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Proof of the yeti? Not quite yet

Analysis of hairs attributed to yetis and other ‘anomalous primates’ reveals no unknown species.

A call-out for hairs thought to belong to the yeti and its counterparts worldwide yielded 30 samples that were subjected to DNA analysis. None of the samples matched primates, except for one human hair.

Most were other living mammals such as black bears, cows and horses. Two samples, from the mountains of India and Bhutan, most closely matched an ancient extinct bear, and may represent preserved ancient material or a new hybrid.

The search continues

The research, published yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was led by Prof Bryan Sykes from the University of Oxford.

Commenting on the research in the same journal issue, Museum palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist Prof Norman MacLeod said that it’s a great opportunity for scientists and cryptozoologists – those that look for unknown or ‘hidden’ species such as the yeti or Loch Ness monster – to work more closely together.

‘For those seriously interested in finding out whether such creatures exist, the search does not need to stop here. It just needs to get smarter,’ he said.    

Traditionally, cryptozoologists have based their claims for anomalous animals on footprints and eyewitness accounts. Techniques such as DNA analysis provide a way for potential evidence to be scientifically tested.

‘Call them myths, legends, tall tales, alleged sightings, local knowledge or whatever you want,’ said Prof MacLeod. ‘In the end they’re all just hypotheses to be tested, no different from the hypotheses we set out to test every day.’   

Scouring for new species

While the yeti and its counterparts are famous ‘unknown species’, Prof MacLeod said that many less charismatic species also await discovery.

‘Regardless of where you stand on the issue of yetis, what is certain is that there are a very large number of species presently unknown to science out there waiting to be found,’ he said. 

With many more species to be found, Prof MacLeod suggests using DNA more widely, searching landscapes for traces of creatures and plants, rather than hunting for specific groups.

‘DNA amplification technology has reached the point these days where blind sampling of the general environment is not only possible, but is being used as a practical strategy for finding new species in environments that are either expensive to travel to, hostile, or inaccessible to humans.’