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What is the Yeti?

By G. Melanson
Updated May 23, 2024
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Like North America’s Bigfoot, the Yeti, or “Abominable Snowman”, is a bipedal hominid that is rumored to exist and is a subject of study in Cryptozoology. The Yeti is said to inhabit the mountainous Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet, where it has long been part of local legend for the area's natives. In the late 19th century, stories of the Yeti first made their way to the Western world. By 1921, the term “Abominable Snowman” was coined after the Royal Geographical Society's Everest Reconnaissance Expedition returned to Britain with stories of "The Wild Man of the Snows", as told to them by their Sherpa guides.

The early 20th century saw an increase in Yeti sightings from Westerners who had begun making expeditions to the Himalayas. By the 1950s, interest in the elusive creature peaked, particularly due to the 1954 “Snowman Expedition” organized by British paper, the Daily Mail, which yielded photographs of Yeti renderings painted by natives, and photographs of footprints made by an unidentifiable animal. The paper’s article that same year on an alleged Yeti hair specimen also generated interest. The hair samples were sent to Professor Frederic Wood Jones for analysis and determined to be from an unidentifiable animal. Another specimen analysis, this time performed on an alleged sample of Yeti feces in 1959, revealed that the droppings contained an unknown parasite, indicative of an unknown host animal.

In 1959, the Yeti made Hollywood headlines when actor James Stewart reportedly smuggled the remains of what was said to be the hand of a Yeti originally kept at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. The remains, which became known as the “Pangboche Hand”, were later analyzed and concluded to be of neanderthal origin. In 1960, one of the first explorers to scale Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, embarked on an expedition to the Himalayas for the express purpose of collecting evidence of the Yeti’s existence. Hillary returned with an alleged Yeti scalp, which was also kept at a Buddhist monastery like the Pangboche Hand. Upon analysis, the scalp was determined to be from a goat-like antelope indigenous to the Himalayas, and later donated to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Yeti sightings have been attributed to cases of mistaken identity with known animals that live in the Himalayas, such as the Tibetan Blue Bear, the Langur monkey, the Himalayan Red Bear, and the endangered Himalayan Brown Bear, which can walk upright. Others speculate that the Yeti may be a surviving Gigantopithecus, or even a human hermit.

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Discussion Comments
By accordion — On Oct 16, 2011

I personally don't believe in the yeti or the loch ness monster or any of that. It's not because I'm really scientific or anything, I just don't think we would get this far and still, no one would have proof of it by now, in pictures or in really legitimate remains of some kind. I guess I'm just a skeptic.

By BambooForest — On Oct 16, 2011

@DentalFloss- I agree. There were a lot of different types of humanoids on Earth at one point, and we still only know a little bit about them. It's possible that there were yetis at one point, even if there aren't any now. Who knows?

By DentalFloss — On Oct 15, 2011

I don't totally doubt yetis. I mean, there are still parts of the world that we have barely even begun to explore. It makes sense to me that there might be some other sort of animal that we haven't seen much of. I don't think it's anything like we think, probably, but it could still exist.

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