Many people thought that the mysterious man-like animal of the Himalayas, the yeti, belonged with Loch Ness monsters and flying saucers in the category of things that thrill us with mystery but can never quite stack up enough hard evidence to confirm their existence. Now studies by Prof Brian Sykes, an Oxford professor of genetics, suggest that the animal might be real after all. He had two hair samples to work on; one came from the mummified remains of an animal killed 40 years ago near Ladakh in Northern India, while the second hair was found in a bamboo forest by a group of film-makers 10 years ago in Bhutan, 800 miles to the East.
Prof Sykes compared the DNA with a database of all known sequences and found there was a 100% match with that from the jawbone of a type of polar bear from Svalborg in Norway, a polar bear that lived between 40,000 and 120,000 year ago. It means that a creature last recorded at least 40,000 years ago was alive 10 years ago in the Himalayas. Prof Sykes suggests that the creature might be a sub-species of brown bears descended from ancient polar bears, or perhaps a more recent hybridization between the descendants of polar bears and brown bears, animals previously known to interbreed where their territories meet. There is speculation from various reported sightings that the creature might have behavioural characteristics unlike other bears, perhaps more bipedal and more aggressive. This goes a long day to explain the footprints that have been seen at different times.
If it turns out to be a species of bear, this will disappoint many who hoped the yeti might be a primate with both human and ape characteristics. On the other hand, it’s exciting to come across hard evidence of a previously unknown species. Both hairs studied were brown, and the estimate is that the creature might have been about 5ft tall. Prof Sykes will shortly submit his findings to a peer reviewed science journal.
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