Yeti sightings in Himalayas

The creature which almost dragged the Sherpa girl, Lakhpa Domini, into a stream was ape-like. An ape with large eyes and black and brown hair. She had been at watch over her yaks near a stream near Machherma village when the thing seized her. Only after she gave a scream did the beast let go. Then it set about her yaks. The police were alerted. They found footprints to corroborate the tale.

Such episodes are quite common to the people who inhabit the Nepalese mountains, the Sherpas. This case is only known to the West because it was recounted by a Peace Corps volunteer called William Weber in the early Eighties (Welfare and Fairley, p-19-20).

The Abominable Snowman is a sensational legend – made all the more exotic as it issues from an out-of-the-way territory. What could be more romantic than the Himalayas: the land of the Dalai Lama, Shangri La, Tibetan monks and heroic endurance? What follows, though, is my attempt to show that there is more to the yeti than an escapist fable.

The Bear hypothesis.

Last November the internet, TV and newspapers thrummed with `final exposes` of the yeti enigma. A geneticist called Professor Bryan Sykes, who is attached to Oxford University, had unmasked the culprit. After having scanned two bits of hard evidence –hair samples from Bhutan and western Himalayas – he concluded that the yeti is...a bear.

`So that’s that one put in a box`, says Joe Public with a clap of the hand. `Pass me a pot noodle while I play a Scooby Doo video game`. As much as we `all-like-a-good-mystery`, we all like a good mystery wrapped up even more.

Read the small print, however, and you will see that Professor Sykes’s claim is neither simple nor unproblematic. He has just substituted one unknown animal for another – a new species of prehistoric bear. This may be a subspecies of brown bear that descended from a polar bear, or a cross-breed between a polar bear and a brown bear. Either way, its behaviour differs from that of a standard bear, thus accounting for yeti tales.

The broadsheet columnist Anunja Ahuga could therefore announce `a dazzling discovery` of a `beast unknown to science` that even exists outside of `the fevered imagination of the locals` (Telegraph Online, November 21st, 2013). So, the Yeti is Dead...Long Live the Yeti...sort of!

The West and the Yeti.

Towering with dizzying height over verdant pastures like vast crystals, the Himalayan Mountain range encompasses Tibet, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Sikkim. From time immemorial, the locals have spoken of a man-like beast that belongs to these heights.

The West first came to hear of this from the hill-walker B.H.Hodgson who related some tales from Northern Nepal in 1825. Then the military Major Lawrence Waddell recorded the first footprints in 1899. By 1921 journalists were already dashing out copy about the `Abominable Snowman`.

Then followed the craze of attempts to scale Mount Everest. The mountaineers brought with them the oxygen of publicity, and back with them stories of yeti encounters. The Second World War put a stop to the party for a while until 1951. This was when Eric Shipton reignited speculation with his dramatic snapshots of enormous foot tracks in the snow.

Witness transcriptions reveal some agreement. Our snowman averages six feet in height and is thick set with a weight between 200 and 400 pounds. The hair is shaggy grey or red brown and the face pale and hairless. The yeti stoops, sometimes on four legs, sometimes two, and its toes point backwards. The beast lives in mountain forests and caves and prefers to come out at night. There are times when the yeti attacks humans, hence the fear with which it is sometimes spoken of.

An early western conjecture was that what is being described is nothing more than an orang utan. This monkey, however, is too small to fit the profile. Besides how and why would this monkey stray so far from its native Borneo and Sumatra?

Bears though are known to inhabit the locality. They do match the yeti’s size. Furthermore, they can sometimes assume an upright posture. John Napier, the eminent British primatologist, considered a glorified bear to be behind the legend. Likewise, the Italian alpinist, Reinhold Messner,who had his own glimpse of the yeti, decided in the end that the elusive Tibetan blue bear might be the smoking gun. So if we look at Professor Sykes’s findings and arm ourselves with Occam’s razor then the bear hypothesis looks quite solid. Take a bear seen at a distance, add a dash of superstition, sauté on a low heat of tourism – and serve with journalistic hyperbole. Voila! A monster myth sprouts legs!

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