The Yeti: Why Bhutanese believe it exists

If you came across the yeti, what would you do?  

Most Bhutanese would pray that they don’t cross paths with it. We believe that if we do, then we will not live to tell the tale. However, in the rare chance encounter, the first thing any Bhutanese would do is determine its gender and then accordingly make an exit plan. If it’s male, we will run uphill as it is believed that the yeti would likely trip on its own long hair allowing us to escape. If it’s a female, we will run downhill as they are believed to  have sagging breasts and will be busy picking them up giving you a chase to escape.

Why do we believe that Yeti exists?

There are multiple reasons why we believe the yeti exists.  The first reason is the arrogance of the human race to think we know everything. To support the case, until 1905, the west thought our national animal Takin was the golden ram or a unicorn; both mythical creatures. Similarly, till a British Botanist Betty Sherriff saw a Blue Poppy in 1932 in Bhutan, our national flower was considered as a mythical flower.

The second reason is that 72 % of our land is under forest cover with 51% of this protected as park lands. The area of Singapore is 719.9km². We have designated a bigger area than the entire country of Singapore as the Migyo Park. The Sakteng Wild Life Sanctuary in North East Bhutan is 750km². If we are not serious about the existence of the yeti, why would we make such a big sacrifice. 

Discussion includes the possibility that there exists a yet undiscovered hominoid species. The humans which inhabit the world, have labelled themselves as Homo sapiens. We believe that the species now remain the only members of the genus Homo that has not become extinct. There were other types of the genus Homo, whose evolution was distinct from ours in more than just our slight deviation in height and our range of skin colour. The best example would be Homo floresiensis (“Flores Man”) whose standard adults would be considered dwarves or hobbits due to their short stature. It is thought they evolved this way due to the lack of food resources on the isolated island of Flores where they lived.

Homo floresiensis is an extinct species in the genus Homo. The remains of an individual that would have stood about 1.1m in height were discovered in 2003 at Liang Bua on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Homo floresiensis is well known and died out only around 60,000 years ago, which is not that long ago in geological time. Might the Yeti be a branch of the Homo family, which has not become extinct? 

There is also a conjecture, related to the  study of the feces carried by an expedition all the way to the United Kingdom and analyzed in a laboratory there. Their conclusion is that it is possible that Migyo or the Yeti is simply a group of Bhutanese whose physiology evolved to survive the harsh mountains. Or it could be some kind of large ape living in the top ends of the forest, and moving from one big valley system to another by passing through the mountains.   All those mountains east of Gangkhar Puensum are almost completely unexplored and there is plenty of room for them to live up there.

An additional point of discussion and history is that in the 1990s, our Fourth Druk Gyalpo told Dr. Bjorn Melgaard (who established the Danida office in Bhutan and acted as its Resident Representative 1992-1995) that his Royal scouts had come across the yeti, but could not show proof because they did not have a camera. It is possible that the yeti is a kind of ape, a very clever one that has been able to avoid coming into contact with civilization. 

Animal Planet

So far there have been at least three big scientific expeditions mounted in search of the yeti in our country. Animal Planet’s was the most recent one. Their documentary “Lost Kingdom of the Yeti” was aired in  2018 in the United States intrigued millions of Americans.  

Animal Planet funded the whole project and Icon Films from the UK was employed to produce it. The production team comprised nine people: film director, main cameraman, sound man, drone operator, presenter, safety officer, medical doctor, scientist and Bhutan’s old and good friend Steve Berry as the expedition leader.

Steve Berry, is himself a mountaineer and knows the Himalayas like the back of his hand. Like the Bhutanese, he is convinced that the yeti exists. 

In October 2014, while doing the Mount Gangkhar Puensum trek he saw bipedal footprints on the slopes of Ziga-phu Valley. Intrigued, he trekked there again in 2015 and 2016 and in both years, also saw such footprints at about 18,000 feet. At 24, 770 feet, Mount Gangkhar Puensum remains the world’s highest unclimbed mountain and the area around is inaccessible and remote.

Foot Prints

Steve Berry was  convinced that the mysterious creature who made those foot prints, zig zagging, down a slope and able to pivot easily  in the way only a two legged beings can. This bi-pedal maneuver can only be accomplished by an upright and cannot be a four legged animal. 

In the photos Steve Berry examined, there was  a clear print of the thumb which dug deep in the snow. Humans, birds and apes on occasions  walk on two feet.  Many lizards and cockroaches also run on two feet. Bears also are known to walk on two feet occasionally. The snow leopard lives on high ground and their back foot lands exactly on the  front foot print but it drags its heavy tail, so that elusive creature is ruled out.

Expedition

To solve the oldest mystery of the Himalayas, the nine-man team included British veterinarian turned film presenter, Dr Mark Evans who hosts the popular River Monster programme on Animal Planet. He has spent five years of his life looking for the Migyo in the Himalayan ranges stretching from Pakistan to Bhutan. He is skeptical but curious. 

Evans was backed by world renowned geneticist Eva Bellemain. The French scientist used cutting edge genetic technology to extract DNA from water. It is a well-known fact that the body shuts down after three days without water. So, if the yeti exists, it has to drink at some point. For the first time drones were engaged for photography. Dr Bellemain said, “If we had this technology 20 years we would have definitely caught the Migyo.”

The expedition started shooting their documentary in April-May 2017. They were in Bhutan for 25 days, out of which 18 were spent in the mountains, where they collected numerous DNA samples using Eva’s prized research-gathering device, ‘Phantom’ that can extract the DNA from water. 

At the end, the French scientist had accumulated many samples from rivers, stagnant water, lake-sides, animal droppings, scrapping from footprints in the snow, and hair samples from a house that had clearly been broken into by an animal. The hair sample turned out to be yak hair.  

After running tests on the samples in the lab for a year and sequencing them through the world’s largest DNA database, the team arrived at the following conclusions.

Conclusion:

The DNA lifted from the bi-pedal footprints in 2017 from Ziga phu were tested and found to be that of the Argali Sheep.  It is a huge sheep found on the Tibetan Plateau which had thought to have been hunted down by bounty hunters to extinction. While there have been occasional sightings of it in Bhutan, this is the first scientific evidence of the majestic sheep. 

The expedition found some evidence of unusual human like faeces. This is also surprising considering the remoteness and the tough habitat of the terrain. The most  interesting finding was that the sample were a 99% match with human faeces.   This is most interesting. When you consider that Gorillas have a 98% match with humans this could be a significant find.

Like Steve Berry believes, “it could be that some tribes people in Bhutan are not yet registered in the human DNA ‘library’.   In other words, we were left in doubt.   No solid proof one way or the other.”

In Bhutan, we are convinced through the multiple reasons that  the yeti exists but  we are in no hurry to produce evidence of the Migyo. While there is certainly a  biological being behind the mythology, we believe that it will not be in the shape and form that Westerners have romanticised it to be.

Contributed by,

Tshering Tashi

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