The Abominable Snowman Yeti creature is just a Himalayan Brown Bear, say researchers

The Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman, is not a hairy, giant humanoid creature but most likely just a Himalayan Brown Bear, say researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas.

In this latest study, published in the open access journal Zookeys (citation below), zoologist Ronald H. Pine and evolutionary biologist Eliécer E. Gutiérrez have refuted, through mitochondrial DNA sequencing, a claim made recently using the same type of genetic testing, that the Yeti must be an unknown type of bear that lives in the Himalayas.

In 2014, Brian Sykes from the Institute of Human Genetics at Oxford University and colleagues claimed they had found two samples that had been attributed to ‘anomalous primates’ (Yetis) said to have come from the Himalayas which matched 100% with DNA recovered from a 40,000-year-old Polar Bear fossil.

Yeti and Himalayan Brown Bear

Pine and Gutiérrez are pretty sure the Yeti is the Himalyan Brown Bear (bottom). It is definitely not the frightening creature at the top.

On this basis, Sykes and co-authors concluded that a currently hitherto undiscovered type of bear must exist in that part of Asia.


However, a subsequent study by C. J. Edwards from Oxford University and R. Barnett of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, showed that the sample used by Sykes and colleagues came from a present-day Alaskan Polar Bear and not a fossil. The two scientists suggested that due to degradation the samples had given false readings.

Sykes and team stuck to their guns, saying the samples must have come from an unknown type of bear that lived in the Himalayan region.

Brown Bears exist in the Himalayas, Polar Bears don’t

In this latest study by Gutiérrez and Pine, the two researchers concluded that relevant genetic variation in Brown Bears makes it impossible to assign, compellingly, Sykes and colleagues’ samples to either the Polar Bear or Brown Bear.

In fact, due to genetic overlap, they say the samples may have come from either one. However, as Brown Bears are known to live in the Himalayas and Polar Bears don’t, Pine and Gutiérrez say they are pretty sure the samples come from ordinary Himalayan Brown Bears.

In this latest study, Pine and Gutiérrez examined how the gene sequences analyzed might show how six present-day bear species, including the Brown Bear and Polar Bear, as well as the extinct Eurasian Cave Bear, might be related.

While many similarities were found, “the data set resulting from studying this part of the bears’ genomes seems to be insufficient to make any definitive decisions as to what are the existing relationships on the basis of it alone. In combination with the results of other studies, however, it may very well prove quite useful in making such decisions,” they wrote.

One sequence from a Japanese Asian Black Bear indicated that it was not a close relative of the mainland Asian Black Bears. The authors say this surprisingly large evolutionary distance between two geographic groups of Brown Bears “probably deserves further study”.

Gutiérrez said:

“In fact, a study looking at the genetic and morphological variability of Asian Black Bear populations throughout the geographic distribution of the species is yet to be conducted, and it would surely yield exciting results.”

Citation: No need to replace an ‘anomalous’ primate (Primates) with an ‘anomalous’ bear (Carnivora, Ursidae),” Eliécer Gutiérrez and Ronald H. Pine. Zookeys. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.487.9176.