Bigfoot is seen walking in the background (circled) while a girl pets a moose at the Alaska Conservation Center earlier this winter. Officials at AWCC have been taking reports of Bigfoot sightings seriously.
Some call it Sasquatch. Some call it Yeti. Call it whatever you want, Bigfoot has been spotted in Portage.
According to officials at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, visitors have reported seeing strange footprints in the snow in the last few months. The prints are shaped similarly to human prints but, according to an e-mail from Kelly Miller, director of education for the center, they are "not at all human."
Bigfoot is seen holding a sign reading "April Fool." The joke was concocted by Mark Miller, founder of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
The e-mail says that "nearing dusk one evening last month a visitor reported seeing a dark furry creature lurking behind the wood bison. With the aid of a flashlight, we again saw the large footprints. ... We sensed that the shy creature was just curious and not a threat to our animals."
Recently, AWCC received a small package containing photos of a young girl petting moose at the center "with a tall dark furry creature with a wide gate and long swinging arms" walking in the background. The package had no return address.
Unsure whether the creature would be dangerous, the center posted a night guard for protection.
According to Mike Miller, the founder of AWCC, the creature reappeared on Monday morning and Miller had his camera ready.
"While taking the first picture, the creature held up a message of some sort, this seeming to be the only way the beast could communicate," Miller said. "Startled, I took (the) photo and ran."
Turns out, the whole thing was a hoax concocted by Miller.
"I thought that my wife Kelly and the staff would think it was one of my silliest (jokes)," he said. "Low and behold, everyone liked the idea because it was animal related, involved a harmless hoax and, of course, it would be presented on April Fools Day."
The idea began when Miller put together a video starring AWCC's carpenter helper Eric Long as Sasquatch.
"We worried as a couple of unsuspecting visitors were genuinely shaken," Miller said. "I (also) saw two pickup trucks coming in the center and worried that Eric could get shot."
The plan was to send the video to Channel 2 News, but Miller reconsidered after thinking about the possible consequences.
"It looked all too believable," he said. "We started to talk and worry about this harmless April Fools joke going too far and scaring people to death. ... We were worried that it could go bad, upset people and discredit AWCC. The more we worried, the more we thought up new ways to worry."
Instead, Miller sent the e-mail with photos as "proof."
Even the e-mail fooled a few of Miller's victims. He said that about 50 percent of the people who received it laughed it off, 30 percent wondered whether it was real, 15 percent believed it and 5 percent overreacted about the news, calling and e-mailing Miller with their concerns.
"It's all ok unless somebody gets hurt," Miller said. "It doesn't matter how scared anyone gets, but if one person gets hurt then it's all bad. ... It's that fine line with a practical joke."
Miller said that he already has plans for future hoaxes.
"We have another idea for next year," he said. "It sounds harmless now, but once we film, photograph and send it, we'll be worried again."
Hannahlee Allers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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