Scientists have revealed the identity of the yeti, in “the most rigorous analysis to date” of specimens supposedly taken from the legendary monster.
The creature, also known as the “Abominable Snowman”, has long been a feature of Himalayan folklore, and became widely known in the Western world following 19th-century explorers’ accounts.
Over the years, various specimens have been collected that allegedly derive from real-life yetis. These formed the basis of a new study led by Dr Charlotte Lindqvist, a biologist at the University at Buffalo.
Genetic analyses of nine “yeti” bone, tooth, skin, hair and faecal samples indicate they derive from bears.
The one exception was a single tooth collected from a stuffed museum exhibit, which came from a dog.
“Clearly, a big part of the yeti legend has to do with bears,” said Dr Lindqvist.
Though the idea that yetis might arise from sightings of bears is not new, the study – published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B – is the most comprehensive analysis conducted so far.
A previous paper linked two yeti samples to a prehistoric polar bear, but it has since been called into question.
By conducting a comprehensive genetic survey of a variety of samples, and comparing them with samples taken from bears, Dr Lindqvist and her collaborators aimed to put the matter to bed once and for all.
The analysis revealed that the team’s samples came from modern bear species: specifically, Himalayan brown and black bears.
“Our findings strongly suggest that the biological underpinnings of the yeti legend can be found in local bears, and our study demonstrates that genetics should be able to unravel other, similar mysteries,” said Dr Lindqvist.
Besides solving monster mysteries, the scientists’ indepth genetic analysis allowed them to learn more about bear populations in the Himalayan region.
According to Dr Lindqvist, understanding the genetic diversity of bears in the region can be beneficial when working on management strategies for these mammals, many of which are critically endangered.
“Further genetic research on these rare and elusive animals may help illuminate the environmental history of the region, as well as bear evolutionary history worldwide – and additional ‘yeti’ samples could contribute to this work,” she said.