Yeti Mystery Solved? Legendary Creature May Be A Hybrid Between Polar Bear And Brown Bear

The mythical Yeti of The Himalayas may be a hybrid between the polar bear and the brown bear, a geneticist from the Oxford University told Huffington Post Thursday.

By Gabrielle Jonas on October 17, 2013 4:15 PM EDT

Nana B Agyei, CC BY 2.0
Nana B Agyei, CC BY 2.0

Sightings of the Yeti — also known as the "Abominable Snowman" or "Bigfoot" — have been recorded for centuries in the Himalayas. Ever since Eric Shipton's 1951 Mt. Everest expedition returned with photographs of humongous footprints in the snow, humans have speculated that the Himalayas may be home to large, hairy humanoid cousins "unknown to science."

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Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford, in Oxford, U.K., set out to make these creatures known to science. He analyzed hairs from ancient animal carcasses unearthed from the Western Himalayan region of Ladakh and the Bhutan region at the eastern end of the Himalayas. 

After subjecting the hairs to advanced DNA tests and comparing the results to other animals' genomes stored in the GenBank database, Sykes claims he has "a 100% genetic match" with a sample from a polar bear jawbone found in Norway. The polar bear jaw bone is anywhere from 40 thousand to 120 thousand years old — when the polar bear and closely related brown bear began to emerge as distinct species.

The two bear species sometimes interbreed when their territories overlap, Sykes told Huffington Post. It is not clear from the interview, however, whether the brown bear is from an overlapping territory.

Sykes launched his latest research through Oxford University's collaboration with the Lausanne Museum of Zoology last year. The geneticist made ample use of the zoology museum's large collection of unidentified animal parts, collected by one of the men who stoked Yeti fever, Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans. His 1955 book, On the Track of Unknown Animals, re-ignited widespread public interest in the subject.

For 51 years, Heuvelmans assembled the archive now curated by the Museum of Zoology in Lausanne. The director of that museum, together with Sykes, launched The Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project, inviting anyone with crypto-zoological samples — from animals whose existence is unproven — to subject them to rigorous genetic examination.

The results were to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

But though neither Lausanne nor Oxford has published any results of their collaboration in scientific journals as yet, Sykes will be publishing his findings in his own book, The Yeti Enigma: A DNA Detective Story, next spring.  And, his investigations will make an appearance in a televised documentary series, Bigfoot Files, which starts Oct. 20.

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