New Delhi: Despite decades of research, mystery surrounds the yeti, a mythical creature whose existence in the Tibetan Plateau-Himalayan region has captured the imagination of mountaineers, many of whom have gone into the vast swathes of the mountains to catch a first glimpse.
On Tuesday, the Indian Army rekindled the mystery after it tweeted pictures of mysterious footprints in the snow, which it believes to be those of the mythical beast, and, which it says, measures 32x15 inches. The footprints were captured by one of the army's mountaineering expedition teams close to Makalu base camp at an altitude of 3,500 metres above sea-level on 9 April.
The creature often referred to as the ‘elusive snowman’ and ‘mythical beast’ has been part of the folklore in the region, but its existence has been limited to hair and bone samples and footprints.
While modern science has neither directly denied or accepted the yeti's existence, there have been several theories about the possible identity of the so-called large anomalous yet enigmatic primate.
Some believe it to be a surviving population of collateral hominids or ‘great apes’, extinct apes or even unlikely hybrids between homo sapiens and other mammals. But these preliminary findings have been widely debated.
In 2004, an international team of geneticists led by Michel Milinkovitch analyzed the DNA sequence data from samples collected in Nepal and said the yeti was genetically closer to an ungulate or a hoofed animal.
In 2012, researchers from the University of Oxford conducted genetic analysis of 30 hair samples attributed to these anomalous primates to identify the origin of their species. Two Himalayan samples, one from Ladakh, the other from Bhutan, had their closest genetic affinity with a hybrid of polar bear and brown bear which existed in the early phase of the Stone Age, about 2.5 million years, the team concluded.
However, a genetic survey of 24 purported yeti samples led by researchers who published in Proceedings B, the Royal Society’s flagship biological research journal, in 2017, supports the biological basis of the yeti legend to be local, extant bears.
Actually, two brown bear sub-species, the Himalayan and the Tibetan brown bear, inhabit the north-western Himalayan region and south-eastern Tibetan plateau,. While brown bear remains are widely distributed and well studied in the world, very few studies have been conducted on the enigmatic sub-species.
The genetic analysis showed that the Himalayan brown bear is one of the first-branching biological groups within the brown bear lineage, while the Tibetan brown bear diverged much later. The research suggests that bears in the region are likely descendants of populations that survived during the repeated glaciations events 11,700 years ago.
It’s not just the yeti that eludes scientists. Such creatures have also been found to exist in other regions: Almasty in Central Asia and Sasquatch or Bigfoot in North America.
It is significant to note that no bodies or recent fossils of such creatures have ever been authenticated. Researchers highlight that more genetic data from additional individuals are critically needed to explain the evolutionary and migration history of the Himalayan and Tibetan bears.
Till then, the mystery remains.