The Yeti has remained one of the most enduring myths of modern times. Also known as the Bigfoot or Abominable Snowman, many expeditions have been launched to find it. But all people have managed to find are inconclusive remains and footprints, and occasionally the odd hazy picture of a furry beast, many of which turned out to be hoaxes. Despite stories of encounters by mountaineers and locals, no one has ever been able to establish the existence of a giant half man-half ape roaming the Himalayan mountains.
However, a new study claims that the ‘Yeti’ might in fact exist. Just not in the way people imagined. The mythical animal could be the descendant of an ancient polar bear. According to those associated with this study, Yetis are hybrids or crosses between polar bears and brown bears.
The study was conducted by a geneticist from University of Oxford, Professor Bryan Sykes on two ‘yeti’ hair samples. One of the samples came from the remains of a creature that was shot by a hunter about 40 years ago in the Ladakh region. The hunter apparently kept the remains of the animal because he found the animal unusual and alarming. The other sample was found in the form of a single hair in a bamboo forest in Bhutan—about 1,280 km east of the site where the Ladakhi sample came from—by an expedition of filmmakers about ten years ago. Both hair samples were brownish-red in colour.
Sykes put both the samples through DNA tests. He then compared the results to other animals’ genomes stored in the GenBank, which maintains a database of all published DNA sequences. Both samples were found to have a 100-per cent match with a sample from an ancient polar bear jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway. This particular specimen dates back at least 40,000 years, perhaps as far back as 120,000 years, which is also considered the period when the brown bear and polar bear started separating as species.
There are only three known species of bears in the Himalayas—the sloth bear, brown bear and the Asiatic black bear. Sykes believes that the two hair samples belong to creatures that are descendants of crosses between ancient polar bears and brown bears. And because they were collected from animals that were recently alive, the hybrids are likely to be prowling in the Himalayas as you read this.