The DNA study reveals information about the evolutionary tree of bears
The Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman, is an elusive, giant ape-like creature that has been said to roam the mountains of the Himalayas. The Yeti has historically been known as a symbol of danger in different cultures around Nepal and Tibet, and once may have been worshipped as a glacier god.
The Yeti became known as the Abominable Snowman in the West after a British man mistranslated a Sherpa’s explanation of the “metoh-kangmi” (which actually translates to man-bear of the snow). From then on, the Abominable Snowman entered into the international sphere of mythology, with mostly Western popular culture using it as a plot point for certain films and tv shows.
A DNA study of alleged Yeti samples from museums and private collections suggests that the Yeti remains belonged to a species of bear. The research, conducted at the University of Buffalo, analysed nine “Yeti” specimens, including bone, tooth, skin, hair, and faecal samples collected in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau.
“Of those nine samples, eight of them matched local bears that are found in the region today,” said Dr. Lindqvist, expert on bear genomics and co-author of the research. “The purported yetis from the Tibetan plateau matched Tibetan brown bears, the ones from the western Himalayan mountains matched the Himalayan brown bear and then, at possibly slightly lower altitude were Asian black bears.”
The ninth sample turned out to be a dog tooth.
The scientists sequenced the mtDNA of 23 Asian bears (including the “Yetis”), and compared this genetic data to that of other bears around the world. They found that while Tibetan brown bears share a common ancestry with their North American and Eurasian kin, Himalayan brown bears belong to a distinct evolutionary lineage that diverged early on from all other brown bears.
“It demonstrates that modern science can really try and tackle some of these mysteries and unsolved questions that we have,” said Lindqvist.
The team included Charlotte Lindqvist, Tianying Lan and Stephanie Gill from UB; Eva Bellemain from SPYGEN in France; Richard Bischof from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences; and Muhammad Ali Nawaz from Quaid-i-Azam University in Pakistan and the Snow Leopard Trust Pakistan program. Their research was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Considering the mythology and etymology of the “Yeti”, it is likely the local people in these regions were originally aware that they were bears. Like most legends, however, different accounts and stories eventually developed into a long tradition of myth.
“Clearly, a big part of the Yeti legend has to do with bears,” Lindqvist says.
Despite the finding, this probably won’t stop daring mountaineers from keeping their eyes peeled for the fabled giant of the Himalayas.