Are These the Real Animals Behind the Legends of the Yeti?

Fagjun | Published 2017-12-07 08:11

Scientists have basically thrown water over the flames sustaining the legends surrounding the Yeti by performing DNA analysis on supposed Yeti samples.

An illustration of an encounter with a Yeti [Image by Ed Vebell/Getty Images]



The mystery of the Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman, is an enduring one. In Nepal and Tibet, there are stories of a large, human-like beast that stalks the snow-covered mountains of the Himalayas. Of course, stories of the Yeti aren’t confined to the Himalayas alone. The fur-covered ape-like creature has also captured the imaginations of people far from Nepal and Tibet. Visitors to the Himalayas have reported seeing strange tracks in the snow and even odd creatures in the slopes, and they return home thinking they just had a brush with the Abominable Snowman.


What, then, is this mythological figure? A strange, deformed ape? A hybrid animal? A friendly but misunderstood fellow banished from the monster world in Monsters, Inc? Hair, teeth, fur, and feces samples said to belong to the Yeti are evidence that the creature is actually something quite mundane.

Yeti Samples

This leg bone is one of the eight samples found to belong to a bear, not a mythological creature. [Photo by Icon Films Ltd]



A new study claims that the legend of the Yeti is actually based on creatures that do roam the Himalayas, but are nothing mythological--bears. Eight of the nine “Yeti” samples analyzed by researchers have turned out to actually belong to the Himalayan and Tibetan species of brown bear and the Asian black bear. The remaining one sample actually belonged to a domestic dog, not a snowy, shadowy creature of myth.


The nine samples were from private collections and museums. The tooth that turned out to be a dog’s came from a stuffed specimen that was supposedly a Yeti. A piece of skin, meanwhile, was taken from hand that supposedly belonged to a Yeti and is now a religious relic in a monastery.


This hair sample was believed to have belonged to a Yeti that a Jesuit priest supposedly encountered in the 1950s.



Charlotte Lindqvist, head of the research team, had once been part of a team that discovered a 120,000-year-old polar bear jaw bone near Norway in 2004. In 2014, Lindqvist discovered that her decade-old work was cited in a now-controversial study that lumped that jaw bone in with Yeti remains.


That 2014 study claimed that fur samples from Bhutan and India, as well as the ancient jaw bone, may indicate that the Yeti is a hybrid between a polar bear and a brown bear. The study also claimed that the hybrid animal may still be alive somewhere in the Himalayas. Lindqvist was understandably skeptical of the findings, because for one thing, what would a polar bear be doing in the Himalayas?

An Enduring Legend

A Himalayan brown bear [Photo by Usman Ghani]



Thus, Lindqvist analyzed 24 samples from Asian bears and supposed Yetis, though she and her team weren’t able to obtain the samples used in the 2014 study. The DNA analysis of the nine samples didn’t show that the Yeti is some kind of unknown creature or a strange hybrid, but rather animals that are known to roam the same area that have Yeti sightings.


Not only did the team discover the Yeti’s real origins, but they also managed to learn more about the evolutionary history of the bears in the Himalayas. They discovered that Tibetan brown bears are actually the close relatives of European and North American brown bears. Himalayan brown bears, which are critically endangered, are from an older lineage that split from the other brown bear species about 650,000 years ago, during an ice age glaciation period.


Still, even with these findings, the researchers admit that the legend of the Yeti will probably endure.

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