British scientist 'solves' mystery of Himalayan yetis

Professor Bryan Sykes: "Yeti hairs genetically identical to polar bear"

Related Stories

Research by a British scientist has concluded that the legendary Himalayan yeti may in fact be a sub-species of brown bear.

DNA tests on hair samples carried out by Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes found that they matched those from an ancient polar bear.

He subjected the hairs to the most advanced tests available.

He says the most likely explanation for the myth is that the animal is a hybrid of polar bears and brown bears.

Prof Sykes told the BBC that there may be a real biological animal behind the yeti myth.

"I think this bear, which nobody has seen alive,... may still be there and may have quite a lot of polar bear in it," he said.

"It may be some sort of hybrid and if its behaviour is different from normal bears, which is what eyewitnesses report, then I think that may well be the source of the mystery and the source of the legend."

Prof Sykes conducted the DNA tests on hairs from two unidentified animals, one from Ladakh - in northern India on the west of the Himalayas - and the other from Bhutan, 1,285km (800 miles) further east.

The results were then compared with the genomes of other animals that are stored on a database of all published DNA sequences.

Suspected yeti footprints in Nepal Suspected yeti footprints - such as these in Nepal - are regularly photographed

Prof Sykes found that he had a 100% match with a sample from an ancient polar bear jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway, that dates back to between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago - a time when the polar bear and closely related brown bear were separating as different species.

The species are closely related and are known to interbreed where their territories overlap.

The sample from Ladakh came from the mummified remains of a creature shot by a hunter around 40 years ago, while the second sample was in the form of a single hair, found in a bamboo forest by an expedition of filmmakers around 10 years ago.

Prof Sykes said that his results were "completely unexpected" and that more work needed to be done interpreting them.

He said that while they did not mean that "ancient polar bears are wandering around the Himalayas", there could be a sub-species of brown bear in the High Himalayas descended from an ancestor of the polar bear.

"Or it could mean there has been more recent hybridisation between the brown bear and the descendant of the ancient polar bear," he said.

In 2008 scientists in the US examined hairs given to the BBC which some had claimed were from a yeti.

The scientists concluded that in fact the hairs - obtained from the north-east Indian state of Meghalaya - belonged to a species of Himalayan goat known as a Himalayan Goral.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Asia stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

Programmes

  • An ECG (electrocardiogram)Click Watch

    The wearable technology which could allow you to pay for goods with your heartbeat

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.