No Yeti, But a New Bear
Bigfoot, Brian Sykes, Cryptozoology, DNA, Yeti
“7 Daughters of Eve” DNA researcher Brian Sykes and his Oxford team decided to look into Bigfoot-Yeti legends from many continents.
In 2012, they put out a call to museums and individuals for cryptid hair samples. What usually happens is a person hears one howling, and â€œthen they see a clump of hair caught in a bush, and say â€˜Aha, thatâ€™s come from the Bigfoot,â€™â€ Sykes tells National Geographic. They received 57 samples.
After weeding out plant matter and glass fibers, they selected 36 for genetic analysis. Over half came from the US; the rest are from Russian and South Asia. The team methodically cleaned 2-4 centimeter shaft samples, and then amplified the ribosomal mitochondrial DNA 12S fragment — a snippet commonly used for species identification. Some failed to yield DNA sequences, and the team ended up with 30 recovered sequences, which they compared with GenBank data. They got a 100 percent match for each one.
Most samples attributed to hairy beast-men were identified as known species living in their normal geographical range: 10 were brown or black bears, four came from some canine, and the rest were raccoons, horses, cows, sheep, deer, a goat-like serow, and a porcupine. One Texan sample came back as human (very unlikely Neanderthal). The sample that supposedly came from the Sumatran orang pendek (Indonesian for â€œshort personâ€) turned out to be Malaysian tapir.
But thereâ€™s more! Two Himalayan yeti samples — one from Ladakh, India, and the other from Bhutan — came from a mystery bear whose closest genetic affinity is to an ancient polar bear, based on DNA from the jawbone of a Paleolithic Ursus maritimus who lived 40,000 years ago. The golden-brown Ladakh sample was collected by a hunter four decades ago when he thought he shot an abnormally aggressive brown bear. The reddish-brown Bhutan sample came from what was known to be a migyhur (or yeti) nest in a bamboo forest 3,500 meters in the air. The researchers suspect these hairs came from unrecognized bear species, color variants of polar bears, or maybe a polar bear x brown bear hybrid (pizzlies!), though they canâ€™t know for sure without genomic sequence data.