| (AFP) -- An investigation has begun after sightings of a
legendary "ape-like" beast in the forests of central China.|
The mythical creature was apparently seen by six people, including a journalist, in the Shennongjia Nature Reserve in China's Hubei province yesterday afternoon, the Xinhua news agency reported today.
The reserve is well known as a place where local legend has it that the half-man, half-ape creatures live.
Dozens of sightings have been reported and China organised several high-profile searches for the unidentified animal through the 1980s and 1990s, but no hard evidence was found.
Several years ago, China's state press said scientists had unearthed hundreds of fossilised teeth of giant apes in the area, with some speculating that Bigfoot could be a descendant of such primates.
The latest sighting was described as a grayish "mythical ape-like animal", 1.65 metres tall with shoulder-length black hair.
One of the witnesses, Shang Zhengmin, a local reporter on the way back to Songbai town from an interview in Muyu town with five local people, said they saw the beast when they took a left turn along a mountain road.
He said the "ape-like" animal was moving fast on the road and by the time the vehicle finished the turn, the animal had disappeared.
He said the passengers got out of the vehicle and found several 30 centimetre-long footprints and newly broken branches in the jungle near the road.
They also claimed to have discovered a patch of "foul smelling urine-like liquid" on the road where the creature was seen.
Xinhua said an investigation was underway.
Theories abound about the mythical creature, with some scientists speculating that if it exists, it may be an unknown primate, some arguing that it may be a bear or a monkey and others suggesting it could be a missing evolutionary link between ape and human.