The Mythical Yeti – The Abominable Snowman


Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

The mythical Yeti once better known as the Abominable Snowman, is one of several supposed “ape-men”. Elsewhere in the world, people tell tales of Bigfoot or the Sasquatch ,  is a mysterious bipedal creature that has long inhabited the remote and mostly uninhabited Himalayan Mountains, including Mount Everest, in central Asia, and Nepal, Tibet, China, and southern Russia.

The indigenous names of the Yeti reflect its mythological character. The Tibetan word Yeti is a compound word that roughly translates as “bear of a rocky place,” while another Tibetan name Michê means “man bear.” The Sherpas call it Dzu-teh,translated “cattle bear” and is sometimes used to refer to the Himalayan brown bear. Bun Manchi is a Nepali word for “jungle man.” Other names include Kang Admi or “snowman” which is sometimes combined as Metoh Kangmi or “man-bear snowman

According to popular cultural belief, a Yeti is an enormous, shaggy ape-man with huge feet and aggressive sabre-like teeth. Its fur is either grey or white.This supernatural and legendary being is an erect bipedal animal that is over six feet tall, weighs between 200 and 400 pounds, is covered with red to gray hair It is often depicted roaming the snowy mountains alone, make a whistling sound, has a bad smell, and is usually nocturnal and secretive. .” Many modern Yeti researchers, including the great mountaineer Reinhold Messner, feel that Yetis are actually born that sometimes walk upright.

The Yeti is a character in ancient legends and folklore of the Himalaya people. In most of the tales, the Yeti is a figure of danger, author Shiva Dhakal told the BBC. The moral of the stories is often a warning to avoid dangerous wild animals and to stay close and safe within the community.

Alexander the Great demanded to see a Yeti when he conquered the Indus Valley in 326 B.C. But, according to National Geographic, local people told him they were unable to present one because the creatures could not survive at that low an altitude.

The Yeti has long been a revered figure in Himalayan mythology that predates Buddhism. The peoples inhabiting Tibet and Nepal  do not see  Yeti as a proto-human type of creature but instead a man-like animal that seems to exist with supernatural powers.  Yeti comes and goes like a hairy ghost, just showing up rather than being found by tracking. Some stories tell of it flying in the air; killing goats and other livestock; kidnapping young women who are taken back to a cave to rear children, and throwing stones at humans.

Majority of the evidence for the Yeti comes from sightings and reports. Like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. It’s not clear if these sightings were real, hoaxes or misidentifications .

1st Century AD: Pliny the Elder’s Account of the Yeti.The Yeti’s existence has long been known by Sherpas and other Himalayan inhabitants who observed the mysterious creature for thousands of years, Pliny the Elder’s, a Roman traveler, who wrote in Natural History in the first century AD: “Among the mountainous districts of the eastern parts of India…we find the Satyr, an animal of extraordinary swiftness. These go sometimes on four feet, and sometimes walk erect; they have also the features of a human being. On account of their swiftness, these creatures are never to be caught, except when they are either aged or sickly…. These people screech in a frightful manner; their bodies are covered with hair, their eyes are of a sea-green color, and their teeth like those of the dog.”

1832: First Yeti Report to the Western World. In 1832 in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal by British explorer B.H. Hodgeson, who said his guides had previously spotted a hairy bipedal ape in the high mountains.

1899: First Recorded Yeti Footprints. The first recorded Yeti footprints, still the most common evidence of the Yeti’s existence, was in 1899 by Laurence Waddell. He reported in his book Among the Himalayas that the footprints were left by a large upright hominid.

In 1921 the explorer and politician Charles Howard-Bury led a British expedition to Mount Everest. He spotted some large footprints and was told that they belonged to “metoh-kangmi”. This means something like “man-bear snow-man”.

When the expedition returned ,   a journalist named Henry Newman interviewed a group of British explorers who had just returned from a Mount Everest expedition. The explorers told the journalist they had discovered some very large footprints on the mountain to which their guides had attributed to “metoh-kangmi,” essentially meaning “man-bear snow-man.” Newman got the “snowman” part right but mistranslated “metoh” as “filthy.” Then he seemed to think “abominable” sounded even better and used this more menacing name in the paper.

In that moment, a legend was born. Accounts of sightings by locals continued to be translated by Western visitors and the story of a mysterious ape-like snow-man took off.

First Detailed Yeti Report in 1925. N.A. Tombazi, a Greek photographer on a British expedition to the Himalayas, made one of the first detailed reports about the Yeti in 1925 after observing one on a mountainside at 15,000 feet. Tombazi later recounted what he saw: “Unquestionably, the figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping occasionally to uproot or pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes. It showed up dark against the snow and, as far as I could make out, wore no clothes.” The Yeti disappeared before he could take a photograph but later Tombazi stopped while descending and saw 15 footprints in the snow that were 16 to 24 inches apart. He wrote about the prints: “They were similar in shape to those of a man, but only six to seven inches long by four inches wide at the broadest part of the foot. The marks of five distinct toes and the instep were perfectly clear, but the trace of the heel was indistinct.”

Researcher Myra Shackley  In her book “Still Living? Yeti, Sasquatch, and the Neanderthal Enigma” , offers the following description, reported by two hikers in 1942 who saw “two black specks moving across the snow about a quarter mile below them.” Despite this significant distance, they offered the following very detailed description: “The height was not much less than eight feet … the heads were described as ‘squarish’ and the ears must lie close to the skull because there was no projection from the silhouette against the snow. The shoulders sloped sharply down to a powerful chest … covered by reddish brown hair which formed a close body fur mixed with long straight hairs hanging downward.” Another person saw a creature “about the size and build of a small man, the head covered with long hair but the face and chest not very hairy at all. Reddish-brown in color and bipedal, it was busy grubbing up roots and occasionally emitted a loud high-pitched cry.”

From the 1920s through the 1950s there was a lot of interest in both climbing the great Himalayan peaks, including the fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, as well as trying to find evidence of the Yeti. Many great Himalayan climbers saw Yetis, including Eric Shipton; Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953; British climber Don Whillans on Annapurna.

By the 1950s, interest ran high. Various mountaineers launched expeditions to find the creature.  Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale Mt. Everest, searched for evidence of the Yeti. He found what was claimed to be a scalp from the beast, though scientists later determined that the helmet-shaped hide was in fact made from a serow, a Himalayan animal similar to a goat.

The World Book Encyclopedia  approached Edmund Hillary. He had been somewhat of a believer in the 1950s but he said, “We shouldn’t go just Yeti searching, we should study how people live at high altitude.” So they built a house at 19,000 feet and did a bunch of experiments on how humans acclimatize. They’re the ones who first made the distinction between the Sherpa belief in the Yeti and the Yeti as a mysterious hominoid that lives in the mountains.

Shipton and Michael Ward were searching for an alternative Everest route when they came across the prints. Shipton was one of the most highly respected Everest explorers, so if he is bringing back a print, it is a real print. Nobody ever questioned that. The photograph was taken on the Menlung Glacier, west of Mount Everest, on the Nepal-Tibet border.

What was captivating about the prints was that they’re really sharp. The snow was hard so the photo looks like a sort of plaster of Paris cast. The second feature was that the prints looked like a human footprint, but with a thumb. So, you get this primate-like feeling but hominoid at the same time. Its enormous size—13 inches—also suggests a magnificent hominoid, a King Kong type of image! And the media grabbed it

The most important one was the Daily Mail one in 1954. That’s when Yeti fever took off, though the name for the Yeti was given as the Abominable Snowman. Then American oilman Tom Slick mounted several expeditions. One of them had 500 porters and spent 6 months in the field. They even took along bloodhounds to track the scent.

The.  great alpinist Reinhold Messner ,  the  famous Yeti-hunter of all , claims to have seen one in the Himalayas in the 1980s, and returned dozens of times to get to the bottom of the mystery. Messner first saw a yeti in 1986 as well as later sightings. Messner later wrote the book My Quest for the Yeti in 1998 about his Yeti encounters, explorations, and thoughts on the elusive Yeti.

Messner has a simple theory to explain all the sightings: the Yeti is a bear.Messner believes that the Yeti legend is a combination of a real bear species and Sherpa tales about the dangers of wild animals.”All the Yeti footprints are all the same bear,” says Messner. “The Yeti isn’t a fantastic figure. The Yeti is reality.”He is contemptuous of the idea that the Yeti is some sort of ape-man, “People don’t like reality, they like crazy stories,” he says. “They like the Yeti as a Neanderthal, the Yeti as a mix between a human and an ape.”

In March 1986, Anthony Wooldridge, a hiker in the Himalayas, saw what he thought was a Yeti standing in the snow near a ridge about 500 feet (152 meters) away. It didn’t move or make noise, but Wooldridge saw odd tracks in the snow that seemed to lead toward the figure. He took two photographs of the creature, which were later analyzed and proven genuine. Many in the Bigfoot community seized upon the photos as clear evidence of a Yeti, including John Napier, an anatomist and anthropologist who had served as the Smithsonian Institution’s director of primate biology.

The idea of ape-like creatures living in the mountains is more believable now than it was a few decades ago. We now know that hominid populations can go unnoticed for a long time. For example take the Denisovans, an extinct species of human known from a few fragmentary remains from a cave in Siberia. The remains were only discovered in 2008, yet genetic analysis suggests they survived for hundreds of thousands of years, only dying out around 40,000 years ago.

Another lost species endured until even more recently. The diminutive “hobbits” Homo floresiensis may have survived in Indonesia until just 12,000 years ago. That suggests there might be other populations to learn about.

Writing in the journal Nature in 2004, in the wake of the hobbit discovery, Henry Gee wrote that: “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 2007, American TV show host Josh Gates claimed he found three mysterious footprints in snow near a stream in the Himalayas. Locals were skeptical, suggesting that Gates — who had only been in the area for about a week — simply misinterpreted a bear track. Nothing more was learned about what made the print, and the track can now be found not in a natural history museum but instead in a small display at Walt Disney World.

In 2010, hunters in China caught a strange animal that they claimed was a Yeti. This mysterious, hairless, four-legged animal was initially described as having features resembling a bear, but was finally identified as a civet, a small cat-like animal that had lost its hair from disease.

The Russian government took an interest in the Yeti in 2011, and organized a conference of Bigfoot experts in western Siberia. Bigfoot researcher and biologist John Bindernagel claimed that he saw evidence that the Yeti not only exist but also build nests and shelters out of twisted tree branches. That group made headlines around the world when they issued a statement that they had “indisputable proof” of the Yeti, and were 95 percent sure it existed based on some grey hairs found in a clump moss in a cave.

In 2011, a Russian-led expedition and conference claimed to have “irrefutable evidence” of the Yeti’s existence, including a bed.

Even the Hollywood film star James Stewart supposedly got in on the act, by storing a Yeti finger in his luggage. In 2011, DNA testing revealed that the finger was human.

In 2014, Messner’s point of view received some unlikely support: from genetics.Bryan Sykes, formerly a professor of genetics at the University of Oxford in the UK, decided to test some supposed Yetis.

He and his team analysed hair samples from anomalous primates said to be Yetis, some of them supplied by Messner. They then compared the “Yeti” DNA with the genomes of other animals.

The team found that two Himalayan samples – one  from Ladakh, India and the other from Bhutan – were most genetically similar to a polar bear that lived 40,000 years ago.

This suggested that the Himalayas is home to an as-yet-unknown bear, a hybrid of an ancient polar bear and a brown bear. “If these bears are widely distributed in the Himalayas, they may well contribute to the biological foundation of the Yeti legend,” the team wrote.

Daniel Taylor, author of Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery, has been searching for signs of this “Abominable Snowman” in the high Himalayas since he was a child.  Chamlang mountain rises above Makalu-Barun National Park in Nepal. Daniel Taylor helped create the park after exploring the region in search of the Yeti.

Taylor explains what he thinks made that human-like footprint, how his search eventually led to the creation of a national park, and why, in an age where we have become disconnected from nature, we have a deep need to believe in mysteries.

DNA analysis became a powerful new tool in the search for the Yeti. Tell us about the tests done by Bryan Sykes, at Oxford University, in England, and what new light they shed on the mystery.

They created a lot of confusion! A professor from Oxford makes a global call for all Yeti artifacts—hair, fingernails, bones, fragments—and he gets many, many artifacts, mostly bits of bear or sheep. He then does DNA analysis and finds that two appear to be bear-like, but can’t be explained by any known animal. The closest DNA connection is the polar bear but with mysterious DNA sequences.

After he publishes his research, the Yeti myth gets reactivated worldwide. A couple of doctoral students then decide to check his DNA sequencing. They show that he made a mistake and that rather than proposing a new animal it is the incomplete sequence of a known animal. Once again, we come back to the bear.

Although there is no concrete proof, people still go looking for Yetis in the Himalayas. Yetis are an example of cryptozoology: the search for creatures that cannot be said to exist because of a lack of evidence. That does not mean the end of the search, in future. “The fact there has never been any evidence hasn’t stopped people from searching,” says Barnett. As long as we enjoy legends and fairy tales, we won’t forget the Yeti.





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