The Yeti (Abominable Snowman) is a legendary creature known to Tibetans, Sherpas and Himalayan peoples by many names, with "Yeti" being the one most well-known in the West. According to accounts from purported witnesses the yeti is an ape-like creatures that stands upright like a man and walks on two legs. It is between five and eight feet tall and has long arms, broad feet between 12 and 20 inches long, and long brownish or reddish hair that hangs over its eyes. One early Himalayan explorer wrote: "Their heads are said to be pointed on the top and their eyes are deeply sunken and reddish. Their light colored faces are without hair, we are told, and not at all pretty, except to perhaps to another Yeti. They do not have a tail. The feet, like most of the body, are covered with hair." [Source: People's Almanac]
Himalayan villagers tell stories of yetis abducting young girls in the night, throwing stones at villagers and snacking on yaks. Female yetis are said to have large sagging breasts, which makes them top heavy. If your are chased by one you are supposed to run down hill. If the yeti chases you she will fall down forward. There were stories of a domesticated yeti named Zana who lived in the 1800s and bore human children and a yeti corpse found in a Minnesota freezer in 1968. Local people are often reluctant to talk about yeti sightings out of fear of bad luck. The Sherpas say that any man who sees the face of a yeti will die.
Other mythical Himalayan creatures include the “dremo”, a bear-like beast that stands on two legs. Some say it is the same thing as a yeti. One Tibetan man told National Geographic, "A dremo broke into a storehouse, killed a little girl, and ate our meat." The yeeren is a Chinese version of the yeti. Sherpas described Metoh-kangmu (dirty men in the snow) that became mistranslated as a Abominable Snowman.
Daniel Loxton, an editor of Junior Skeptic, a website published by the Skeptics Society, an educational nonprofit organization, told Livescience.com that The yeti is especially puzzling because there are multiple cultures and languages in the Himalayas, making it difficult "to disentangle Western folklore from local legend from genuine anthropological or zoological fact on the ground," Loxton said. It's common for people to mistake a bear for a yeti, particularly a Himalayan brown bear, as this bear can walk on its hind legs, he said. But, just like the Loch Ness monster, people will probably continue to believe in the yeti legend. "Loch Ness is not as big as the Himalayas," Loxton said. "It is a finite body of water. It has been extensively scanned by sonar. It's been observed for decades. There's just really no possibility that there's a plesiosaur in Loch Ness, or even anything of comparable size." "But people aren't giving up on the Loch Ness monster," he said. "I don't think they ever will. So I think the yeti will probably exist as long as there are people to think about mountains." [Source: Laura Geggel, LiveScience.com, March 16, 2015]
One of the first Western reports of Yeti footprints was made in 1887 by Col. L.A. Waddel who was exploring the slopes around Mount Everest. Three years later a mountain climber reported seeing similar prints that "led uphill and vanished among boulders."
In 1925 Russian soldiers reported shooting and killing an Yeti in the Pamirs. In 1942 a Russian soldier fleeing from a prison camp through the Himalayas encountered "two manlike creatures 100 yards from him." He estimated they were eight feet tall and said they had massive arms, square heads and were covered with thick coats of brown fur.
The Italian explorer A. N. Tombazi said he encountered a Yeti while climbing in the Himalayas in 1925. "Unquestionably," he wrote, "the figure in the outline was exactly upright, and stopping occasionally to uproot some dwarf rhododendrons. It showed dark against the snow and wore no clothing."
Explorer Eric Shipton spotted four-toed ape-like tracks in 1936 and photographed them in 1951. In 1948, two Norwegians said they followed a pair of large ape-like creatures but were unsuccessful in their attempt to lasso them.
The area around Dhaulagiri, , the world's seventh highest mountain, in Nepal has had the most yeti sightings. In 1971, a Japanese mountaineer said that he got within 20 meters of 1.5-meter-tall apelike creature at Dhaulagiri. The creature ran away when he was approached. In 1975 another Japanese Alpinist said he saw a group of creatures that resembled gorillas. Some were large and some were small he said. "Yeti footprints" were found by a doctor on the same expedition.
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt. Everest, reportedly saw Yeti footprints even though he denies it, and a member of one Everest Expedition reportedly took a photograph of the Yeti on Menlung Glacier. Man apes have also been reported in Central Asia, Sumatra and New Guinea and Oregon and Washington state in the United States
Yeti in Bhutan
Candida Beveridge of the BBC wrote:“It's widely believed in Bhutan that the yeti walks backwards to fool trackers.” Other say “the heel of the yeti's foot is at the front.” Another common belief is that the yeti cannot bend its body, a feature it is thought to share with evil spirits. According to author Kunzang Choden, this explains why most traditional Bhutanese homes have small doorways. In her book, Bhutanese Tales of the Yeti, she describes how the raised threshold and lowered lintel force anyone who enters to lift their leg and bend their head. "The migoi is known by all accounts to be a very large biped; sometimes as big as 'one and a half yaks' or occasionally as 'big as two yaks'. It is covered in hair that ranges from reddish brown to grey black. Its limbs are ape-like and its face generally hairless. [Source: Candida Beveridge, BBC, November 2, 2015]
“The female has breasts that sag. They are usually encountered alone or as couples but rarely in groups. We are told they communicate with each other by whistling and they exude an exceedingly foul odour. "On occasions they have been known to grin menacingly and make strange noises; they are said to indulge in mimicry. This aspect of their character has given rise to many tales and legends. It is generally agreed that encountering them is a bad omen, which leads to misfortune and even death in some cases."
“Seventy-three-year-old Kama Tschering said: "According to the stories that I have heard from my parents and grandparents, the yeti's hair is similar to that of a monkey but its feet and hands are more like ours — but very huge. The yeti is also said to have long, thick hair on its head that falls down to its chest. The third King of Bhutan is said to have led an exploration team to search for the yeti. He told his men if they came across it, they should run downwards because the yeti wouldn't be able to see them — its long hair would cover its eyes, obstructing its vision. He told them if they ran up the mountain, the yeti's hair would fall back making it easy for him to catch the men."
Yeti Stories from Bhutan
Candida Beveridge of the BBC wrote:“While out on the slopes, the people of Chendebji” — a remote village in Bhutan — “would come across an unusual paw print that struck chill into their hearts. "I was about nine years old and had gone high up in the mountains to collect dry leaves for the cattle," says Pem Dorji, a woman in her late 70s with a wrinkled face and a wide smile. "That was soon after a heavy snowfall, which lasted for almost nine nights. The yeti must have come down, trying to escape the snow. I just saw the footprints the yeti left behind." Sixty years later, Pem still remembers the fear that overcame her. "I couldn't stay there for a moment," she says. She ran nearly all the way home. [Source: Candida Beveridge, BBC World Service, November 2, 2015]
“Children huddle around a pot-bellied stove, listening intently as Pem tells her story. Outside the large two-storey farmhouse, shadows fall across the valley as the evening turns to night. It is a village tradition, at this time of day, to share tales of the "Migoi" as the yeti is called here. "When I returned home, my parents were quite disappointed to see me empty-handed. I explained that I saw the footprints of the yeti, which were very fresh, as if the yeti had walked past in the morning. I told them I was very scared."
“Sitting beside Pem is a young boy, who is hanging on every word. Wide-eyed and excited, he asks if the prints could have been made by another type of wild animal. She shakes her head and goes on to reveal another remarkable detail. "When I described the footprints to my father, he explained to me that yeti's feet are pointed towards the back, unlike the feet of humans," she says.
“Although no-one in this village has ever been attacked by the yeti, Kama has heard of an incident that took place further east. "A group of men had gone into the mountains to look for a particular tree, which they used to carve masks. When a yeti appeared and chased them, one man disappeared. He hid in a small house used for meditation. "The yeti is said to have destroyed the house, bringing down the walls. The yeti didn't eat the man but he was brutally killed. All his body parts were dismembered and thrown away."
“The last person in Chendebji to have seen possible evidence of the yeti is a younger famer called Norbu. The first time was 20 years ago, he says, when he was 18. He was in the mountains with his cattle when he saw a large footprint and the body marks of a yeti in the snow. The mere sight of them made his hair stand on end. Then, five years later, Norbu says he discovered something very unusual — a lair made out of intricately woven sticks of bamboo. "The yeti had broken the bamboo trees, folded them into a semi-circular shape, with the two edges of the bamboo in the ground. He had then slept inside the den. I could see the marks left by the yeti inside the nest," he says.
“News of the lair travelled beyond the village and two months later, two men arrived as Norbu was making wood shingles for his house. They asked to see the lair, so he agreed to stop work and show them. Because it was so far away, the three of them had to spend the night in the yeti's nest. The trip passed off peacefully. That was the last time anyone in Chendebji saw traces of the yeti.
Evidence and Explanations of the Yeti
Eric Shipton's famous photograph in 1951 of an Yeti footprint was reportedly taken near Dhaulagiri. Three years later an expedition sponsored by the Daily Mail failed to turn up an evidence of the yeti. Shipton was fond of practical jokes and there are inconsistencies about his report.
There are periodic expeditions that aim to find a yeti. In the summer of 2003 a seven-member Japanese team went to Dhaulagiri to search for the yeti. They planned to set up infrared cameras along paths thought to be used by yetis. A 1994 expedition came across a cave with human-like footprints and smells.
In his book “ My Quest for the Yeti”, Reinhold Messner argues that the yeti is likely a large brown bear that commonly stands on its hind legs. He wrote there have been too many reports from Himalayan mountain villages of yetis and their descriptions have been too similar to dismiss the monster a myth. He himself saw a large unidentifiable biped and some huge footprints in a forest in Tibet during a trek in 1986. The yeti remains he found stored in a monastery, he said, were fakes.
Some strange black hairs found in the West Garo Mountains in remote northwest India have set off a new wave of speculation about the yeit. The hairs were analyzed by primatologsts in Britain and did not match any known species
Yeti: a Still-Living Bear?
In 2013, scientists said they linked "Yeti" hair samples to DNA from an ancient polar bear jaw.Ker Than wrote in National Geographic, “A British scientist has linked supposed hair samples from the legendary Yeti, or "Abominable Snowman," to a breed of ancient Arctic bears that he says could have survived to the modern day—but other experts say the results need to be published before any conclusions can be drawn. Bryan Sykes, a respected geneticist at Oxford University in the U.K., this week reported the findings of a yearlong project that aimed to rigorously test hair and tissue samples that were claimed to have belonged to the elusive creature. "I put out a call for Yeti, Bigfoot, and Sasquatch hairs in 2012, and I received a good response from all over the world," Sykes told NBC News. [Source: Ker Than, National Geographic, October 21, 2013 /=]
“One of the most promising samples that Sykes received included hairs attributed to a Yeti mummy in the northern Indian region of Ladakh; the hairs were purportedly collected by a French mountaineer who was shown the corpse 40 years ago. Another sample was a single hair that was found about a decade ago in Bhutan, some 800 miles (1,290 kilometers) away from Ladakh.According to Sykes, the DNA from these two samples matched the genetic signature of a polar bear jawbone that was found in the Norwegian Arctic in 2004. Scientists say the jawbone could be up to 120,000 years old. /=\
“Sykes said the fact that the hair samples were found so far apart, and relatively recently, suggests the species that the hairs came from may still be alive. "I can't imagine we managed to get samples from the only two 'snow bears' in the Himalayas," he told the Associated Press. Sykes speculated that the creature could be a new bear species, or perhaps a hybrid of polar bears and brown bears. "The next thing is [to] go there and find one," Sykes told the Associated Press. Loren Coleman, director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, said Sykes's finding could be the "number one story in cryptozoology"—the study of hidden, or unverified, animals—"for the decade." /=\
Brian Regal, a science historian at Kean University in New Jersey, told National Geographic that the possibility of an unidentified bear species living in the Himalayas is "exciting," but said it will be difficult to definitively connect the hairs to the Yeti of legend. "This is another disappointment for the cryptozoology community," Regal said. "Just because [Sykes] showed that this particular DNA sample is from a bear doesn't necessarily mean that's what people have been seeing. They may have been seeing bears; they may have been seeing something else." [Source: Ker Than, National Geographic, October 21, 2013]
Biologist Robert Rockwell, who has studied polar bears, told National Geographic he thinks it's conceivable that a bear species has managed to survive in the Himalayas unnoticed. "It is possible, as Asiatic black bears, brown bears, and even sun bears—or some odd combination—conceivably could or could have historically been in that general region. Since they are [bears], they too would share a lot of the DNA sequences found in the fossil cited," said Rockwell, who is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "Could something like that be in that area and not be seen clearly or captured or collected? It is a huge area, much of which is not densely populated, and except for increasingly habituated individuals, most [bears] are pretty shy. And if there are not many of them, it is even more conceivable." /=\
Yeti Debate Solved: Hairs from Himalayan Brown Bear
In March 2015, scientists announced that hair samples in Sykes’ study didn't come from a mysterious animal, but rather from the Himalayan brown bear. "There is essentially no reason to believe that they [the hairs] belong to a species other than the brown bear," said one the new study's researchers, Eliécer Gutiérrez, a postdoctoral fellow of evolutionary biology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. [Source: Laura Geggel, LiveScience.com, March 16, 2015]
Laura Geggel wrote in LiveScience.com: “Gutiérrez and a colleague re-examined a finding... in which geneticist Bryan Sykes and his colleagues looked at two hair samples from the Himalayan region: One sample came from an aggressive animal walking on its hind legs that was shot by a hunter about 40 years ago in northern India; the other had been found in Bhutan in a high-altitude bamboo forest, according to that study, published in the journal the Proceedings of The Royal Society B.
It's likely the hairs came from "a previously unrecognized bear species," living in the Himalayas, the researchers wrote in the study. In fact, the species may have been a hybrid descendent of U. maritimus and the brown bear (Ursus arctos) of the Himalayas, the researchers said. Perhaps this unknown bear inspired the legend of the yeti, the researchers said in the study. But Gutiérrez said he became skeptical of the study when he noticed the researchers only used a fragment of a gene to identify the species. He and a colleague looked up the genetic sequence of the two hair samples in GenBank, a database of publicly available DNA sequences. "We made this discovery that basically that fragment of DNA is not informative to tell apart two species of bears: the brown bear and [modern-day Alaskan] polar bear," Gutiérrez told Live Science. The polar bear does not live in the Himalayas, so the hair samples likely belong to the Himalayan brown bear, he said.”
The new study is the second to discredit Sykes research. “In a 2014 letter published in the same journal, two researchers also showed Sykes' team had not sufficiently analyzed their "yeti" data. "Once they had determined that two of their samples were a match to a polar bear, they should have run further analyses on the extracted DNA to look at other regions of the mitochondrial genome [DNA passed down by the mother] in order to double-check this controversial result," said one of the letter's authors, Ceiridwen Edwards, a researcher in ancient DNA studies at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. "Instead, after (incorrectly) establishing a direct link to a 40,000-year-old polar bear sequence, they then used this misinformation in the publicity for the paper," Edwards told Live Science in an email.
Yeti Stories in Bhutan Dying Out
Candida Beveridge of the BBC wrote: ““Until recently it was common for people in Bhutan to share stories of their encounters with the Himalayan yeti. But with the arrival of modernity, villagers no longer need to climb high into the mountains, where they once saw traces of the yeti — or thought they did. So a legend is slowly fading away. Now, says Norbu, people don't need to go up to the mountain to collect wood or graze their animals. They cook on gas rings, and farming patterns have changed. The villagers spend more of their time growing cash crops such as potatoes and oil seeds. [Source: Candida Beveridge, BBC World Service, November 2, 2015]
“Where sundown used to be the end of the day, now, with electricity, villagers weave late into the evening — making rugs and shawls to sell at craft markets as far away as the capital Thimpu. “In many ways, lives have improved but the downside, says Norbu wistfully, is that there are no new stories to tell the children. "We haven't gone to the mountains for more than two decades now and we are really not sure if the yeti is still in our mountain ranges," he says. "But it doesn't matter, because there is no question the yeti is around somewhere. "I don't think anyone will ever find it. It's just such a clever animal. It migrates from place to place, and with fewer people going up there, maybe it will never be found. But I know it exists!"
Abominable Snowman for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
“Kama leads me up a steep path, along the edge of the forest. A cuckoo is singing from a distant tree and a delicious scent from some yellow flowers wafts up from the forest floor. Kama stands on a small rock and points to a mountain pass. "You see those clouds hovering around the top of the mountains? There's a grazing ground for cattle. We have to walk beyond that point to see the footprints of the yeti." "When will you go there again?" I ask. Kama laughs. "I am an old man and I don't think I have the strength to even climb that small hill. There is no way I can walk high up there in the mountains. In fact very few people go there now."
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated July 2022