Indian army's Yeti sighting 'evidence' lacks scientific backing

Last Updated: Fri, May 10, 2019 10:37 hrs
Indian Army Yeti sighting

“PM Modi’s achche din more elusive than Yeti” said Akhilesh Yadav. A timely reference from the Samajwadi Party chief .The mysterious and perhaps mythical beast called the Yeti cropped up in the news recently after the Indian Army posted what it claimed to be are footprints of said creature.

It’s generally believed to be taller than the average human and has resemblances to an ape. It’s been part of folklore in the Himalayan region for a long time. Scientists have long thought that the ‘abominable snowman’ isn’t real and the evidence thus far suggests that it could be a bear. The footprints were spotted near the Makalu base camp.

Crucial here is that all one has to go on are footprints. There isn’t any hair or DNA samples which could used to verify. However, this hasn’t stopped the Army from taking these footprints seriously. While many over decades have claimed to have spotted the creature, there isn’t anything that can be described as decent evidence of it even existing. The Nepal army rejected the claims of a Yeti and stated that the footprints were made by bears according to Nepal Army spokesperson, Brigadier General Bigyan Dev Pandey, telling the Hindustan Times “…locals and porters claimed that it is the footprints of wild bear that frequently appear in that area.”

It exists in stories popular in Nepal, Siberia, Central and East Asia. It’s generally known as a glacier being pre 19th century which was worshipped by indigenous tribes and communities. In Tibetan, Yeti translates to “man bear” or Migoi meaning “wild man”.

Needless to say, the announcement by the Indian Army of these supposed Yeti footprints didn’t go unnoticed; to the contrary it caught fire on social media and was the topic of many jokes and memes. Akhilesh Yadav wasn’t the only one who used the Yeti reference, though it was used in jest to make a point. Some however, like former BJP minister Tarun Vijay, congratulated the Indian Army on their discovery but was upset at the term beast being used. Instead snowman is appropriate according to him. The Telegraph India editorial on this -

Mr. Vijay’s concern for the dignity of an entity whose existence remains in considerable doubt is touching. It is surprising that Mr. Vijay, the member of a party that apparently has a monopoly on the matter of love for the nation, settled on an English name for the species. Would not a desi prefix suit the Snowman better.” Twitter was abuzz with jokes to mark the announcement.

However, the Army isn’t taking this as a joke. Perhaps they genuinely believe this is something worth investigating; and at the very least, it has aroused curiosity. The mythical nature of the Yeti is old and perhaps the Indian army’s treatment of it, instead of themselves not being dismissive, is something to note, as Sharanya Manivannan, writes in the Indian Express explaining how something that locals and indigenous communities have made a part of their story has been reduced to a translated version of abominable when in fact it’s also referred to as ‘Glacier spirit’ –

This embarrassing gaffe by the Indian army’s social media wing will probably fizzle out with some bland information about what made the tracks. But I like their statement on having released the photos to “excite scientific temper and rekindle interest.

So what does the science say? There isn’t a Yeti or man bear or abominable snowman. There is no evidence to date to suggest that such a creature exists, in any location. In 2004, a team comprising of International geneticists analysed DNA evidence from samples collected in Nepal and concluded that whatever the creature is, it was closer to a hoofed animal genetically. Following that, in 2012, University of Oxford researchers conducted genetic analysis of 30 hair samples to determine their origin. Their conclusion, based on one sample from Ladakh and another from Bhutan, was genetic affinity with a hybrid of a polar bear and brown bear.

In 2017, a study published by the Proceedings B of the Royal Society analysed 24 DNA samples of hair, tissue and bone of Himalayan brown bears and the supposed Yeti from the Tibetan plateaus. Their conclusion - “…the exact identity of ‘hominid’-like creatures important to folklore and mythology in the Tibetan Plateau–Himalaya region is still surrounded by mystery. Phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences determined affinities of the purported yeti samples in this study, strongly supporting the biological basis of the yeti legend to be local, extant bears.” As for now, the creature remains a myth and confined to legend and stories.

More columns by Varun Sukumar