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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 19:05 GMT 20:05 UK
'Bigfoot' spotted in China
Investigations are underway in the forests of central China after an alleged sighting of a 1.65 metres (5.4 feet) tall unidentified ape-like beast, Xinhua news agency has reported.

Six witnesses, including a journalist, described seeing a grey coloured "ape-like animal" with shoulder-length black hair moving along a road through the reserve at high speed.

The mystery creature was spotted in Shennongjia Nature Reserve about 1,200 kilometres (670 miles) south-west of the capital Beijing, in China's Hubei province, on Sunday.

Legend has it that the reserve is home to China's very own Bigfoot - a mythical half man, half ape creature - with hundreds of sightings being reported over the years.

Footprints and urine

Shang Zhengmin, a local radio journalist, was travelling through the nature reserve in a jeep with five other local residents as he returned to Songbai town after conducting an interview in Muyu town.

A similar creature is alleged to inhabit the forests of North America

He said the group had taken a left turn along one of the mountain tracks when they saw the animal moving at high speed along the road.

However, by the time the car finished making its turn the creature had disappeared.

The group stopped their vehicle and got out to investigate further, whereupon they found a number of 30 centimetre (12 inch) long footprints and freshly broken branches in the nearby jungle vegetation.

They also say that they found a three metre long patch of "foul smelling urine-like liquid" on the road.

The witnesses reported what they had seen to local government officials and a full investigation is now underway, according to Xinhua.

Over the years hundreds of local people have reported seeing the creature in the Shennongjia reserve, sparking off a number of high-profile expeditions during the 1980s and 90s in the hunt for scientific evidence.

No solid basis for the legend has so far been found, although China's state press agency did announce several years ago that hundreds of fossilised teeth from giant apes had been uncovered nearby.

Some speculate that if the ape-like creature does exist it could be descended from the large apes, while others suggest that it may even be a missing evolutionary link between apes and humans.

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