“With a bear to cross” (Yeti)


Last week, I was surprised to realize I had never written about Tarot cards in this forum. I corrected that deficiency and today will again address a topic I had somehow managed to neglect all this time, the Abominable Snowman.

The subject in question is a proposed bipedal ape-life creature, usually depicted as being hairier, larger, and stronger than humans. Yeti is said to reside in the vicinity of Mount Everest and the concept is so entrenched in the Himalayan region that it predates Buddhism there.

But while there are thousands of years’ worth of yarns and excited reports, there has yet to be the recovery of a live or deceased being. Nor has anyone come down the mountain with fur, skin, or bone that would belong to a mammoth bipedal ape, so all scientific signs point to Yeti being mythological. And while eyewitness reports are the lowest caliber evidence, it is even truer in these cases, as whiteout conditions and altitude sickness can come into play.

The closest thing to proof are footprint photos. There have been pictures taken of impressions made by a large beast that seem inconsistent with any known animal. However, the prints are likely made by a bear or other large creature, with the image becoming distorted by melting and refreezing snow, or by erosion and wind.

Skeptic leader Benjamin Radford, who specializes in examining cryptozoological claims, explains, “Tracks in snow can be very difficult to interpret correctly because of the unstable nature of the medium in which they are found. Snow physically changes as the temperature varies and as sunlight hits it. This has several effects on the impression, often making the tracks of ordinary animals seem both larger and misshapen. As sunlight strikes the impression from different angles, the sides of the tracks melt unevenly. Thus a bear track made at night but found the next afternoon has been exposed to the morning sun and might change into a mysterious track with splayed toes.”

Likewise, there have hair and scalp specimens touted as having belonged to a crypto critter, but these too fall short of scientific validation. Examinations by anatomy and biology professionals generally reveal that the remains belong to a known animal. And even when unknown, they are close enough to a verified creature that it is much more likely that they are an undiscovered relative instead of the long-sought bipedal manlike beast.

Many of the supposed sightings are likely of the Tibetan blue bear. When the hide of such an animal was brought down from Everest in the 1970s, natives pointed to it and proclaimed it to be from a Yeti. Other animals misidentified as the Abominable Snowman might be the langur monkey or two varieties of Himalayan bear, the brown and the red.

A relatively recent find, from Bhutan, was of a hair that human genetics professor Bryan Sykes analyzed and he was unable to match it to any known member of the Animal Kingdom. Much as happened when searchers found an unknown hair in the Pacific Northeast, some cryptozoological enthusiasts were only too happy to fill in the biological blanks with their favorite fur ball. But further analysis showed that the Bhutanese hair belonged to a mutated Himalayan brown bear.

Indeed, bears are the most frequent explanation for putative Yeti evidence. From ages 2 to 4, the Asiatic black bear spends much of its day in trees to avoid predators. During this period, the treed bears train their inner claw outward, allowing an opposable grip. When walking in the snow, this could leave an impression seeming to suggest the animal has something akin to a big toe, and could be misinterpreted as an elongated humanoid foot.

Some persons seeking a more ancient answer speculate that the Yeti is a descendant of the extinct Asian ape Gigantopithecus. However, the Yeti is generally described as bipedal, and most scientists believe Gigantopithecus moved about on all fours. And its descendants likely did not have evolve to be bipedal since Gigantopithecus was so large that walking upright would have been problematic at best.

So after numerous searches for the expressed purpose of finding a Yeti, in the precise place he is supposed to live, we still have no strong evidence for its existence. What the expeditions have revealed is the mindset of the trekkers. There are many animals yet to be discovered and scavenging about for the Abominable Snowman is unlikely to reduce this number. Yeti is a captivating concept to those looking for him, but such adventurers are more drawn to the thrill of chasing a monster than they are driven by the desire to expand our zoological knowledge. The expeditioners would be much more likely to score a hit if they were to embark on a mission to find the next beetle subspecies. But that would fail to provide them with the thrill that losing a game of hide-and-seek to Yeti brings.

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