Bears! The Yeti Is a Bunch of Bears!

SCIENCE

Among the snowy peaks of Nepal and Tibet, stories tell of a mysterious ape-like creature called the Yeti. Other stories tell of critically endangered species called the Dzu-Teh. Which one is real? (Los Angeles Times and National Geographic)

Navigate the historic range of the yeti on our Cryptid Cartogram.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including today’s fun MapMaker Interactive map.

Hey, you’d be upset if you didn’t exist, too.
Photograph by Loren Javier, courtesy Flickr. CC BY-ND 2.0

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This nice map displays the distribution of Himalayan (red) and Tibetan (blue) subspecies of brown bear. The triangles, diamonds, and circles, respectively, indicate the approximate collecting localities of the studied samples associated with Asian black bear, Tibetan brown bear and Himalayan brown bear.
Map from “Evolutionary history of enigmatic bears in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region and the identity of the yeti
Tianying Lan, Stephanie Gill, Eva Bellemain, Richard Bischof, Muhammad Ali Nawaz, Charlotte Lindqvist
Proc. R. Soc. B 2017 284 20171804; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1804. Published 29 November 2017

This Cryptid Cartogram is a rough guide to some of the world’s most mysterious monsters.

Discussion Ideas

  • New research claims to uncover the “identity of the Yeti.” What is the yeti?
    • A yeti is a cryptid—an animal or other organism, usually mythic, whose existence has not been proved. Yetis, a legendary species of “abominable snowman”, are part of the mythology of the Himalayas. Like its North American cousins, Bigfoots, yetis are reported as big, bipedal hominins.
    • Editor’s note: Yeah, we’re using the lowercase y on yeti here. It’s a generic noun referring to an animal, like dog or otter or hominin.

 

  • What evidence of yetis did researchers analyze?
    • Nine samples of alleged yeti fur and bones were provided to researchers from the Messner Mountain Museum and the Icon Films. The collections were originally found or supplied by local Himalayan sources, such as mountaineering expeditions and religious pilgrimage sites.
    • In addition to samples organic tissue from yetis, researchers examined hair and fecal samples from extant bear species. These were collected from zoos and the wild.

 

 

  • What did researchers conclude about evidence of the yeti?
    • One tooth sample collected from a museum exhibit turned out to be from a domestic dog. That was the outlier.
    • The rest of the samples were all clearly grouped within four bear lineages: Himalayan brown bear, Tibetan brown bear, Continental Eurasian brown bear and Asian black bear.

 

  • Does this prove that yetis do not exist?
    • No, fearless cryptozoologists, it does not.
      • First, it’s really hard to prove a negative—that something does not exist; that’s why cryptids have “survived” for millennia.
      • Second, it’s myth. “You can’t debunk a myth with anything as mundane as facts,” says evolutionary biologist Ross Barnett.
      • Third, this study analyzed nine samples. It did not analyze every piece of possible evidence for the existence of the yeti. No study ever could. What evidence would you look for if exploring for yetis?
        • decaying carcasses?
        • disintegrating feces?
        • (big) footprints?
        • dens, nests, or other places where hominins might shelter, hibernate, or raise their young?
        • migration routes, such as paths?
        • photographic or video evidence?
        • eyewitness accounts?

 

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Yeti Legends Are Based on These Real Animals, DNA Shows

Los Angeles Times: DNA analysis solves the ‘Yeti’ mystery: They’re bears

Nat Geo: Cryptid Cartogram

(extra credit, good read!) Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Evolutionary history of enigmatic bears in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region and the identity of the yeti

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