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Strange creatures, or ‘cryptids’ as they are called, are an essential part of legends and folklores. Some of them seem to have been exaggerations, while some still haunt us for explanations since their existence has been well documented even though tangible evidence has been lacking.

People all over the world report seeing strange creatures even today, whether they are delusions, figments of fanciful imagination or real, one can’t be sure. But once in a while we do come across a story that is interesting enough and even though it might seem bizarre, has an interesting ‘ring’ of truth to it in our minds. The story of Zana is such a tale, as it not only had witnesses but serious researchers have verified her existence and believe it to be true.

In a remote village in Abkhazia, a place in Georgia in Russia, a wild woman was caught in the 1850s. She was captured from the mountains and acted quite violently at first and was put in a cage. Her appearance was scary and strange. She had red hair all over her body and was very muscular. The hair on her head was the same colour but much longer. She was called ‘Zana’ and spent several years in a cage where her captors tossed food to her, which she ate hungrily.

Later, she seemed to calm down and was let out of the cage in which she dug a shallow hole for herself and slept there. Soon after she was let outside, she roamed the area but came back to the same place where she got her food from. Her master then trained her to do some chores. This she did when she was in the possession of a nobleman by the name of Edgi Ganaba. He kept her on his estate in a village called Tkhina. She did not like heated rooms and slept outside under an awning, where she had made a hole for herself.

The villagers all knew about her and whenever they tried to tease her, she howled fiercely and bared her teeth. But surprisingly, she was obedient to her master and even pulled off his leather boots. Researchers Professor Alexander Mashkovtsev, a zoologist and Boris Proshnev, went to the village and carried out much research on Zana. This information regarding her appearance, behaviour, etc., has been borrowed from the writings of Boris Proshnev in The Struggle for Troglodytes.

It is said that though she lived among the people for so many decades, she never learned to speak. She only muttered and made gestures but carried out commands made by her master and did chores like carrying huge sacks of grain weighing 80 kilos! She climbed trees and ran faster than a horse. And loved to eat grapes. The ladies in Ganaba’s household were scared of her, but she never attacked or harmed any children.

The researchers who went to the village in the 1960s even met an old man who was a hundred and five years old who remembered seeing Zana and they even met one of her grandchildren! Yes, strangely she had human babies. In fact, she was buried on Ganaba’s estate but even though many places were dug in the area, they did not find her remains. But the grave of one of her sons was found as it was marked, and the skeleton dug up looked slightly different from a normal human skull.

According to the villagers, her children looked perfectly human except for dark skin and large facial features, and lead normal lives except the fact that they were extremely powerful physically and one of her grandsons named Shalikula, even lifted a chair with a man sitting in it with his bare teeth! But Zana was pretty animal-like in her ways so the villagers raised her children. Zana died in 1890 but though she was buried on the estate, her grave was unmarked.

It is said that Zana was an Almas, which is the Mongolian term given to a wild species of hominid ape-like people who are supposed to live in the mountains of some regions in the world. In 1941, after the Germans invaded Russia, a ‘wild man’ was captured by their army. This man too like Zana was covered with dark hair but appeared to be human and could not speak.

The captors thought he was a German spy and later shot him. The first written account of such species can be traced back to 1420 by Hans Schiiberger, he was taken captive by the Mongols and travelled all through the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia. He wrote in a journal while he was imprisoned: “In the mountains themselves live wild people, who have nothing in common with other human beings, a pelt covers the entire body of these creatures only the hands and face are free of hair. They run around in the hills like animals and eat foliage and grass, whatever they can find.”

He added that the lord of the territory presented them with a couple of these forest people and three untamed horses which were the size of donkeys and other animals the likes of which he had not seen in Germany.

Then in 1963, a Russian paediatrician Ivan Ivlov saw an entire family of Almas on a mountain slope. Then in 2003, mountain climber Sergey Semenov found the foot and leg of an unknown species in the Altai Mountains, a range that runs through Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The bones were said to be several thousands of years old but the creature could not be identified. According to the local people who live in these mountains, they do not think that these creatures are much different than humans. They just consider them to be “wild people” who live in the mountains and forests. In fact, some of the children often say that they meet the children of the wild people and they never do any harm. Zana and others like her remain a mystery, whether living or dead!