It’s been an exciting week in the world of Mythical Creatures That Do Not Exist. We’ve solved the question of what exactly a Yeti is. Well, if you must be really precise about it, what we have is the DNA breakdown from hairs that someone swears are from a Yeti. That’s just as good, right? We know what those hairs are.
That Yeti you saw while mountain climbing in the Himalayas in the 1970s? It was a bear. Probably. That’s the conclusion of Bryan Sykes, a genetics professor from the University of Oxford.
Sykes has been studying cryptids, which are creatures that some people believe exist without any real evidence to prove it. Cryptids include the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, the Chupacabra and the Mongolian Death Worm. Sykes’ Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project looks at the relationship between humans and human-like cryptids, such as the Yeti and the Sasquatch.
“One of the reasons I started this project is that Bigfoot, Yetis and Sasquatches have fallen out of the scope of science, and all of the work that’s been done has been in the realm of fantasy and very eccentric, and not worked on very vigorously,” Sykes told NBC News. “All my colleagues think I’m taking a risk in doing this, but I’m curious, and I am in a position to actually do something to answer the questions.”
See an ABC News report about Sykes’ work here:
While conducting this research, Sykes and his team invited “submissions of organic material from formally undescribed species, or ‘cryptids’, for the purpose of their species identification by genetic means.” In other words, Sykes asked the world to send him hair and skin and stuff from odd creatures for DNA testing.
Among the responses, Sykes received two separate animal hair samples purportedly from Yetis. One obtained 40 years ago came from a “Yeti mummy” in Ladakh, northern India. The other, obtained about 10 years ago, came from the Kingdom of Bhutan, 800 miles east of Ladakh in the eastern Himalayas.
Sykes subjected the hairs to DNA analysis and discovered something striking: they both shared the genetic signature of a jawbone from a 40,000-year-old polar bear from the Norwegian Arctic.
“One of the reasons I felt confident enough to go into this madcap area is I do not have to form an opinion,” Sykes told NBC News. ”I have got the hairs and I have tested the hairs. I cannot vouch for their authenticity, but there were witnesses, and the DNA cannot be made up or rigged. Those results are absolutely firm.”
Sykes’ working theory is that the hairs came from a Himalayan bear species we don’t know about – possibly a hybrid polar bear/brown bear. He thinks that bear subspecies might still exist in that area of the world. After all, as Sykes told the Associated Press, “I can’t imagine we managed to get samples from the only two ‘snow bears’ in the Himalayas.”
The findings of this study have not yet been peer-reviewed, but Sykes says he’ll get to that.
“The project is still going on and the idea is to publish these results in a scientific journal to bring it back into the realm of science,” he told NBC News.
For those of you who can’t get enough of All Things Yeti, the National Geographic Channel will air a two-hour special on November 17 called the Bigfoot Files, which will include Sykes’ work.
Yeti watchers are likely to be less than thrilled that this research does not prove the existence of the mysterious snow dweller. In fact, it’s a little unfortunate that the discovery of a potentially unknown hybrid bear species is only exciting to most of the world if it is, in fact, a Yeti.
Most likely it’s only a bear, folks – but that’s fascinating, too. Any large mammal that manages to hide its existence from prying human eyes in this day and age is a really interesting animal. Perhaps one day we’ll have an opportunity to know more about him.
Photo credit: Szumyk / Wikimedia Commons