A “huge primate skull” was allegedly found in British Columbia by American YouTuber Coyote Peterson, according to social media (opens in new tab) threads for (opens in new tab) he shared on Thursday (July 7). In those posts, Peterson wrote that he had withheld the disclosure “for several weeks” from government officials and anyone else who might be “trying to get a break.” [sic] our” footage of the dig. However, experts told Live Science that Peterson’s claim is highly questionable and that exhuming and secretly transporting animal remains across national borders may be illegal.
“I’m sure these photos will be removed…as will probably the video by government or state park officials…but the skull is safe,” the posts read. “I don’t know if it’s what you all think it might be… but I can’t explain finding a primate skull in the Pac Northwest without being asked! What do you believe?” (There are no great primates currently living in North America—other than humans—and although stories of elusive forest-dwelling hominids such as Big foot have existed for centuries, there is no evidence to suggest that such creatures exist.)
Peterson, best known for his YouTube channel “Brave Wilderness” and hosting a series called “Coyote Peterson: Brave the Wild” on Animal Planet, also wrote that he would release footage of the skull to YouTube this weekend . But in the meantime, scientists have reacted to his alleged revelation on Twitter, questioning the credibility of the claim and suggesting that Peterson’s actions — as described in his tweets — may cross ethical and legal lines.
Jonathan Kolby, a National Geographic science consultant and explorer with expertise in the wildlife trade, wrote that (opens in new tab) “Smuggling any primate specimen into the United States, even if ‘found’ in the wild is illegal. @COYOTEPETERSON’s request for your information…. because @USFWS or @CBP may not be okay with this, even if think you’ve found Bigfoot….”
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Yinan Wang, a graduate student in the Geospatial Intelligence program at Johns Hopkins University, geologist and author of “50 State Fossils: A Guide for Aspiring Paleontologists (opens in new tab)” (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2018), noted that (opens in new tab) Peterson’s skull closely resembles a cast of a gorilla skull that is available for purchase on AliExpress. In the tweet, Wang includes a side-by-side comparison of the AliExpress product and the photos shared by Peterson.
“This is clearly a gorilla skull, as is clear from numerous anatomical details, and as verified by a list of experts,” Darren Naish, a UK vertebrate paleontologist and science communicator, told Live Science in an email. “Also, it appears to be identical to commercially available casts of a specific gorilla skull.”
“We can immediately shut down the idea that it could be a real skull of an unknown primate. No. It’s a cast of a known species,” Naish said.
In his posts, Peterson said he is still in possession of the skull and that the specimen is safe and awaiting examination by a primatologist. The skull’s “secure location” has not been specified, but if it is in the US, Peterson’s posts would suggest that he somehow smuggled the specimen across the US-Canada border.
If the skull were indeed real, doing so would be illegal, because shipping “biological specimens” and wildlife products or parts — such as bones — into the U.S. usually requires a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture— of, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and/or the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), according to US Customs and Border Protection (opens in new tab).
Additionally, “the movement of primate specimens is regulated by CITES” — an international treaty that aims to ensure that international trade in wild animal and plant specimens does not threaten the survival of those species, Naish told Live Science. “You could argue, then, that it’s very irresponsible to imply that a person can find a primate specimen in the wild and then just move it around.”
Latest news I’ve seen on Facebook and Insta: Coyote Peterson is claiming to have discovered the skull of a non-human primate in British Columbia. Talking about it like it’s true… pic.twitter.com/YPlmuiHdmMJuly 7, 2022
And if Peterson found the skull in a national park in Canada, his actions would be illegal under Canada’s National Parks Act and National Park General Regulations, according to Parks Canada (opens in new tab). These regulations state that it is illegal to remove any “natural objects” from a park without permission and that trafficking wildlife, dead or alive, from a park is also an offence. And in a scenario where the skull could be considered a fossil, laws in British Columbia prohibit individuals from collecting vertebrate fossils and require any “unusual or rare specimens” to be reported to the Royal BC Museum, a local museum or the Office of Fossil Management of BC. , states of the Government of British Columbia (opens in new tab).
On top of theoretical questions of legality, the “conspiracy” language in Peterson’s posts exacerbates the situation, Naish said.
“I’ve been told that Coyote Peterson does this type of thing quite often as a clicker and that this is a stunt done to promote an upcoming video,” Naish said. “Maybe this is meant to be taken as harmless fun. But in an age where anti-science sentiment and conspiracy culture are a serious problem, – again – it’s really not a good look. I think this stunt has failed. “
Originally published in Live Science.