An Oxford University geneticist has called for an expedition to catch a live yeti after matching recent DNA hair samples from the Himalayas to 40,000 year-old polar bear DNA.
Professor Bryan Sykes, of Wolfson College, found that two hair samples – one from an animal shot by a hunter in northern India 40 years ago, and another reddish-brown hair from a bamboo forest in Bhutan – showed a 100% match with DNA from a polar bear fossil.
The find, Sykes argues, suggests that there are yeti-like bears living in the Himalayas that have not been seen since the end of the last ice age – when early humans may have developed the “yeti legend”, experts say.
In the study, Sykes analysed 36 different hair samples sent in by the public that were believed to belong to “anomalous primates”.
Most of the samples turned out to be from horses, cows, bears, and even humans – yet Professor Sykes suggested that the two samples that matched the polar bear fossil DNA were enough evidence to encourage “Bigfoot enthusiasts to go back out into the forest and get the real thing”.
In his study, published in this week’s issue of the journal Proceedings Of The Royal Society B, Sykes and his team wrote, “It seems more likely that the two hairs reported here are from either a previously unrecognised bear species, colour variants of Ursus maritimus (polar bear), or U. arctos/U. maritimus hybrids.”
If hybrids, the “yetis” were likely to have been descended from cross-breeding soon after brown and polar bears separated on the path of evolution.
However, Professor Norman MacLeod, a palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist at London’s Natural History Museum, said Prof Sykes’s results “neither prove nor disprove the existence of yetis […] What they do is eliminate certain hair samples from further consideration as evidence that such creatures exist”.
Sykes is currently writing a book entitled The Yeti Enigma, and claims that an expedition to capture a live yeti is “the next logical step”. However, he may struggle to convince others to take part – third year biologist James Walker told Cherwell, “I personally wouldn’t go on an expedition.
“It would be quite exciting if another descendent of these bears existed, but if that’s what all the anecdotal evidence for a human-like yeti is then maybe it’s a bit disappointing for the yeti enthusiasts.”
Walker however admitted, “It is always interesting to identify a new extant mammalian species, especially an anomalous primate, especially if it descended from collateral hominids like Homo neanderthalensis.”