This Is Not The Yeti You’re Looking For

By Gemma Tarlach | November 28, 2017 6:00 pm
Photo caption here. (Credit XXXX)

A partial femur collected from a cave in Tibet allegedly belonged to a yeti, the infamous cryptid also known as the abominable snowman. DNA tests showed it was from a Tibetan brown bear. (Credit Icon Films Ltd.)

Researchers took another crack at hair, bone and other samples allegedly from the yeti, or abominable snowman, of the Himalayas. The analysis was the most sophisticated to date but — spoiler alert — the results won’t thrill cryptozoology fans. The study did reveal, however, an evolutionary plot twist of scientific significance.

The wild man of the snows, the glacier spirit, the abominable snowman…the yeti. The mysterious creature purported to dwell in the mountains of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan has captured human imagination for centuries. Long before Western explorers claimed to have spotted its tracks through deep snow, local residents have revered and sometimes feared the mythic beast.

And occasionally, locals and foreign interlopers alike have collected what they believed to be physical proof of the yeti’s existence: a few hairs, a partial bone, a scrap of scalp, even feces.

With the advent of DNA analysis, researchers began testing these alleged yeti bits with mixed results. In 2014, for example, scientists found that two samples allegedly from an “anomalous primate,” aka the yeti, were genetically most similar to ancient DNA retrieved from the remains of a 40,000-year-old polar bear. The conclusion stirred up a bit of excitement, leading to the suggestion that the yeti was some sort of archaic bear hybrid or previously unidentified species.

Later that same year, a second team analyzing some of the same material reported it was closest genetically to the Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus), an animal native to the areas in which the samples were collected. In other words, the simplest explanation is usually the most likely. Occam’s Razor and all that.

The Himalayan brown bear has long been associated with Yeti lore by local populations, and genetic analysis, er, bears out that link. (Credit Abdullah Khan, Snow Leopard Foundation)

The Himalayan brown bear has long been associated with yeti lore by local populations, and recent genetic analysis, er, bears out that link. (Credit Abdullah Khan, Snow Leopard Foundation)

The Evidence Brought To Bear

But you know how we humans are. We want to believe. So interest in the yeti has persisted both in pop culture and among researchers.

Published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, a new study looked at 24 samples, half collected during a Himalayan brown bear study in Pakistan, three from other bears and nine allegedly from yeti. (Although one of the yeti samples turned out to be from a dog. Woof.)

The team performed a more sophisticated analysis on the bear and “yeti” samples than previous studies did, obtaining complete mitogenomes (from maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA) rather than short sequences.

The results: the “yeti” samples that weren’t from a dog were all from bears, specifically Asian black bears, Himalayan brown bears and Tibetan brown bears. No sign of an anomalous primate here, folks.

It is absolutely abominable that I would include this image in a post about serious scientific inquiry regarding the Yeti. You're welcome. (Credit Rankin/Bass Productions)

It is absolutely abominable that I would include this image in a post about serious scientific inquiry regarding the yeti. You’re welcome. (Credit Rankin/Bass Productions)

Evolutionary Plot Twist

While the results will likely disappoint anyone hoping for proof of a wild man-ape-bear creature roaming the mountainous region, the study does reveal a surprise about the Himalayan brown bear and bear evolution in general, which has been a tricky thing to map out due to hybridization in the wild and a general scarcity of data.

The mitogenomes generated in the study show that the Himalayan brown bear branched off on its own from the rest of the bear family tree much earlier than thought: about 650,000 years ago.

Although the Himalayan brown bear’s territory is geographically close to that of the Tibetan brown bear, the two brown bear subspecies are not close genetically. The Tibetan brown bear is actually closer kin to Eurasian and American brown bears.

According to the new research, Himalayan brown bears are a relic population that was likely isolated during a period of glaciation. Cut off from other bear populations, the animals went their own way genetically. Other brown bear populations moved into the Himalayas thousands of years later, but the difficult terrain kept the Himalayan subspecies isolated.

The discovery has important implications for conservation of the Himalayan relic subspecies, which is critically endangered.

It’s worth noting, in the interest of full disclosure and all, that both the controversial 2014 study and today’s research received funding (and some of the samples) from Icon Film Company, an outfit that has stoked public interest in the yeti with a couple programs on the topic.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
  • OWilson

    Humans have had this desire to believe in spirits, ghosts, aliens, UFOs, fairies, elves, angels and the usual line up of Loch Ness Monsters, Yeti and Sasquatches, forever.

    There’s a buck to be made in it too.

    You could finish up living like a God yourself in your own Palace, in your own Country, the Vatican, surrounded by your worshipers :)

    Scientific debunking doesn’t help either. The True Believers always see that as a conspiracy to cover up the Truth!

    • StanChaz

      Perhaps, just perhaps, and despite your religious faith in all things scientific, there are more things in heaven and earth, dear OWilson, than are dreamt of in your philosophy and science.
      In fact, the true enemy of science and scientific progress is smug certainty, such as you seem to exhibit.

      • OWilson

        There’s truth and myth!

        Some folks are more comfortable with myths.

        The Pope talks to God every day!

        You gets your 72 virgins if you blow yourself up!

        Hillary couldn’t lose, so Trump must be a Russian Spy! :)

  • Uncle Al

    The “yeti” is in fact the apocryphal man-bear-pig (50% man, 50% bear, 50% pig) aka Al Gore.

    Genotype the Shroud of Turin, giggle.

    • OWilson

      Al Gore’s scam, is just the latest to dupe the rubes!

      • CR

        Yes, all those intellectuals, college graduates, scientists, and civic and national leadership around the planet, all rubes. The mouth-breathing, race-hating, angry mobs frothing at the mouth who worship a demented lying con artist named Trump – all too smart to fall for science!

        • OWilson

          We passed Al’s “Tipping Points” years ago.

          Shouldn’t you folks all be in the Ark looking for a place to land?

          (Or maybe we actually ARE all casualties of your Sixth Great Extinction, and that credit card bill I got the other day doesn’t really need to be paid!

          I any event can we assume you are not exactly a fan of your duly elected President?

          Forget your rioting, looting, cop car burning, Mom and Pop neighborhood store ransacking, and street corner group hugs and try again in four years!

          (That’s how civilized societies work!) :)

          • Chuck Johnston

            Trump’s policies did not take effect until September. Everything you are praising him for is the result of decisions made by the previous administration. You need to fact check what you say before you say it.

          • OWilson

            That’s a great concept!

            I credit George Washington, myself1

            But whatever myths get you losers through the night! :)

      • StanChaz

        No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public? Dupe the Rubes?
        Exactly, that how we wound up with an incompetant buffoon like Trump as President.

        • OWilson

          Build any World Class skyscrapers, on your way to collect your welfare cheque today?

          Dispose of 17 of the best GOP rivals, and the top two the Democrats could offer?

          Got he Unemployent rate down to a 17 year low?

          Stock Market to an all time high?

          Drain the V.A. Swamp?

          Defied the Nobel winning NYT Economist Paul Krugman by doing what Krudman said was impossible, getting the GDP up over 3%?

          Draining the Swamp in Hollywood, Washington, and the Fake News Media, surely is better than worshipping Slick Willy and the missus?

          Without Trump (and Donna Brazille telling the truth about the Clinton Criminal Enterprise) none of these damaged women would have dared come forward!

          Same old, same old lies.

          G.W. Bush graduated from Harvard and Yale, flew the latest jet planes, solo, Governed second most populous State in the union for two terms.

          Gore was a failed divinity student who got into politics through his famous father.

          Guess who they said was dumb!?


      • drchuck1

        you are quite an asshole, enough said.

    • StanChaz

      Just like Trump, Uncle Al smugly repeats his stale insults and pitiful lies with the false expectation that repetition will somehow make them true. Ain’t necessarily so!
      In fact, if anyone fits your description to a T it’s Trump himself.

    • Florida Limey

      That’s a South Park episode — a good one. “Let’s be cereal!”

  • Florida Limey

    Religion and nationalism, capitalism, and Trump’s fitness to be President, are all shared myths amongst believers. God is an imaginary friend for adults. Only through science can provable truth be found.

    So another commonly shared myth, that of the Yeti, is being explained as large bear sightings. Yet many will persist in their faith and superstition regardless.

  • Dennis Spirgen

    Conservatives now invade every website, turning every article into a vehicle for an anti-liberal screed. Tiresome.

  • Chuck Johnston

    There are still creatures that are yet to be discovered. It happens often enough to keep my hopes up, but I also believe that almost every sighting of big foot and/or yeti’s can be attributed to misidentified bear sightings.

  • mythusmage

    Do we have to be scared?


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