A “large primate skull” was found in British Columbia by American YouTuber Coyote Peterson, according to social media (opens in a new tab) posts (opens in a new tab) he shared on Thursday (July 7). In those messages, Peterson wrote that he had hidden the discovery “for several weeks” from government officials and anyone else who might “try to stop [sic] our footage” of the excavation. However, experts told Live Science that Peterson’s claim is highly suspect and that secretly extracting and transporting animal remains across national borders may be illegal.
“I’m sure these photos will be deleted…as will the video by government or state park officials…but the skull is safe,” the messages read. “I don’t know if this is what you all think it might be…but I can’t explain the discovery of a primate skull in the Pac Northwest without asking me! What do you believe in?” (There are no large primates currently living in North America – other than humans – and although the elusive stories of forest-dwelling hominids such as big foot have persisted for centuries, there is no evidence to suggest such creatures exist.)
Peterson, best known for his “Brave Wilderness” YouTube channel and for hosting a series called “Coyote Peterson: Brave the Wild” on Animal Planet, also wrote that he would be posting images of the skull to YouTube this weekend. But in the meantime, scientists have reacted to his alleged discovery on Twitter, questioning the credibility of the claim and suggesting that Peterson’s actions – as described in his posts – could cross ethical and legal lines.
Jonathan Kolby, Scientific Consultant and National Geographic Explorer with expertise in wildlife trade, wrote that (opens in a new tab) “Smuggling primate specimens into the US, even if ‘found’ in the wild, is illegal. Ping @COYOTEPETERSON for your information…because @USFWS or @CBP might not agree with that, even if you think you’ve found Bigfoot…”
Related: Ancient surgical implant or fake of modern times? The skull from Peru leaves the mystery.
Yinan Wang, graduate student in the Geospatial Intelligence program at Johns Hopkins University, geologist and author of “The 50 State Fossils: A Guide for Budding Paleontologists (opens in a new tab)” (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2018), noted that (opens in a new tab) Peterson’s skull looks a lot like a cast of a gorilla skull available for purchase on AliExpress. In the tweet, Wang includes a side-by-side comparison of the AliExpress product and photos shared by Peterson.
“This is definitely a gorilla skull, as evidenced by numerous anatomical details and as verified by a list of experts,” said Darren Naish, a vertebrate paleontologist and science communicator in the UK. , to Live Science in an email. “Furthermore, it appears to be identical to commercially available casts of a specific gorilla skull.”
“We can immediately rule out the idea that this could be a real skull of an unknown primate. No. It’s a cast of a known species,” Naish said.
In his messages, Peterson said he was still in possession of the skull and the specimen was safe and awaiting examination by a primatologist. The “secure location” of the skull is not specified, but if it is in the United States, Peterson’s messages would suggest that he somehow smuggled the specimen to across the Canada-US border.
If the skull were indeed genuine, such an act would be illegal, as transporting “biological specimens” and wildlife products or parts – such as bones – into the United States generally requires clearances from the United States Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and/or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), as United States Customs and Border Protection (opens in a new tab).
In addition, “the movement of primate specimens is regulated by CITES” – an international treaty aimed at ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of these species, Naish told Live. Science. “You could then say it’s very irresponsible to suggest that a person might find a primate specimen in the wild and then just move it.”
Latest news I saw on Facebook and Insta: Coyote Peterson claims to have discovered the skull of a non-human primate in British Columbia. Talk about it like it’s for real… pic.twitter.com/YPlmuiHdmMJuly 7, 2022
And if Peterson found the skull in a national park in Canada, his actions would be illegal under the Canada National Parks Act and National Parks General Regulations, according to Parks Canada (opens in a new tab). These regulations state that it is illegal to remove “natural objects” from a park without a permit, and that trafficking wildlife, alive or dead, from a park is also an offence. And in a scenario where the skull could be considered a fossil, British Columbia laws prohibit individuals from collecting vertebrate fossils and require any “unusual or rare specimens” to be reported to the Royal BC Museum, a museum locally or at the BC Fossil Management Office. , the government of British Columbia declares (opens in a new tab).
In addition to theoretical questions of legality, the “conspiratorial” language in Peterson’s posts makes the situation worse, Naish said.
“I was told that Coyote Peterson does this stuff quite often as a clickbait, and it was a stunt done to promote an upcoming video,” Naish said. “Maybe it’s meant to be considered harmless fun. But in a time when anti-scientific sentiments and conspiracy culture are a serious issue, it really isn’t pretty. I think this stunt s turned against him.”
Originally posted on Live Science.