Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 17th, 2008
How does a former editor of a south London newspaper find herself in the deep rainforest of Indonesia, studying one of the most discussed primate cryptids in the world? She decides one day that she is going to go there and study them, that’s how.
Cryptozoologists, hominologists, and Bigfoot researchers have been receiving important data through correspondence from Debbie Martyr in Sumatra for years.
Martyr’s decision to actually go to live in the midst of the rainforest follows the tradition of women placing themselves in the field to study great apes, popularized by Jane Goodall (chimpanzees), Dian Fossey (gorillas), and Birute Galdikas (orangutans). In a new phrase coined by Galdikas, these three women are now known as “Leakey’s Angels,” as they all responded to paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey’s call to study primates in their natural environments. Galdikas first used the term in her 1995 book, Reflections of Eden: My Years with the Orangutans of Borneo.
Debbie Martyr is following the same tradition, with a cryptozoological slant, and is thus definitely one of “Leakey’s Angels,” in my book.
I have been in touch with Debbie Martyr for over two decades. Due to my writings on the Orang Pendek in my 1989 Tom Slick book, Debbie contacted me to ask for a wee bit of help. The fact I was a full-time researcher and an adjunct professor at a university and had published about the Orang Pendek, she wrote me, would assist her in getting a visa as a journalist.
Martyr needed the visa to enter Indonesia to study the unknown primate. Such a letter had to be written to the government there, giving some historical justifications for research on these as-yet-undiscovered new primate species. Needless to say, I was delighted to write the document to get her into the field. I’m sure others wrote letters for her too, but if, in some small way, I got this fine researcher out there, I must say, I’m more than overjoyed by the results.
The field drawing of the Orang Pendek based on Martyr’s and others’ sightings.
Debbie Martyr, from the late 1980s onward, has been the most important single person actually in the field, involved in the pursuit of the Orang Pendek mystery. She has interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and has seen the animal personally on several occasions. Indeed, four months after Martyr traveled to the area mountains near the dominant Mt. Kerinci, in September 1989, she saw her first Orang Pendek. She then saw it again about three weeks later, and again, it was on Mount Tuju. As she recalled: “I had a camera in my hand but I froze, because I didn’t know what I was seeing.”
Another Martyr-data-generated drawing.
Naturally, as well, Debbie Martyr’s ability to talk to those who have had the experiences and send the information out has been significant.
Take for example a typical sighting that Martyr relayed out of the jungle to several of us in 2001, and the intriguing details within her casual report.
A forestry ranger named Aripin, who worked in the Sungai Penuh region of Mt. Kerinci in Jambi, Sumatra, and an Orang Pendek skeptic, reported he saw an Orang Pendek on January 25, 2001. According to Debbie Martyr, writing from on site with Project Orang Pendek, her sense of Aripin’s description was that “it can’t have been anything else” but an Orang Pendek.
The color reported by Aripin was described as consistent with the dark brown color morph of the Orang Pendek, whereas the second color morph has a honey-toned golden shade to the hair, which Debbie Martyr considers as only slightly more common.
During the period of this 2001 sighting, a young post-graduate student researching the behavioral ecology of siamang then told Martyr that he heard a (non-siamang) extended wailing call, which Martyr identified as “that of an Orang Pendek.”
Martyr wrote at the time:
What is interesting [about Aripin's sighting] is I am fairly certain the animal was not moving terrestrially this time but just above the ground. Our team did a good sweep of the area and found no footmarks where the animal was moving. From their description of the way it was moving, I think it was actually brachiating just above ground level, maybe a foot or so at most, not least because of the heavy movement of saplings, described by our research team.
Only Aripin got a reasonably good view of the animal, and that being partial and from behind (about 80 % of all informant reports are of the animals already in fast retreat and so the animals are seen momentarily from behind). The good thing is that Aripin is extremely levelheaded and cautious [as well as a past skeptic], which is also unusual for an Indonesian forestry ranger. He is very interested in animals and, of course, knows his bear from his pig-tail macaque.
But, believe it or not, Debbie Martyr, who will be 52 in 2008, is a bit of a skeptic herself, and not a “true believer” in everything hairy and unknown, as some might think. In an interview four years ago for Fortean Times, she told cryptozoologist Richard Freeman the following:
I don’t believe in the Abominable Snowman. My father was in Tibet and saw what he was told were Yeti tracks, but they turned out to be bear footprints. They are just too big. I think three-metre-tall (10ft) apes are too big. Maybe there has been exaggeration through fear. I don’t believe in things like Bigfoot. The Yeren in China might exist. Orang-utans lived in China in the Pleistocene. It could be speciation in the orang-utan. The forests of Assam might be a good place to look as well.Debbie Martyr, April 2004.
Needless to say, however, Debbie Martyr considers the Orang Pendek a factual reality, because, when all is said and done, she’s seen them with her own two eyes.