Some of us may have heard about a cryptic primate stalking the Himalayan mountain ranges of Tibet. Traditionally, this primate is called the Yeti, but most of us know it as the ‘abominable snowman.’ This beast is usually described as being 8 feet tall, weighing 600 pounds, walking on two legs, and giving off blood curdling vocalizations. To add to its reputation, it is notorious for being aggressive, as documentation from native Tibetans indicates that it attacks livestock, yak, and even people. Footprints of this beast are said to be 6 inches, as depicted in photographs.
As with most cryptozoological creatures, many dismiss this beast as a legend since no one has ever found it. However, in 2013, this changed.
Scientists in Oxford and Lausanne were called to test 26 offered hair samples of an alleged yeti. Most that were tested matched known animals like horses and raccoons, but two hairs didn’t fit. One hair came from Ladakh of northern India, while the other came from Bhutan. Compared with samples from GenBank, an international storage of gene sequences, the hairs matched some of the same genetic code as that found in a jawbone of an extinct Pleistocene polar bear. Some scholars and scientists doubt the possibility that the hair comes from an animal as old as the Himalayan polar bear and say that these commonalities are just the misidentification with normal bears.
However, Oxford professor Bryan Sykes has his own theory. He believes that the bear is a hybrid of a brown and polar bear: “I think this bear, which nobody has seen alive, may still be there and may have quite a lot of polar bear in it. It may be some sort of hybrid and if its behavior is different from normal bears, which is what eyewitnesses report, then I think that may well be the source of the mystery and the source of the legend.”
Some label this theory as ludicrous at best: isn’t it impossible for a hybrid bear to exist? Or is it? Hybrids are rare in nature, but they do occur. And bears are no exception. Sykes’ theory can appeal to the Himalayan polar bear DNA found, as this animal did live at a time when brown bears and polar bears began to diverge from each other as different species. And while most of us believe this creature to be a hominid animal, 300-year-old manuscripts from Tibet say that the yeti was a variety of bear. An analysis of the famous 6-inch footprint has found that the footprint is not one, but two prints stepped into each other.
While we may be close to solving this mystery, there is still a long way to go. In the end, we will need bones to truly determine this beast’s identity.