Whether you’ve seen him in the movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or glimpsed him as you flew by on the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland, you’ve likely heard of this week’s creature: the Abominable Snowman (otherwise known as the Yeti). Much like Rudolph, this fictional character has become a central figure in holiday celebrations in the United States. However, the legend of the Yeti began in the Himalayas.
Nepalese have long believed in the existence of a snowy mountain man, which they called the Yeti1. The legend was used largely to keep children from wandering from home for fear of being eaten by this fearsome creature. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that the United States was drawn in to the myth of the Yeti when Henry Newman interviewed a group of Everest hikers that found massive footprints in the snow1. This fascination was furthered when Eric Shipton, a British explorer, found convincing evidence for the Yeti’s existence in 19512. While attempting to find an alternative route up Mt. Everest, Shipton stumbled upon a seemingly hominoid footprint. His photograph has since become one of the most popular pieces of evidence of the Yeti’s existence. The part of the print that was most mysterious was the large thumb-like toe. This thumb was reminiscent of a non-human primate’s opposable thumb, but the size suggested the print came from a large, humanoid ape.
Over the years, a handful of expeditions were launched in the Himalayas in an attempt to find the Yeti. Daniel Taylor, an American born and raised in India who is active in the Himalayas to this day, searched for the Yeti his entire life2. His passion for the Yeti began as a young boy when we saw Eric Shipton’s famous photograph, and then heard someone attribute the print to a langur (a relatively small-bodied primate). Taylor, quite familiar with the langurs that roamed near his home, knew it was impossible a langur could leave behind a 13 inch footprint.
Taylor’s lifelong quest in the Himalayas eventually took him to Barun Valley, a dense, moist jungle valley that was left relatively intact due to its inhospitable nature. Taylor soon found a trail of fresh prints that were quite similar to those found by Eric Shipton. After conversing with some locals, the prints were attributed to a tree bear2. Tree bears are more formally known as Asian black bears. They are arboreal bears (tree-dwelling), and force their largest toe to act as a grip when climbing trees. Over time, this toe becomes forced down and begins to resemble an opposable thumb, similar to those of non-human primates2.
Just this year, DNA analysis of bone, tooth, skin, hair and fecal Yeti specimens has also supported the idea that the Yeti is indeed a local bear2. Thus, in recent years, Daniel Taylor has focused his studies on the large biodiversity of the valley. While studying this habitat, Taylor established Makalu-Barun National Park, a protected area that encourages conservation of local Himalayan wildlife. Visitors can now walk along the Yeti Trail and enjoy the beauty of untouched Himalayan mountains. Interestingly, this National Park continues to be supported by locals who hold on to the belief that the Yeti exists. The mythic creature that inspired explorers and terrified small children for years has forever protected wildlife by inspiring people to take action- the true magic of the Yeti.
Happy New Year from everyone at The Ethogram!
[By: Allison Lau]
1Radford, B. (2017, November 27). The Yeti: Asia’s Abominable Snowman. Retrieved December 26, 2017, from https://www.livescience.com/25072-yeti-abominable-snowman.html
2This Man Searched for the Yeti for 60 Years-and Found It. (2017, August 19). Retrieved December 26, 2017, from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/08/yeti-abominable-snowman-bear-daniel-taylor/