A research biologist by training, Ranae Holland is something of a scientific detective. A native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Holland was led to the Pacific Northwest by her drive to discover. Here, the University of Washington grad spent a decade studying Pacific fisheries and conducting field research with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other restoration ecology groups.
Then, her inquisitive nature took her down a new trail — Bigfoot’s. As the host of Animal Planet’s documentary series Finding Bigfoot, Holland has spent the past seven years crisscrossing the globe with a small team of Bigfoot seekers. Holland investigates leads, interviews witnesses and nails down evidence — or the lack thereof — of Bigfoot’s existence in diverse locales, from dark Texan lagoons to lush Brazilian rain forests.
So, does she believe in the big guy?
“As a scientist, I don’t believe in Bigfoot, because I rely on evidence,” she says. But as a child of the 1970s pop-culture era, she loves the idea of a beastly biped stomping through the backwoods. “My dad and I would read about Bigfoot sightings, and together we’d ask questions and wonder. He never told me what to think. . . . It very much set the tone for my work on the show.”
Finding Bigfoot isn’t about issuing an indisputable answer, Holland says. It’s about the thrill of the unknown. The show built a following with families because it champions independent thinking and a love of the outdoors. This thrills Holland, who regularly speaks at schools about her work. Serving as a role model for gay youth is a bonus, says Holland, who identifies as lesbian.
“I want kids to know that it doesn’t matter what an expert on TV thinks,” she says. “It’s up to you to do the research and push the boundaries of your own curiosity and intellect.”
As for Bigfoot, she hopes young naturalists never stop looking: “I like to think of Bigfoot as the protector of the woods.”
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always had a deep love for animals; I wanted to go to the jungle and study tigers.
What’s the most misunderstood part of your job?
That I’m a Bigfoot believer — I’m not. I’m a research biologist studying a mystery. Scientists are always questioning what we know.
What book saved you or changed your life?
Just before I started filming Finding Bigfoot, I read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. The show gets kids outside, and that’s worth all the months on the road.
If you could have one superhero power, what would it be and why?
I have great memories of the old cartoon series The Justice League. In preschool, I wanted to be Aquaman. These days, I’d love to be able to communicate with animals.
On a rainy Pacific Northwest morning, what gets you motivated and out of bed?
I love stopping at my favorite coffee shop — I like Espresso Vivace or Caffè Umbria — then heading out on a day hike. West Tiger peak no. 3 is a good one.
If you could dine with anyone, living or dead, whom would that be and why?
I’d love to meet John Muir, one of the earliest advocates of the national park system. His activism shaped modern environmentalism, and he’s a big inspiration for me.