Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Hair samples said to be from Yetis are from bears

Assiduous followers of this blog will recall that on 22 July 2014  I wrote a piece on the identity of the supposedly hominid creature said to inhabit the Tibetan Plateau-Himalayan region known as the Yeti—the ‘abominable snowman’ of the British press in the 1950s. I coupled the new information with the story of Slavomir Rawicz, author of The Long Walk, who claimed to have seen them.

While I was in China—appropriately on the Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan—in November a new paper appeared. In 2014, the research I had referred to used molecular genetic analysis on samples of hair purportedly from yetis. While the claims in that paper that the yeti is a bear was accepted, the other conclusion that it has affinities to an extinct form of polar bear was not on the grounds that the gene fragment was too short to determine its precise identity.

The new work, which involved a complete analysis and assembly of the mitochondrial genome of a number of bears species, including those from the Himalayan region, clearly identified the yeti hair. It was from a Himalayan Brown Bear—as long suspected to be the case.

Thus all the evidence now supports the view that specimens of yeti fur are not from unknown species but from extant bears which inhabit the region. But that conclusion leaves a scintilla of doubt. Could the various specimens that have been kept in monasteries, for example, have been passed off by hunters or conmen as yeti when, close up, it would have been evident to anybody living in the region that the animal from which they were taken was a bear? Cryptozoologists  may still have something to cling onto.

Lan T, Gill S, Bellemain E, Bischof R, Nawaz MA, Lindqvist C. 2017. Evolutionary history of enigmatic bears in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region and the identity of the yeti. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 284: 20171804. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.1804