A series of TikTok videos about the existence of “feral” or “wild” people, and the prevalence of cannibalism, in US national parks have gained attention on Twitter and Reddit. Is it true? Are there “feral” people, or even cannibals, in national parks in Tennessee or elsewhere?
Are there ‘feral’ people living in national parks?
Starting in early February, TikTok users @garcious, @rock_bottom_wren, @bonjourbecky and @petragalvan0, among others, started debating the existence of so-called “feral” people in US national parks, especially in Tennessee.
One claimed 1600 people go missing in national parks each year. Another attempted to quell fears by putting them into proportion: “plenty to be scared of in 2021. this ain’t it” (sic).
Another, who recorded her video from the mountains of Tennessee, discouraged claims of cannibalism. She argued that, because people in Tennessee are so used to eating “everything else”, there is no reason for them to eat each other.
The debate spilled out on to Twitter a week later. One user said the TikTok video led her to “go down the rabbit hole”.
After “reading about disappearances in the parks”, she felt “scared”.
How much truth is there to the stories?
For a piece on disappearances in national parks, Diana Brown (of Science: How Stuff Works) interviewed cryptozoologist David Paulides.
Paulides is a former police detective and author of Missing 411, a series about strange disappearances and the supposedly unlikely patterns that connect them.
He claims to have found “disturbing trends” in the reports and case files, as well as stories that “defied simple explanation”. For individual stories, read this How Stuff Works piece on 10 Mysterious Disappearances in National Parks.
However, rather than “feral” people in the national parks being to blame, Paulides puts it down to something else.
Who did it? Bigfoot, Wendigoes and/or ‘portals’
Ultimately, Paulides seems to place considerable stock in theories about Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, the folkloric creature purported to inhabit the forest of North America, without ever explicitly saying so.
Others have suggested that Wendigoes are responsible. Wendigoes, “gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones” (in the words of Basil Johnston, Ojibwe teacher and scholar), are mythical monsters associated with cannibalism.
Still others believe that portals, such as those that allow access to other dimensions, are to blame.
How many people have disappeared?
According to the accounts floating around on social media platforms in 2021, huge numbers of people disappear every year at the hands of wild people or cannibals inhabiting national parks.
This seems to be a distortion of the facts.
An Outside long-read quotes the number 1600, but as an estimate of the total who have “vanished”.
In the words of Vice’s summation: “Bigfoot and aliens have come to overshadow the government’s aging database of missing persons cold cases”.
Disappearances and public attention
Disappearances gain cultish online followings.
People use theories of the supernatural or paranormal as convenient catch-all explanations.
Similarly, there are quite possibly people living in national parks. After all, there are 423 national park sites in the US, covering 3.4% of its land. Many present opportunities to those who wish to live off the land and off-grid.
However, painting anyone who chooses to live in a national park as a cannibal, or even as “feral”, is not only insulting, but untrue.
Furthermore, it contributes little for those who genuinely want to investigate disappearances.
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