Hair samples from a ‘yeti’ have been discovered to be a cross between a polar and brown bear. Polar and brown bears are closely related, but around 120,000 years ago they diverged into distinct species.
Yet even today, it is possible for them to interbreed where the species overlap. Bryan Sykes of Oxford University argues that there could be a subspecies of brown bear in the High Himalayas that has been mistaken for the mythical creature.
Yetis, which you may also know as the "Abominable Snowman", have been recorded for centuries, with local people and mountaineers claiming to have come into contact with hairy, ape-like animals.
Professor Sykes set out to collect and test "yeti" hair samples to find out which species they came from. Professor Sykes analysed hairs from two unknown animals; one from Ladakh and the other from Bhutan. After using highly advanced DNA tests and comparing the results to other animals' genomes stored on the GenBank database, Professor Sykes found that he had a 100% match with a sample from a polar bear jawbone found in Norway, that dated back between 40,000-120,000 years. This was a time when the polar and brown bear were separating as species. This means the ‘yeti’ must be a bear of some kind. A book by Prof Sykes about his research, The Yeti Enigma: A DNA Detective Story, will be published next spring.