July 18, 2014 4:31 pm

Cryptozoology: A bad hair day for yetis (but not for polar bears)

A sudy of hair samples linked to unidentified large primates shows they actually came from known mammals
Polar bear©Dreamstime

There is disappointment for cryptozoologists who like to believe that big hairy humanoids live in places such as the Himalayas (yeti or abominable snowman) and remote parts of the American northwest (sasquatch or big foot). The first reputable scientific study of hair samples allegedly linked to these mysterious apemen has shown that none came from previously unknown primates.

Biology: Great apes

An ape

Some chimpanzees are smarter than others – and about half the variation is down to genetics, according to a study of 99 chimps in captivity by Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta.

Bryan Sykes, genetics professor at Oxford university, undertook the study with colleagues in museums around the world who submitted hair for genetic analysis. The 37 samples were anecdotally associated with unidentified large primates. The results, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, showed that they actually came from a wide range of known mammals including bears, horses, wolves, cattle, deer and modern humans – but no new hominid.

The only surprising result was that two Himalayan samples were genetically closest to polar bears, though the hair was brown rather than white. Polar and brown bears are closely related and can hybridise and, since polar bears do not occur in the Himalayas, the researchers speculate that the fur may have come from such a hybrid or from an unknown species very similar to polar bears but with brown fur.

Commenting on the study, Norman MacLeod of London’s Natural History Museum says that the negative results do not disprove the existence of yetis and other cryptic primates. “What they do is eliminate certain hair samples from further consideration that such creatures exist,” he says. “The study demonstrates a test whereby [their] existence can be proven in a way that would be considered acceptable to the scientific community.”

Photographs: Dreamstime

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