Mystery of the Yeti solved by Oxford Academic

News University News

An Oxford professor has seemingly ‘solved’ the mystery of the Himalayan Yeti.

Bryan Sykes, a professor of Human Genetics, concluded that there is evidence that the famous creature is a sub-species of brown bear.

Sykes, a fellow of Wolfson College, subjected suspected yeti hairs to the most advanced tests available. He revealed that the hairs were genetically identical to those of a polar bear and concluded that the most likely explanation for the myth is that the animal is a hybrid of different species.

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

“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,” he added.

Sykes conducted the DNA tests on hairs from two unidentified animals, one from Ladakh in northern India just west of the Himalayas and the other from Bhutan, which lies 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.

Sykes discovered that he had a 100 per cent match with a sample from an ancient polar bear jawbone, dated to between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago, that was found in the Svalbard region of Norway. The polar bear and brown bear are closely related and are known to interbreed where their territories overlap.

Sykes maintained that while this 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.

Sykes, previously best known for his books on the investigation of human history and prehistory through studies of mitochondrial DNA, reiterated that his results were “completely unexpected” and that more work needed to be done to interpret them.

Oxford students were interested by the news. Pete Hodkinson, studying for a DPhil in Biology says: “These findings are of no great surprise to me, as yetis do look like bears. But is an exciting discovery nonetheless.”

Yetis first became a feature of popular Western mythology in the 19th century and the fascination has continued. A yeti, for instance, featured in the 2001 Disney animated classic ‘Monster’s Inc.’


Sign up for the newsletter!

Want to contribute? Join our contributors’ group here or email us – click here for contact details