacific Northwest all the way down to California and Utah. Surveying, they hope, can start as early as next spring.

"The challenge with any animal that is rare, solitary, nocturnal and far-ranging in habitat is to find them and observe them in the wild; this technology provides for that," Meldrum told Reuters.

So far, securing financial support for their endeavor is proving to be as elusive as the creature they're hoping to find, though Meldrum has been buoyed by recent interest by TV producers who have approached him about filming the investigation as part of weekly documentary series.

“People say, ‘You are paid by Idaho State and you are doing this?’ ” Meldrum told the Idaho Statesman. “But this is legitimate research. This could be one of the most outstanding questions in natural history and human anthropology that we have today."

What do you think? Valid scientific inquiry? Or hogwash?

And just for entertainment's sake, here's footage of what's purported to be the cryptic creeper that was posted last week. The video has since gone viral with over 5 million page views. Is there a skeptic in the house who wants to chime in with a little debunking?

— By on November 6, 2012, 8:36 PM PST

Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure