A British scientist says he may have solved the mystery of the Abominable Snowman—the elusive ape-like creature of the Himalayas. He thinks it's a bear.
DNA analysis conducted by Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes suggests the creature, also known as the Yeti, is the descendant of an ancient polar bear. Sykes compared DNA from hair samples taken from two Himalayan animals—identified as local people as Yetis—to a database of animal genomes. He found they shared a genetic fingerprint with an ancient polar bear jawbone found in the Norwegian Arctic that is at least 40,000 years old.
Sykes said Thursday that the tests showed the creatures were not related to modern Himalayan bears but were direct descendants of the prehistoric animal. He said, "it may be a new species, it may be a hybrid" between polar bears and brown bears. "The next thing is go there and find one alive."
Sykes put out a call last year for museums, scientists and Yeti aficionados to share hair samples thought to be from the creature. One of the samples he analyzed came from an alleged Yeti mummy in the Indian region of Ladakh, at the Western edge of the Himalayas, and was taken by a French mountaineer who was shown the corpse 40 years ago. The other was a single hair found a decade ago in Bhutan, 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) to the east.
Sykes said the fact the hair samples were found so far apart, and so recently, suggests the members of the species are still alive. "I can't imagine we managed to get samples from the only two 'snow bears' in the Himalayas," he said.
Finding a living creature could explain whether differences in appearance and behavior to other bears account for descriptions of the Yeti as a towering, hairy hominid. "The polar bear ingredient in their genomes may have changed their behavior so they act different, look different, maybe walk on two feet more often," he said.
Sykes' research has not been published yet, but he says he has submitted it for peer review. His findings will be broadcast Sunday in a television program on Britain's Channel 4 television.