A Hunt for…Yetis?

The Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman, is a mysterious cryptid said to live in the Himalaya Mountains. It’s widely considered a mythological creature. But not all scientists agree. And now, some of them are launching an expedition to search for the Yeti. So, is the Yeti a legend? Or could this new expedition possibly bear fruit?

The Legend of the Yeti?

The exact origins of the Yeti mythology remain shrouded in mystery. But according to H. Siiger’s The “Abominable Snowman” chapter in Himalayan anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface (edited by James F. Fisher), the creature predates Buddhism in the Himalayas, as a factor in both folklore and religion.

During the late 1800s, knowledge of the Yeti began to seep into the outside world. During the 1900s, it became famous. While leading the Everest Reconnaissance Expedition in 1921, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury spotted strange, man-like footprints. Howard-Bury thought they belonged to a grey wolf which had made double tracks in the soft snow. His guides claimed they belonged to Yeti. Later, this name was mistranslated into the famous moniker, “Abominable Snowman.”

But the Yeti really came into its own in 1951 when Eric Shipton photographed large footprints while climbing Mount Everest. These photos have proven highly controversial over the years. However, subsequent expeditions reported similar discoveries and explorers began to investigate the possibility of an unidentified species living in the Himalayas. But physical evidence remained elusive.

The Mysterious Yeti Hand?

Around this time, rumors began to spread that the monastery at Pangboche possessed a Yeti hand, which it used as a ritual artifact. Tom Slick, an oil tycoon and adventurer, was determined to examine it. One of his associates, a man named Peter Byrne, supposedly stole some bones from the hand and replaced them with human bones. Byrnes smuggled the bones into India at which point actor Jimmy Stewart (yes, that Jimmy Stewart) smuggled the bones out of the country. Sir Edmund Hillary later investigated the hand left at the monastery. Not realizing that he was looking at a combination of the original hand and a human hand, he declared the relic to be fraudulent. The bones recovered by Byrnes were later analyzed by the TV program Unsolved Mysteries, which decided they were “near human.” Unfortunately, the hand disappeared shortly afterward, making future tests impossible.

Slick wasn’t the only person during that time period to believe in the Yeti. Recent revelations indicate that the U.S. government considered the Yeti to be a bonafide creature during the 1950s. It even set rules for expeditions hoping to discover one.

“The first rule required that expeditions buy a permit. The second demanded that the beast be photographed or taken alive. ‘It must not be killed or shot at except in an emergency arising out of self defense,’ wrote Embassy Counselor Ernest Fisk on November 30, 1959. And third, any news proving the existence of the Abominable Snowman must be cleared through the Nepalese government which probably wanted to take credit for the discovery.” ~ Paul Bedard, U.S. News

Recently, scientists from Russia, the United States, and other countries announced an expedition to Siberia to “hunt down the Yeti.” The effort will focus on the Kemerova region which has experienced a large increase in sightings over the last two decades. Is this a fool’s errand?

The Yeti: A Real-Life Cryptid?

I find cryptozoology to be an interesting field of study. At its best, it combines elements of zoology and folklore.

“The zoology-based cryptozoologist looks at the mystery animals being investigated by the folklore-based cryptozoologist, and thinks that they are highly unlikely to exist as real animals. The folklore-based cryptozoologist looks at the often rather mundane animals being investigated by the zoology-based cryptozoologist and thinks that the creatures concerned are so ordinary that they’re probably nothing to do with cryptozoology. A dedicated cryptozoologist – who combines investigation of both of these fields – is interested in both areas, and finds both real animals, and entities that exist only in folklore, of equal research interest.” ~ Darren Naish

After a long period of disrepute, the field is finally started to gain some interest from the established scientific community, thanks in large part to the recent Cryptozoology: Science of Pseudoscience conference conducted by the Zoological Society of London. At that conference, Henry Gee (Senior Editor of Nature), Dr. Michael Woodley, Dr. Charles Paxton, and Dr. Darren Naish argued convincingly that it’s possible to conduct scientific studies with cryptozoological data.

From my perspective, the most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters. The ocean is a vast place and its depths remain largely unexplored. And while I rarely trust eyewitness testimony, it’s difficult to ignore the cases of the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent which involved experienced sailors and respected zoologists, respectively.

Land-based cryptids are another matter. Unlike a deep ocean, land doesn’t easily hide skeletons. And the commonly-held theory that cryptids bury their own kind, while possible, doesn’t constitute proof. Still, there have been a few famous cases of supposed mythological land-based creatures being discovered in nature:

“A list of species have been discovered following the investigation of either local tales and legends, or fleeting observations of what were (at the time) mystery animals. One of the great classic examples is the Okapi. Referred to as the Atti and thought to be a donkey-like equid, it had been mentioned in passing by Henry Stanley in 1888. It was on the basis of this anecdotal information that Harry Johnston went in successful pursuit of it. Just two recent examples of this sort of thing include the Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji (discovered in 2006 following observations of a mystery monkey) and the Burmese snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri (discovered in 2010 following investigation of local reports about a “monkey with an upturned nose”).” Darren Naish, Scientific American

All in all, I think the Yeti is one of the more believable land-based cryptids. Unlike Bigfoot, it resides in the frigid, treacherous Himalayas. Few people live in that area and the conditions make it difficult to search effectively.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Assuming that the Yeti is a truly unique species, what is it? One intriguing possibility is presented by Igor Burtsev, who is connected to the most recent Yeti expedition.

“When Homo sapiens started populating the world, it viciously exterminated its closest relative in the hominid family, Homo neanderthalensis. Some of the Neanderthals, however, may have survived to this day in some mountainous wooded habitats that are more or less off limits to their arch foes.” ~ Igor Burtsev, International Center of Hominology

This may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. The recent discovery of Homo floresiensisin Indonesia shows that other hominids were still alive as recently as 12,000 years ago. This has led some scientists, most notably Henry Gee, to think that “perhaps stories of other human-like creatures might be founded on grains of truth.”

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