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Sunday, February 7, 1999
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Does the Yeti really exist?
By Maharaj K. Koul

AN American climber claims to have seen the Yeti — not one but two — in September last while on a skiing expedition on the Chinese side of Mt Everest.

Craig Calonica was skiing down when, he said, he "saw something that was not human, that was not a gorilla, not a beer, not a goat and not a bear." On October 21 he told Reuters that "something" was the Yeti. And the American skier had his momentary splash of world fame.

Does the mysterious Yeti really exist? Legends about the Abominable Snowman abound. Though nobody has really seen or sighted it, extra-ordinarily large footprints, purportedly that of the Yeti, have been found in the Himalayan snows. While horror as well as tender stories about Yetis have made rounds of homes in the Himalayas for decades, the legend of Abominable Snowman has been given a new lease of life now with the recent discovery of the body of one buried deep under snow in the permafrost region of the Siberian expanse.

The body, measuring 1.4 metres in length, was found by a team of Russian geologists during an expenditure near Yakutsk, the city standing on a 1.5 km thick permafrost in western Siberia. The Yakutia region is famous for the diamond mines. But the region also abounds with fossils of the Yeti, believed to have become extinct about 10,000 years ago, which led the erstwhile Soviet authorities to set up a mammoth institute there.

The discovery of the snowman’s body, reported by the daily Sabernaya Pravde has understandably caused ripples in the scientific community. If the hairy creature with flattened but protruding head is proved to be that of the Yeti, it would open up a new chapter in the evolution theory.

While Russian scientists are conducting detailed examination, Japanese scientists are gearing to carry out DNA tests on it. Two Kagoshima University scientists, in fact, are also planning to clone the prehistoric mammoth by using ancient DNA and a modern-day live elephant egg. If they succeed — chances are of course rather slim — it would be Yakutia Park recreated.

The Himalayan snowman is said to be a rare creature. Not many people have actually seen it. Moreover, there is no photograph of Yeti.The snowman first hit the headlines more than a century ago when the British heard stories about it during their safaris in the Himalayas. It immediately fired the popular imagination.Since then accounts have swelled of this ape-like creature with bear-like hair and resembling man having been seen in various part of the mountains.

Yeti has been "sighted" in the Himalayas, especially on the Nepalese side of Mt Everest. But some sightings of this creature have also been reported from areas possessing geographical traits akin to the Himalayas, such as some parts of Russia, Mongolia, Tibet, China, wild parts of British Columbia and California in the USA where the Yeti is known as "Sasquatch" or "Bigfoot."

And the legend of Bigfoot, the (Abominable Snowman’s North American cousin, said to stalk the densely forested Pacific north-west, looks poised to take a hairy stride closer to reality.Scientists have computer — enhanced a much derided 1967 film clip purportedly showing a female of the species and claim to have proved that it shows a creature unknown to science — not a hoax in a fur suit.

A forthcoming report by the Dregon-based North American Science Institute (NASI), whose three-year study cost about $ 100,000 will state that the film subject — a large, hairy, upright walking figure with pendulous breasts — displays elasticity or the movement of skin over muscles. "We checked the film grain for inconsistency, "said Dr Tod Gerry, director, NASI. "If a fur suit was being used, we would expect to have located seams where the cloth folded." Dr Geery says, "And redigitisation should have revealed a hood, gloves zipper or boots.

Instead, NSAI detected different hair length and colouring, teeth and the white of an eye." Over the last century there have been hundreds of reported sightings and huge footprints, but this unique film taken at Bluff Creek, northern California, by Bigfoot hunters Roger Patterson and Bob Gimhn on October 20, 1967.

The men said they were scouring the area on horseback when Patterson’s mount reared and fell sideways. Moments later, he saw the Bigfoot striding across a sandbar 90 feet away. Patterson tore his camera from a saddlebag and raced after him. At one point the creature turned and gave its pursuer a look which stopped him in his tracks. Patterson died of Hodgkins Disease in 1972. He had failed to convince scientists that his film showed a real animal. Gimhn, now 68, still swears on its authenticity but refuses all interviews after suffering years of ridicule.

The word Yeti is a combination of yar (the rock) and Teh (the animal). The Nepalese call Everest as Mahalangoor Himala (the snowy mountain of the great ape). The sherpas refer to Yeti by three names: Miteh, Kangmiand Dzuteh, depending upon the size of the beast. Bhutanese and Tibetans call it Migyu. A triangular posting stamp on Yeti was issued by the Royal Bhutanese Government in 1966.

The first written account about Yeti was by HH Hodgson, which appeared in 1832. Since then many teams have tried to investigate the engima of the footprints on snow. Col W.A Weddel, a British mountaineer was the first to spot the footprints of an outsized human at 5,000 metres in a snowfield in Sikkim in 1887. But it is Eric Shipton who is reputed to be the first person to take photographs of Yeti’s footprints.

During the Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition of 1951, Eric Shipton took the first clear photograph ever taken of Yeti footprints. The photographs were taken on the Menlung Glacier at a height of about 6,000 metres. The average length of each footprint was 32 cm x 13 cm. The footprints were almost in a dead straight line, one directly behind the other. They appeared circular or oval.

Some people claim to have seen the Yeti from close range. A British botanist and Himalayan explorer, Henry Elwes, was the first person to have seen a huge hairy creature in 1906. Col Howard Bury, leader of the 1921 Everest expeditions, saw a naked hairy creature walk across their camping site.

In 1922, some British army personnel spotted strange manlike creatures springing down a slope at 3,000 metres in Sikkim. An Indian botanist A.N. Tombazi, sighted a Yeti while trekking in the Zemu area of Sikkim in 1925. B.S. Ashkenazi a Bombayite met a three-metre-tall Yeti near the Peshawar Cantonment Railway Station one cold November evening in 1938.

In 1958, Leon Ellis, in the Sunday Despatch, London, reported from Kathmandu, that he had interviewed a knowledgeable hermit of a neighbouring monastery, who had supplied details of a several types of Yeti. One species called the Nyalmo grew to 5 metres in height, was carnivorous, fed on yak and mountain sheep and moved about in groups led by the female of the species. Another type was known as Rimi, which stood upto about 3 metres, was omnivorous and lived in a height of 2,500 to 3,000 metres. The third variety was the Rakshi, only about 1.5 metres tall and herbivorous.Ralph Izzard, a naturalist and photographer of the Daily Mail, London, found widely separated footprints as well as Yeti droppings containing vegetable matter, hair and bones of mountain rodents.

Returning after climbing the 8,561-metre-high Mount Makalu on October 23, 1986, the well known Italian mounttaineer,Reinhold Messener, told a press conference in Kathmandu that he had seen the Yeti. He described the creature as "a partial animal and partial human being." The first man ever to climb all the 14 of the world’s tallest peaks, Messener must definitely be convinced to stake his well-earned reputation on what has till now been only a well-oiled myth.

Yeti was reportedly sighted in 1971 by Don Whillans, deputy leader of an expedition to Annapurna while campaign at 4,500 metres. While looking through his binoculars, Don spotted a dark, two-legged creature scurrying over a mountainside. No one has disbelieved him as Don is not regarded as a Yeti fan and observers say that he did see something which eventually disappeared behind ranges.

Two Australian mountaineers. Tim Bacartney and Greg Mortimer, who reached the 8,848-metre-high Mt Everest on October 3, 1984 reported Yeti footprints, including a trail leading to the summit from Everest’s southeast ridge. Nepalese tourism ministry officials said the appearance of Yeti footprints would be a surprise at such a high altitude. Previous sightings of footprints have been at much lower altitudes. However, Yeti believers have forecast that the record number of expeditions in the Himalayas would drive the splay-toed legendary beast into inaccessible areas such as Mt Everest.

Way back in the summer of 1985, a Scottish damsel, Alison MacDonald, 21, was trekking towards Kolhai when she disappeared in the Thaji-was area of Sonamarg in Kashmir valley. Subsequently, her hapless millionaire father, Kenneth MacDonald came all the way fromScotland and offered all his fortune to anyone who would return his lovely daughter — dead or alive. But she remains untraced till date.

Was the Scottish damsel kidnapped by a lovesick Yeti? In the Tibetan folklore, the snowman is shown to have a fancy for human females, abducting beautiful young maidens, mating with them and treating them kindly with affection.

Did the elusive Yeti visit Kashmir valley in 1987? According to various reports, local inhabitants around Kangan area of district Srinagar claim to have heard strange voices and seen a mysterious, hairy figure in their locality. On the night of January 16, Zaman Khan, a watchman of a sheep farm in village Barbul heard a peculiar voice. He went out with two of his colleagues and they were stunned to see a hairy figure about 1.2 matres tall.

Then on January 25, another sighting of the snowman was reported from village Hewan, 70 km north of Srinagar. A 16-year-old youth, Mushtaq Khan, reportedly had a fight with 1.3 metre high human-like creature with brown hair, believed to be a Yeti. And on February 13 a forest watcher reported that he saw a huge creature cross the border into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Who is Yeti? Like the Unidentified Flying Objects and the Loch Ness Monster off the shores of Scotland, the Yeti continues to be a mind-boggling mystery for the scientists and Yeti fans.

Yeti has largely been a creature of myth and fantasy for us.We have "met", him in the pages of the comic Tintin in Tibet when ‘Herge’ (real name Georges Remi) featured the Yeti in one of his ageless comic classics. Herge had a reputation of being uncannily right, a few decades down his line. He was staunchly anti-imperialist, put Tintin and friends on the Moon, years before Neil Armstrong and company. Tintin’s pal, Professor Calculus, had even worked out the basic rocket technology that carried the Apollo crew.

Cryptozoologists are surely not a timid lot. Theirs is a multi-disciplinary science which search for creatures like the Yeti that "Time forgot". The term cryptozoology (from the Greek kryptos hidden or secret) was coined by the Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans in 1959.

One of cryptozoology’s endeavours is to discover previously unknown species of animals. Though not as glamorous as Yeti-hunging or searching for the Congo dinosaur, this can be highly rewarding. For instance, in the last some years, three large animals — the giant muntiack, the Vu Quana Ox and the slow running deer — have been found from a forested area between Vietnam and Laos. Similarly, the world’s largest lizard, the 10-foot-long, 300-lb Komodo dragon from Indonesia, was unheard of by zoologists until it was discovered by chance in 1912 on a Dutch East Indian island.

Equally unexceptional are the cryptozoologist’s labours when they involve rediscovery of specimens thought to be extinct. The Jerdon’s courser, for instance, was found recently in the Godavari valley in Andhra Pradesh. Most ornithologists had misssed seeing the partridgesized bird because it was nocturnal. Similarly, a five-foot large fish called the Coclocanth was found in 1938 by African fishermen. Previously it was only known from the fossil record as a fish that had died out 65 million years ago.

However, what catches the public imagination is the search for animals like the Yeti and Nessie, the "monster" allegedly living in the chill waters of Scotland’s LockNess lake. It also raises hackles among the mainstream scientists. Indeed, instead of discovering new creatures, cryptozoologists most often seem to be discovering old frauds.

The famous British cryptozoologist, Edward Cronin is of the view that Yeti may be a descendant of the giant ape that existed millions of years ago. He describes Yeti as 150 to 165 cm tall, covered with short coarse hair, reddish brown to greyish brown in colour, with a large head, a high pointed crown, marked saggital crest, an enormous flat face without hair, large teeth, wide mouth, long arms and huge feet. It invariably hides from man.Back

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