Conservationist and educator Daniel C Taylor, who has spent 35 years in the Barun Valley dispelling the myth of the yeti, is one of world’s foremost experts on the subject. Taylor, 73, led the movement for the creation of the Makulu-Barun national park in Nepal and its pioneering community conservation programme. The conservationist and professor at Future Generations University at West Virginia is also the author of the 2017 book, Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery. He tells Mint what he thinks of the Indian Army expedition’s discovery of yeti footprints in Nepal.
As you know, the Indian Army has said it found footprints of the yeti in the Makalu-Barun national park in Nepal. What do you think of their finding?
First of all, look at the size of the footprints. They’re saying it’s 35 inches. This is the size of a dinosaur. And we are quite sure dinosaurs don’t exist in the Makalu-Barun national park. The most logical explanation is that it is almost certainly a Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus), a very dangerous bear that lives at this altitude.
How can one bear create footprints that size?
Normally, with bears, the hind foot falls on top of the print of the front foot when they walk so that they make less noise in the jungle. When they walk up a slope, typically, the hind foot will fall a little bit behind the front foot and the footprints become elongated. That makes it look like a human footprint as opposed to a bear footprint, which is more round. Having studied the photographs — and I would really like to get better material from the Indian Army — I’d say there is also a cub. The cub usually hops like a rabbit behind the mother, so a cub trying to follow a mother through the snow puts down all four feet at a time. So the cub’s feet are going down on the mother’s feet and that is creating a 35-inch footprint.
Is there any chance that your theory is wrong?
I would like to find out from the Indian Army is whether they measured one footprint or all the footprints. That’s why I would like to talk to someone from the expedition and see more accurate photographs. If all the footprints had the same dimension, then my hypothesis could be wrong. I’m quite sure the size of each footprint will vary. The same creature is not going to make footprints of different sizes. You have to follow the entire trail of footprints, measure them, find the possible ‘nest’ and test all the hair or other material you find there. You have to follow footprints all the way into the forest where they are not altered by the sun. That was how I followed the yeti trail and concluded over 35 years of study in that same valley that it does not exist. Bryan Sykes at Oxford, a group at Toronto University and myself have all done work on this. We’ve subjected samples from all artefacts said to be from the yeti to DNA testing and proved that they’re from Himalayan animals. It is very important that the Indian Army provides more documentation and opens it up too experts such as myself to study and validate. The other thing to remember is that the altitude leaves very little oxygen. We all make mistakes at that altitude when our brains have less oxygen and our imaginations take over.
Despite DNA evidence to the contrary, why do we still feel the need to believe in mysteries like these?
As human beings become more domesticated and live in cities, there is a hunger to find a connection to the wild. To have a half-human, half-animal is an emotional connection to our past. In the US, last year, there were double the sightings of Big Foot than any other year. This is because we want to see a mystery. The other thing about the yeti is that it is very much like Hanuman or legendary figures like angels in Christianity. These are manifestations of human desire. I think the yeti is creating a reality more powerful than the animal that makes the footprint.
So you’re saying people are creating a reality they want to believe?
Exactly. For instance, if you see my President, Donald Trump, he is all the time creating a reality that is not true. He needs to have his evidence externally examined and verified. It’s very serious. We have to recognize scientific facts and false facts. When the Indian Army comes out with a statement such as this, it has an added level of credibility. It is good that they reported it but they should be called upon to provide further documentation and allow that documentation to be verified. I realize this is a controversial point but the Indian Army needs to show responsibility and provide its evidence for external scientific review. Otherwise, people’s imaginations just run.