Jasper Copping — Telegraph.co.uk Oct 17, 2013
Now, a British scientist may have finally solved the riddle of the yeti, the fabled apelike creature said to inhabit the upper ranges of the Himalayas.
Research by Professor Bryan Sykes, a geneticist from the University of Oxford, has not only uncovered a genetic match between samples thought to come from the elusive creature and another that lived more than 40,000 years ago, but also suggests the beast is still roaming the mountains.
Professor Sykes conducted DNA tests on hairs from two unidentified animals, one found in the western Himalayan region of Ladakh, in northern India, and the other from Bhutan, 800 miles east.
The results were then compared with other animals’ genomes stored on a database of all published DNA sequences. Professor Sykes found a 100 per cent match with a sample from an ancient polar bear jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway.
That specimen dates back at least 40,000 years ago, and probably as far back as 120,000 years – a time when the polar bear and the closely related brown bear were separating as different species.
Professor Sykes believes that the animals are hybrids – crosses between polar bears and brown bears. Because the newly identified samples are from creatures which are recently alive, he thinks the hybrids are still living in the Himalayas.
The sample from Ladakh came from the mummified remains of a creature shot by a hunter around 40 years ago. He considered the animal so unusual, and so alarming, he kept some of its remains. A sample of the hair was passed to Professor Sykes by a French mountaineer who was given it by the hunter around a decade ago. The second sample was in the form of a single hair, found in a bamboo forest by an expedition of filmmakers, also around ten years ago.
Professor Sykes added: “This is a species that hasn’t been recorded for 40,000 years. Now, we know one of these was walking around ten years ago. And what’s interesting is that we have found this type of animal at both ends of the Himalayas. If one were to go back, there would be others still there.”
Both hairs were brownish in colour. The Ladakh remains suggested a creature that would have been around 5ft tall – shorter than the towering figure of mythology. However, Professor Sykes suggested the animal could have displayed other characteristics which would have fitted with the yeti myth.
He added: “The fact that the hunter, who had great experience of bears, thought this one was in some way unusual and was frightened of it, makes me wonder if this species of bear might behave differently. Maybe it is more aggressive, more dangerous or is more bipedal than other bears.”
Reports of the yeti, also known as the ‘Abominable Snowman’, have been recorded for centuries, with locals and explorers claiming to have come face-to-face with the beast. A photograph of a yeti footprint, taken by British climber Eric Shipton at the base of Everest in 1951, sparked global interest in it.
Professor Sykes said there were only three known species of bears in the area: sloth bears, brown bears and the Asiatic black bears.
His new research, which has been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed science journal, will feature in a new Channel 4 documentary series, Bigfoot Files, which starts on Sunday.
Professor Sykes added: “There’s more work to be done on interpreting the results. I don’t think it means there are ancient polar bears wandering around the Himalayas. But we can speculate on what the possible explanation might be. It could mean there is a sub species of brown bear in the High Himalayas descended from the bear that was the ancestor of the polar bear. Or it could mean there has been more recent hybridisation between the brown bear and the descendant of the ancient polar bear.”
As well as being closely related, brown bears and polar bears are known to interbreed when their territories overlap.
The Abominable Snowman: a history
– Alexander the Great is said to have coveted a yeti during his conquest of the Indus Valley in 326 BC, but locals told him the creatures could not survive at the low altitudes.
– In 1925, a N.A. Tombazi, a photographer and member of the Royal Geographical Society provided one of the clearest descriptions, of a “figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright … It showed up dark against the snow, and as far as I could make out, wore no clothes.”
- Heinrich Himmler is said to have had an interest in finding the creature, with Ernst Schaefer, a hunter and zoologist, sent out to Tibet investigate.
– During the Second World War, Sławomir Rawicz, a Polish soldier, who claims he escaped from a Siberian gulag and walked across the Himalayas to India, said his path was blocked, at one point, by two yetis.
– Photographs published in 1951 of several large footprints, taken by Eric Shipton, a respected mountaineer, sparked renewed interest, though critics claim the prints were distorted by melting snow.
– Two years later, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reported seeing large footprints while scaling Mount Everest. Hillary later mounted an expedition in search of the creature, which he said his father had once seen. He later became more sceptical as to its existence.
– After one expedition, James Stewart, the actor, is said to have helped smuggle parts of the supposed remains of a yeti from India to London, by concealing them in his luggage
– In 1986, Reinhold Messner, a celebrated mountaineer, claimed to have had a face-to-face encounter with a yeti and to have killed one.