Cryptozoologists—people who work to track down storied creatures like Bigfoot—rejoiced earlier this week when news broke that Yeti hair had been discovered. The victory was short-lived, however. Geneticist Bryan Sykes of the University of Oxford analyzed the samples and determined that, rather than belonging to a Yeti, they likely came from an ancient polar bear.
Sykes has been asking people from around the world to send him genetic of what they consider to be bonafide proof of cryptid species. Previous “Bigfoot” samples, for example, turned out to belong to a raccoon, black bear and a horse, Slate writes. This time, one sample came from Bhutan, the other from a “Yeti mummy” found in 40 years ago in northern India. Here’s the Guardian on what Sykes found:
Sykes’s team looked at the 12S RNA gene, something that has already been analysed in all known mammalian species. By comparing his samples with those in GenBank, the international repository of gene sequences, Sykes was able to identify the animals that the hair might have from. “In the case of these two yeti samples that we’re talking about, they matched a sequence in the GenBank from a polar bear jaw found in Svalbard, which is at least 40,000 years old.” This was around the time that the polar bear and the related brown bear were separating into different species.
While this provides the samples did not come from a Yeti, Sykes was optimistic that it may mean there’s a new species of hybrid bear wandering the mountains, awaiting discovery. Slate, however, points out that that’s also highly unlikely since polar bear pelts and corpses have been traded around the world since the medieval times. “My guess is that if bears got to Egypt or thereabouts in 1200-1300, it doesn’t seem like a big stretch that either a hide, hides, or parts of hides made it even further east,” polar bear expert Andrew Derocher told Slate.
In other words, the Yeti corpse was likely nothing more than a poor polar bear who many years ago found itself at the wrong end of a spear or a sword.
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