Yeti or Not – a Paradigm Shift

YetiDenisovanLogoYetis, polar bears, and cryptozoology folklore – oh my! Animal Planet delivers a fantastic program that caused a paradigm shift in my crypto-loving mind. Join us as Cryptoville embarks on a new way of thinking about the Yeti of Nepal!

I was prepared to hate this show, to be frank. After muddling through the Mermaid movie silliness and then the Ebu Gogo sensationalism, not to mention Megalodon in years past  – I feared Animal Planet was going to fool us again and present a silly show about someone seeing a Yeti in Nepal or Tibet.

Boy was I wrong! Instead they took a page from their most successful show, River Monsters, and followed that script very closely. The result was an intelligent, well thought-out program that not only taught us things we may not have known before, but presented us with a brilliant new theory as to the origins and existence of the Yeti of Nepal and Tibet.

Sorting Through the Bears

The first problem they addressed was the DNA sample tested by Dr. Bryan Sykes a few years ago that showed it was from an extremely rare polar bear hybrid. At the time, many assumed that this animal was the basis for the Yeti legend. But all that really meant was at one time in history there was a living polar bear hybrid. End of story.

YetiDenisovanHairSampleBut people wondered if that hybrid could still be alive today hiding in the remoteness of the Himalayan mountains. The program initially searched for bear evidence and host Mark Evans (pictured left with one hair sample) did an excellent job hunting some down. After a long, exhausting journey through the low oxygen atmosphere, he recovered six very good samples.

These samples produced enough DNA to get an accurate analysis and the result came down to this:

  • Monastery Hair from at least 40 years ago: From a Himalayan brown bear from the Western mountains
  • Found by a Jesuit priest in the area 60 years ago: Tibetan blue bear from the Eastern mountains
  • From a poorly done taxidermy exhibit stolen by the Nazis during WWII: Tibetan blue bear
  • From a dead creature’s “nest” found by an herbalist & healer seeking high altitude herbs, a femur: Tibetan blue bear
  • Hair found by a shepherd far up in the alpine grazing areas of the mountains: Tibetan blue bear
  • From a desiccated paw kept in a secret storage area supposedly from a Yeti: black bear probably lost by a trader crossing the mountains since they are not native to those areas.

Please note: The Tibetan blue bear (Ursus arctos pruinosus) is a subspecies of brown bear and is also known as the Tibetan brown bear.

Here is a Tibetan blue bear (below left) and a Himalayan brown bear (below right by Zahoor Salmi).








Trusting the Results

Can we trust these DNA results? Oh yes we can! They sought the help and expertise of Dr. Charlotte Lindqvist who is a renowned specialist in bear genomics. She works at the University at Buffalo and has a full, functioning, and highly qualified lab at her disposal. I am pleased about that, and satisfied with her results.

Mulling it Over

So we’re clear the natives are seeing bears in the Himalayas from time to time. Overall the bears are rarely seen and elusive, but there is enough DNA evidence to confirm their active presence. So does that mean the Yeti is one (or both) of these bears?

As Evans pointed out – no. He said that with confidence because in all the interviews with natives that he conducted, and we witnessed via the program, they clearly distinguished between two types of creatures. One was definitely bears, and the other still sounded like a bipedal wild hairy man with a ferocious and deadly personality.

What could this mean?

YetiDenisovanFamilyEnter the Denisovans

Just a few years ago science was able to confirm the previous existence of yet another early hominid that they named the Denisovans. (Artist’s rendering of Denisovans, right, courtesy of Bone fragments from one finger and a couple teeth were enough to provide their whole DNA structure that clearly showed they were their own unique people.

Where did these people live? In and along the Himalayan mountain range extending up into eastern Russia.

YetiDenisovanToothScience doesn’t know a lot about their appearance, but from the finger alone, which they describe as “robust” in size, they figure they were probably larger than the average human and bulkier. (Denisovan tooth recovered by science, left.)


Sherpa Research

Now let’s cut away for a moment to quickly discuss research that was ongoing to determine how the Sherpa people were able to survive their whole lives at such high altitude without developing the dangerous physical ailments that occurred in “low-landers” if they stayed there too long.

Climbing Sherpas return down the Khumbu Ice Fall after gathering the last gear at Camp 2.
Climbing Sherpas return down the Khumbu Ice Fall after gathering the last gear at Camp 2.

Mark Evans, being a scientist himself, was involved with collecting saliva samples from a bunch of Sherpas.  Professor Rasmus Neilsen, from the Center for Theoretical Evolutionary Genomics at Berkeley, analyzed the saliva and discovered these people have a gene that no other human on the planet has and they called that gene EPAS1.

Neilsen is a genetics expert, so when he saw the EPAS1 gene, he made the connection to another genome – that of the newly found Denisovans.  The Denisovans HAD the EPAS1 gene. Well the only way it could enter the human genome is by interbreeding. Suddenly we start to see the Denisovans as more than a shadow of the past. Suddenly we see they somehow carry on today through the gene they left in the local human population – EPAS1.

EPAS1 is the gene responsible for allowing the Tibetan humans to live in high altitude without the health risk dangers suffered by other humans who spend too much time up there.

Back to the Yeti

Evans interviewed an old monk (below left) very high up in the mountains. He told Evans the stories handed down by his elders of the people who lived up in the mountains. They were ferocious hunters, large, hairy, and they would steal animals from the humans, as well as children and women.

YetiDenisovanbyMarkEvansEvans speculated that the stories of the Yeti correspond to these (now probably) extinct people who lived in the mountains at the same time as the humans did. He figured the way interbreeding occurred was through abduction, since they were all otherwise afraid of these “creatures.”

Interestingly, the old monk said that they weren’t seen nowadays, but they had been in older times.

Evans then discussed how these stories could be kept alive and accurate when handed down through 500 generations (15K years) or more. It seems the Aboriginal people of Australia have kept accurate stories of natural occurrences that science can confirm, from over 13K years ago. So it seems possible in some cases, oral tradition does preserve accurate descriptions.

Evans selected the 500 generation mark because he wanted to be sure of a time when the human population intersected with the known existence of the Denisovans. So that would be when the interbreeding occurred, or thereabouts.

Sherpa2Suddenly, in my mind, I can see how the Denisovans would have fit the behavior and temperament of  a Yeti perfectly. I really think this solves the mystery and it explains why the Yeti aren’t seen these days, though the folklore is full of stories about them from long ago.

Sir Edmund Hillary’s Yeti Footprint

I know – Sir Edmund did get a photo (below) of what looks like one big honking footprint in the snow. But thanks to research being done by a bright new star in the scientific firmament, Catherine Shine, a doctoral student at the University of Idaho, it turns out bears may be fooling us more times than we can imagine.


I’m going to save that research for another blog post, but suffice to say, I think she nailed it. Hillary’s footprint was likely a double bear print.

What about Bigfoot?

Don’t worry. In my opinion, Bigfoot is alive and well and hiding from us the best it can here in America, and in other iterations around the world. But thanks to this brilliant program courtesy of Mark Evans and Animal Planet, I’m satisfied that we figured out the Yeti mystery. And it’s still an awesome creature – ferocious Denisovans aren’t something I want to cross paths with any time soon either!


So what do you think about all this?


Animal Planet program Yeti or Not

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