Reporter Kurt Van der Dussen writes in the Indiana Hoosier Times about a strange ape-like creature sighted along Chapel Hill Road in remote Polk Township near Hoosier National Forest.

The sighting occurred at the house of Rick Deckard and his sister, Sue Taylor, which is west of the entrance to the Hardin Ridge Recreation Area. Their friends Dale Moore and Penny Howell had just driven up when they all spotted the creature about 200 feet away from them at the back of the Deckard property.

They described it as standing in a sort of crouch on its rear legs, with its long front legs hanging down in front. It was covered in long black hair, and they estimated its height to be around 5 feet and its weight at 200 pounds or more.

When the creature saw them, it turned and moved away, heading down the slope and into the woods. Howell saw a patch of white fur atop its head and down its neck. It left tracks in the damp clay that remained visible for several days. They were about 4-by-5 inches, with four toe impressions and a heel mark. Since it was four-toed rather than five-toed, it couldn?t have been a bear.

The prints were similar to cougar tracks, except that many of the toeprints made deep punctures in the clay, apparently from its long claws. In one print, three claws had cut deep incisions into the ground that were 1 ? inches long. Wildlife biologist Jim Mitchell says that cougars don?t leave claw marks when they walk.

People walking in the same area didn?t leave prints in the clay, despite the fact that the creature?s tracks were pressed a half-inch or more into it. In some spots its feet had stripped the grass off the clay. The prints were more than twice the size of one left by Deckard?s German shepherd.

Moore and Howell say the dog was in the back yard when they spotted the creature. Although the dog was only a few feet away, it didn?t bark but stood still instead. ?It was twice as big as that dog,? Howell says. ?I?ve never seen an animal like that in my life?It?s got me scared. What if it grabbed a kid and dragged him down into the woods?? Moore says it looked and walked like a bear. But Howell says its appearance and movements were more ?apelike.?

Christi Kline, who works at the nearby Hardin Ridge Store, says the sighting was the third she?s heard about in the past six months to a year, all describing the same animal.She says a woman described seeing it at the Hardin Ridge area entrance and it didn?t seem to show any fear or run away. She also says that one night a delivery man came into the store shaking with fear and saying he had just seen ?Bigfoot.? ?We know it?s not Bigfoot, but whatever it was, it scared him,? she says.

State conservation officer Marlin Dodge says a Bigfoot sighting wouldn?t be unusual.?I?ve had a lot of complaints over the years on a Bigfoot, a lot of ?em in that area,? he says.

Big cats are in the area as well–Paynetown property manager Bruce Whiting says black panther sightings have been reported ?over around Fairfax.?

At the Bloomington Fish and Wildlife Division office, wildlife biologists Mitchell and Gary Langell studied a sketch of the footprint. They are not ruling out the possibility that the creature may be an escaped exotic animal. But Deckard dismisses this. ?I?m a bow hunter,? he says. ?I know a bear when I see one. I know a panther when I see one. This isn?t a bear or a panther. We?ve got a panther back there, too, but this is not a panther. It walks on its rear legs.?

Mitchell and Langell say an escaped ape of some sort might be the best explanation. Indiana University anthropologist Dick Adams originally thought an ape was a strong possibility. ?It very well could be; this sounds very much like an orang,? he said, referring to an orangutan, which is native to Borneo and Sumatra. But the black hair of the creature didn?t match the reddish-brown hair of an orangutan.

Dodge disputes the ape theory. ?This doesn?t sound like an ape to me,? he says. ?The only ape I know of that would weigh 200 pounds is a gorilla.?

Adams and his son Scott went to the site, where at least two of the tracks had survived a night of heavy rains. They took many photos and poured plaster casts. Adams now says, ?After seeing the prints, I would say on first thought that it is not an ape. We can safely say it was not a Bigfoot.?

Scott Adams climbed down a ravine to a creek and found two places with five possible footprints from the animal, including one with claw marks. Finding these other tracks, especially on a steep, slick hillside, made them rule out a hoax.

Howell?s description of a white patch of fur on the animal?s head and back neck made Adams decide it wasn?t an American black bear, which also has five toes, not four. He says it?s possible the animal is an ?exotic? pet bear that escaped. ?We just don?t have enough evidence at this point,? he says. ?Let?s hope there?s more sightings.?

Exotic animals have been found in the area before. Last year, a piranha was caught in Griffy Lake, a 12-foot python that had escaped its owner was found in Yellowwood State Forest, and a monitor lizard native to the South Pacific was spotted and chased for several hours at Lake Lemon. ?I?ve taken all kinds of animals out in this county,? Dodge says. ?I?ve taken bears, cougars, lions,? all of them escaped from their owners.

Mitchell is urging people in the area not to shoot the animal if they spot it. If it did turn out to be a kid carrying out a hoax, it would be tragic. He says, ?You can?t take back a bullet.?

Kevin Burrin, another area resident, says he sighted a similar animal in the same area a decade ago. It occurred while he was camping with three other people in the Hardin Ridge area by Blackwell Lake. ?While walking around the lake, I saw an animal similar to what was described … only it appeared to me to be taller than five feet,? he says. ?It quickly disappeared into the woods when I moved toward it to get a better look. I couldn?t find any tracks, but it did run off upright with a gait unlike any I have ever seen.?

?We?ll go down there and take a look and see what we come up with,? Dodge says. ?I don?t know what it is.?

To investigate further, read ?Mysterious America? by Loren Coleman, click here.

To learn more,click here.

To see a photo of one of the footprints, click here.

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