What do a bear and a yeti have in common? Nope, that’s not the start of a bad joke. According to a new DNA study, the answer is that yetis are actually bears!

According to legend, the yeti is a large, ape-like creature that lives among some of the world’s highest mountains—the Himalayas. The yeti started as folklore among locals in the area. When Western mountaineers began traveling to the mountains, the Yeti legend grew and spread. People have long debated whether yetis are real, imagined, or some kind of EXAGGERATION.

Charlotte Lindqvist, a geneticist who studies bears at the University at Buffalo, led a research project for a film company making a documentary for Animal Planet.  

Lindqvist spent a year and a half researching the yeti DNA question, and her findings were recently published in a biological sciences journal.

Lindqvist analyzed the DNA of nine samples that were supposedly from yetis. The samples included a thigh bone found in a cave by a spiritual healer and hair from a mummified animal found in a monastery. The testing showed that five of those samples were actually from Tibetan brown bears, two were from Himalayan brown bears, one was from an Asian black bear, and the last sample was actually from a dog!

The research also showed some surprising results about the bears living around the Himalayas. Lindqvist found that the Tibetan brown bear and Himalayan brown bear are genetically distinct. This is likely because of the harsh landscape of the Himalayan region—the bear subspecies have been kept apart by the land for hundreds of thousands of years.

Lindqvist is hoping her research will draw attention to the Tibetan and Himalayan brown bears because both subspecies are critically endangered. The brown bear population has been reduced by half during the last century. The reasons for this include a loss of habitat, poaching and hunting by humans.

January 2018