The Yeti – A bear, a beast or just a myth? Geneticist Bryan Sykes of the University of Oxford says the so-called Abominable Snowman is nothing more than a rare polar bear, and he has the proof to support it – hair samples from the "Yeti" and the DNA that places it, reports LiveScience via Yahoo! News on Oct. 17.
The creature that is said to wander the frozen mountains of the Himalayas is one of most enduring myths of cryptozoology, or the study and search for mysterious creatures.
“The mystery has swirled through the snows of the mountainous region for centuries, since Alexander the Great searched for a yeti on his eastward march across the Indus Valley. In the 1950s, even respected mountaineers such as Sir Edmund Hillary claimed to have seen footprints of the legendary beast, which reportedly walks upright and is covered with hair,” says the LiveScience report.
Sykes compared two hair samples from the Yeti – a 40-year old sample from India that was passed on to him from a mountaineer and a 10-year old sample from Bhutan – and concluded that both have trace DNA that links the animals to the jawbone found of an ancient polar bear.
Sykes' work began by cross-referencing the hair samples against a database of collected and known animal DNA. At first, nothing unusual turned up. “In the Himalayas, I found the usual sorts of bears and other creatures amongst the collection” of DNA samples, said Sykes. “But the particularly interesting ones are the ones whose genetic fingerprints are linked not to the brown bears or any other modern bears, [but] to an ancient polar bear.”
That particular polar bear is on record as last having lived between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago, and the DNA on file from the jawbone is a 100 percent match to the hair samples from India and Bhutan.
“This is a species that hasn't been recorded for 40,000 years,” Sykes said. “Now, we know one of these was walking around 10 years ago.”
Sykes admits more research is needed.
“There's more work to be done on interpreting the results. I don't think it means there are ancient polar bears wandering around the Himalayas,” the geneticist said.
Although he has yet to formally publish his findings in any accredited science journal, his findings are not being debunked as with most so-called “discoveries,” like the consistent “evidence” found of Bigfoot.
Benjamin Radford, LiveScience's Bad Science columnist, said that Sykes’ work has proven to be “much better science” than most other Yeti investigations.
“What's different about the Sykes study is that he's using good science and genetic testing,” Radford said. “It is certainly much more plausible that a bear was mistaken for a Yeti than that there exists a giant, bipedal hominid race that no one has discovered.”
Sykes explained what his findings likely conclude.
“It could mean there is a subspecies of brown bear in the High Himalayas descended from the bear that was the ancestor of the polar bear,” Sykes said. “Or it could mean there has been more recent hybridization between the brown bear and the descendant of the ancient polar bear.”