Yeti samples turn out to be bear bits

Analysis of nine alleged Yeti relics look set to disappoint crypto-zoologists. Andrew Masterson reports.

A Yeti. Probably not a real one.
A Yeti. Probably not a real one.
Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images

Stories of abominable snowmen stalking the Himalayas are less about Yetis and more about Yogi, DNA analysis suggests.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a team led by biological scientist Charlotte Lindqvist from the University of Buffalo in the US ran DNA analysis on nine samples that were purported to derive from yetis.

The samples – including a bone fragment, tooth, hair, skin and a bit of poo – had been collected at various times on the Himalayan and Tibetan plateaus. All are now on display in museums or private collections, and were gathered in 2016 for a documentary about abominable snowmen, made for the US television service Animal Channel.

Lindqvist and colleagues extracted DNA from each of the samples and then sequenced their finds. Of the nine artefacts, one turned out to be from a dog, and the others from three species of bear: the Asian black (Ursus thibetanus), Himalayan brown (Ursus arctos isabellinus) or Tibetan brown (Ursus arctos pruinosus).

"Our findings strongly suggest that the biological underpinnings of the Yeti legend can be found in local bears, and our study demonstrates that genetics should be able to unravel other, similar mysteries," says Lindqvist.

And while the discovery that none of the ostensible Yeti souvenirs derived from actual Yetis might not come as too big a surprise, Lindqvist and her team did produce some data useful to people other than disappointed crypto-zoologists.

As well as sampling the relics, the team also sequenced the mitochondrial DNA of other bears, bring the total to 23. They discovered that Tibetan brown bears show a close relationship to North American bear species. The Himalayan brown bears, however, do not, and belong to a linage that split away from other species of brown bears about 650,000 years ago.

"Further genetic research on these rare and elusive animals may help illuminate the environmental history of the region, as well as bear evolutionary history worldwide – and additional 'Yeti' samples could contribute to this work," Lindqvist says.

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