All you need to know about Yetis

Last Updated 30 April 2019, 15:40 IST

A photo posted by the Indian Army, speculating on the existence of Yetis — monstrous human or ape-like creatures living in the wilderness — has yet again, ignited public interest in the phenomenon.

But what is it about these fabled creatures, that drives scores upon scores of people, year after year to claim to have seen them or even propelled some to venture out to the Himalayas to search for them? Has there ever been any documented evidence that legitimised ‘Yetis’ in spheres beyond hoaxes and pseudoscience that naturally dominate such sightings? Is it a man? Is it a bear? Is it an ape? Or some kinda mixed humanoid? Like a man-bear-ape?

To answer such burning questions and more, DH breaks down the ‘Yeti’.

Traditional folklore and myths

Myths of its origin and stories of sightings of the Yeti go back several centuries, to pre-Buddhist Eastern civilizations, particularly in the Himalayan Mountain region. Some early indigenous people of the Himalayas would reportedly worship this ’sighted’ creature, calling it the “Glacier Being”.

There are several local names for ‘Yetis’ in Nepalese and Bhutanese. Some examples are:

Yeti as Meh-Teh (Man-Bear)
Kang-mi (Snowman)
Migoi (Wild man)
Bun manchi (Jungle man)

Western interest and rise of the ‘Abominable Snowman’

The first use of the term “Abominable Snowman” is credited to Henry Newman, a contributor to the Indian English-language newspaper The Statesman who reportedly obtained descriptions of the ‘Yeti’ from the accounts of climber and explorer Charles Howard-Bury who led the famed 1921 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition.

Newman, however, is credited with a translation goof up that led him to call the creature “abominable.”

An even earlier example of the speculation of the existence of such a creature is credited to B H Hodgson who in 1832 reportedly encountered a “towering non-human covered from head to toe in dark hair”, that fled after being spotted.

Hodgson dismissed the sighting as an “orangutan” while writing in The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

But everything changed in 1951 after mountaineer Eric Shipton took an actual photograph of a purported Yeti footprint at the base of Mount Everest. Believe it or not, but Sir Edmund Hillary, widely credited to be the first man to climb Mount Everest (Also see: George Mallory), led a Yeti hunting expedition in Nepal and is credited with photographing mysterious footprints and more importantly retrieving a 240 year old scalp, purportedly belonging to (or so thought at the time) to (Yes! You guessed it) — a Yeti.

All you need to know about Yetis

Unfortunately for Hillary, it was later proved to be from a serow, a goat-like animal. But at the time, lack of enough scientific evidence didn’t deter the press as the British tabloid Daily Mail also promptly sponsored several “Abominable Snowman” expeditions.

All you need to know about Yetis

Pretty soon, as is the way with these things, Hollywood got involved.

Notorious B-movie director W Lee Wilder released ‘THE SNOW CREATURE’ in 1954.

And soon after, this was trumped by the ‘THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN’ in 1957.

All you need to know about Yetis

From September 1958 to November 1959, the beloved comic character Tintin encountered the mythic beast in the magazine which was compiled and published as a book in 1960 titled ‘Tintin in Tibet’.

So your friend says he spotted a Yeti? Is it too early to get him sectioned?

As sightings increased in the decades after, the myth of the Yeti strengthened with more ‘proof’ being offered in the form of footprints, eyewitness accounts and grainy photos and DIY-type films.

In fact, in the realization of the cryptozoological tourism that the Yeti phenomenon would offer, the US and Nepalese governments worked together in 1959 to regulate the hunt for Yetis.

All you need to know about Yetis

What regulations? You might be wondering. They are three fold:

  1. No money, no Yeti

“Royalty of Rs 5,000 Indian Currency will have to be paid to His Majesty’s Government of Nepal for a permit to carry out an expedition in search of ‘Yeti’.”

  1. Don’t kill any Yeti, unless it attacks first

    “In case Yeti is traced it can be photographed or caught alive, but it must not be killed or shot at except in an emergency arising out of self-defense. All photographs taken of the animal, the creature itself if captured alive or dead, must be surrendered to the Government of Nepal at the earliest time.”

  2. Don’t tell the press

    “News and reports throwing light on the actual existence of the creature must be submitted to the Government of Nepal as soon as they are available and must not in any way be given out to the Press or Reporters for publicity without the permission of the Government of Nepal.”

Scotland, reportedly, makes around £60 million a year just from Loch Ness Monster tourism, according to Forbes but there is no official word on what kind of tourism that the Yeti hunting brings to Nepal or Tibet.

But why do people still believe in the elusive ‘Yeti’ even though modern science has debunked it, time and again?

For people in such situations, believing in a cryptid - an animal whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated, is a way of making sense of what is around them and in the process, they are immersed and a part of the folklore, mythology and gossip of the area as much as the cryptid itself.

Scientific research: Not Just Yeti

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the Yeti myth came in 2017 with the publishing of a scientific paper titled “Evolutionary history of enigmatic bears in the Tibetan Plateau-Himalaya Region and the identity of the Yeti.”

The paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reported on the findings of the DNA analysis of nine ‘Yeti’ specimens. Of the nine collected and analysed by them, one belonged to a dog, and the other eight to one of three bear species — Asian black bear, Himalayan brown bear or Tibetan brown bear.

"This study represents the most rigorous analysis to date of samples suspected to derive from anomalous or mythical ‘hominid’-like creatures,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

“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...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,” said the scientists behind the work.

(Published 30 April 2019, 14:20 IST)

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