Yeti bear: If a British geneticist is right, the beasts called yetis are in fact a peculiar bear species in the Himalayas.
If a British geneticist is right, yetis are real – except, the word “yeti” would refer not to the half-man, half-bear beast of yore, but a bear.
Bryan Sykes, a geneticist at the University of Oxford, has announced that two pelts said to belong to the yeti match DNA from an ancient polar bear. He proposes not that ancient polar bears are hiding in the rugged Himalayas, but that so-called “yetis” are in fact a bear species as of yet unknown to science, an animal with a peculiar blend of ancient polar bear and brown bear DNA.
Dr. Sykes’ findings have not yet been published but will be broadcast Sunday in a television special on the UK’s Channel 4.
The findings are part of a project out of Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology called The Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project, an effort to dredge up the origins of so-called yeti samples with genetic analysis. The project’s team, including Dr. Sykes, put out a call last summer for yeti samples – pelts, tufts of hairs, anything that could be tested for DNA.
The two samples used in the research, both hair tufts, came from Ladakh, an Indian region of the western Himalayas, and from Bhutan, some 800 miles to the east. The first sample was about 40 years old; the other was about a decade old.
Culling through the GenBank database, Sykes found that the two samples were a 100 percent match with the DNA of an ancient polar bear from Svalbard, Norway. That polar bear lived some 120,000 to 40,000 years ago, just when the brown bear and the polar bear were diverging as separate species.
The results do not mean that “ancient polar bears are wandering around the Himalayas,” Sykes told BBC News. Instead, he proposes that the yeti is in fact a hybrid of a polar bear and a brown bear – in other words, the yeti, if not a magical being, is at least a new species of animal. The research is consistent with previous reports identifying the mysterious yeti as a kind of bear.