The Yeti is a folkloric ape-like creature taller than an average human, that is said to inhabit the Himalayan mountains.
The names Yeti and Meh-Teh are commonly used by the people indigenous to the region and are part of their history and mythology.
Stories of the Yeti first emerged as a facet of Western popular culture in the 19th century. The scientific community has generally regarded the Yeti as a legend, given the lack of evidence of its existence.
The “Abominable Snowman”
The name “Abominable Snowman” was coined in 1921, the same year Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury led the 1921 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition which he chronicled in Mount Everest The Reconnaissance, 1921.
In the book, Howard-Bury includes an account of crossing the Lhakpa La at 21,000 ft (6,400 m) where he found footprints that he believed “were probably caused by a large ‘loping’ grey wolf, which in the soft snow formed double tracks rather like those of a bare-footed man“.
The use of “Abominable Snowman” began when Henry Newman, a longtime contributor to The Statesman in Calcutta, writing under the pen name “Kim“, interviewed the porters of the “Everest Reconnaissance expedition” on their return to Darjeeling.
According to H. Siiger, the Yeti was a part of the pre-Buddhist beliefs of several Himalayan people. He was told that the Lepcha people worshipped a “Glacier Being” as a God of the Hunt.
He also reported that followers of the Bön religion once believed the blood of the “mi rgod” or “wild man” had used in certain mystical ceremonies. The being was depicted as an apelike creature who carries a large stone as a weapon and makes a whistling swoosh sound.
In 1832, James Prinsep’s Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal published trekker B. H. Hodgson’s account of his experiences in northern Nepal. His local guides spotted a tall bipedal creature covered with long dark hair, which seemed to flee in fear. Hodgson concluded it was an orangutan.
An early record of reported footprints appeared in 1899 in Laurence Waddell’s Among the Himalayas. Waddell reported his guide’s description of a large apelike creature that left the prints, which Waddell thought were made by a bear. Waddell heard stories of bipedal, apelike creatures but wrote that:
“none, however, of the many Tibetans I have interrogated on this subject could ever give me an authentic case. On the most superficial investigation, it always resolved into something that somebody heard tell of.”
The frequency of reports increased during the early 20th century when Westerners began making determined attempts to scale the many mountains in the area and occasionally reported seeing odd creatures or strange tracks.
In 1925, N. A. Tombazi, a photographer and member of the Royal Geographical Society, writes that he saw a creature at about 15,000 ft (4,600 m) near Zemu Glacier. Tombazi later wrote that he observed the creature from about 200 to 300 yd (180 to 270 m), for about a minute.
“Unquestionably, the figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping occasionally to pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes. It showed up dark against the snow, and as far as I could make out, wore no clothes.”
About two hours later, Tombazi and his companions descended the mountain and saw the creature’s prints, described as
“similar in shape to those of a man, but only six to seven inches long by four inches wide… The prints were undoubtedly those of a biped.”
Western interest in the Yeti peaked dramatically in the 1950s. While attempting to scale Mount Everest in 1951, Eric Shipton took photographs of a number of large prints in the snow, at about 6,000 m (20,000 ft) above sea level. These photos have been subject to intense scrutiny and debate. Some argue they are the best evidence of Yeti’s existence, while others contend the prints are those of a mundane creature that have been distorted by the melting snow.
In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reported seeing large footprints while scaling Mount Everest. Hillary would later discount Yeti reports as unreliable. In his first autobiography, Tenzing said that he believed the Yeti was a large ape, and although he had never seen it himself his father had seen one twice, but in his second autobiography, he said he had become much more skeptical about its existence.
During the Daily Mail Snowman Expedition of 1954, the mountaineering leader John Angelo Jackson made the first trek from Everest to Kanchenjunga in the course of which he photographed symbolic paintings of the Yeti at Tengboche gompa.
Jackson tracked and photographed many footprints in the snow, most of which were identifiable. However, there were many large footprints which could not be identified. These flattened footprint-like indentations were attributed to erosion and subsequent widening of the original footprint by wind and particles.
On 19 March 1954, the Daily Mail printed an article which described expedition teams obtaining hair specimens from what was alleged to be a Yeti scalp found in the Pangboche monastery.
The hairs were black to dark brown in color in dim light, and fox red in the sunlight. The hair was analyzed by Professor Frederic Wood Jones, an expert in human and comparative anatomy. During the study, the hairs were bleached, cut into sections and analyzed microscopically.
The research consisted of taking microphotographs of the hairs and comparing them with hairs from known animals such as bears and orangutans. Jones concluded that the hairs were not actually from a scalp. He contended that while some animals do have a ridge of hair extending from the pate to the back, no animals have a ridge (as in the Pangboche scalp) running from the base of the forehead across the pate and ending at the nape of the neck. Jones was unable to pinpoint exactly the animal from which the Pangboche hairs were taken.
He was, however, convinced that the hairs were not of a bear or anthropoid ape. He suggested that the hairs were from the shoulder of a coarse-haired hoofed animal.
Sławomir Rawicz claimed in his book The Long Walk, published in 1956, that as he and some others were crossing the Himalayas in the winter of 1940, their path was blocked for hours by two bipedal animals that were doing seemingly nothing but shuffling around in the snow.
Beginning in 1957, Tom Slick funded a few missions to investigate Yeti reports. In 1959, supposed Yeti feces were collected by one of Slick’s expeditions; fecal analysis found a parasite that could not be classified.
The United States government thought that finding the Yeti was likely enough to create three rules for American expeditions searching for it: obtain a Nepalese permit, do not harm the Yeti except in self-defense, and let the Nepalese government approve any news reporting on the animal’s discovery.
In 1960, Sir Edmund Hillary mounted an expedition to collect and analyze physical evidence of the Yeti. Hillary borrowed a supposed Yeti scalp from the Khumjung monastery then himself and Khumjo Chumbi (the village headman), brought the scalp back to London where a small sample was cut off for testing.
Marca Burns made a detailed examination of the sample of skin and hair from the margin of the alleged Yeti scalp and compared it with similar samples from the serow, blue bear and black bear. Burns concluded the sample:
“was probably made from the skin of an animal closely resembling the sampled specimen of Serow, but definitely not identical with it: possibly a local variety or race of the same species, or a different but closely related species.”
Up to the 1960s, belief in the yeti was relatively common in Bhutan and in 1966 a Bhutanese stamp was made to honor the creature. However, in the twenty-first century belief in the being has declined.
In 1983, Himalayan conservationist Daniel C. Taylor and Himalayan natural historian Robert L. Fleming Jr. led a yeti expedition into Nepal’s Barun Valley (suggested by the discovery in the Barun in 1972 of footprints alleged to be yeti by Cronin & McNeely).
The Taylor-Fleming expedition also discovered similar yeti-like footprints (hominoid appearing with both a hallux and bipedal gait), intriguing large nests in trees, and vivid reports from local villagers of two bears, rukh bhalu (‘tree bear’, small, reclusive, weighing about 150 pounds (70 kg)) and bhui bhalu (‘ground bear’, aggressive, weighing up to 400 pounds (180 kg)).
Further interviews across Nepal gave evidence of local belief in two different bears. Skulls were collected, these were compared to known skulls at the Smithsonian Institution, American Museum of Natural History, and British Museum, and confirmed identification of a single species, the Asiatic black bear, showing no morphological difference between ‘tree bear’ and ‘ground bear.’
In 2004, Henry Gee, editor of the journal Nature, mentioned the Yeti as an example of a legend deserving further study, writing:
“The discovery that Homo floresiensis survived until so very recently, in geological terms, makes it more likely that stories of other mythical, human-like creatures such as Yetis are founded on grains of truth.”
In early December 2007, American television presenter Joshua Gates and his team (Destination Truth) reported finding a series of footprints in the Everest region of Nepal resembling descriptions of Yeti. Each of the footprints measured 33 cm (13 in) in length with five toes that measured a total of 25 cm (9.8 in) across. Casts were made of the prints for further research.
The footprints were examined by Jeffrey Meldrum of Idaho State University, who believed them to be too morphologically accurate to be fake or man-made, before changing his mind after making further investigations. Later in 2009, in a TV show, Gates presented hair samples with a forensic analyst concluding that the hair contained an unknown DNA sequence.
On 25 July 2008, the BBC reported that hairs collected in the remote Garo Hills area of North-East India by Dipu Marak had been analyzed at Oxford Brookes University in the UK by primatologist Anna Nekaris and microscopy expert Jon Wells.
These initial tests were inconclusive, and ape conservation expert Ian Redmond told the BBC that there was a similarity between the cuticle pattern of these hairs and specimens collected by Edmund Hillary during Himalayan expeditions in the 1950s and donated to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and announced planned DNA analysis. This analysis has since revealed that the hair came from the Himalayan goral.
At a 2011 conference in Russia, participating scientists and enthusiasts declared having “95% evidence” of the Yeti’s existence. However, this claim was disputed later; American anthropologist and anatomist Jeffrey Meldrum, who was present during the Russian expedition, claimed the “evidence” found was simply an attempt by local officials to drum up publicity.
A yeti was reportedly captured in Russia in December 2011. Initially, the story claimed that a hunter reported having seen a bear-like creature, trying to kill one of his sheep, but after he fired his gun, the creature ran into a forest on two legs. The story then claimed that border patrol soldiers captured a hairy two-legged female creature similar to a gorilla that ate meat and vegetation. This was later revealed as a hoax or possibly a publicity stunt for charity.