Have you ever believed an urban legend?
This man searched for the Yeti for 60 years - and found it
DNA analysis is a powerful new tool in finding the Yeti. Tell us about the tests Bryan Sykes took at Oxford University in the UK and what new discoveries this brought to the search for the Yeti.
That created a lot of confusion! An Oxford professor launched a global appeal for all of the Yeti artifacts - hair, fingernails, bone fragments - and got a lot of mails, mostly parts of bears and sheep. Then he did a DNA analysis and discovered that two [of the samples] are bear-like but do not match any known species. They had the closest resemblance to a polar bear, but with mysterious DNA sequences right in the middle.
After he published his research, the yeti myth revived around the world. A group of graduate students then decided to review his DNA sequencing. They showed that he had made a mistake and that it was the incomplete sequence of a known species. And once again we end up with the collar bears.
Towards the end of your book you write, “At the end of the search for a wild man in the snow, a new wilderness grows.” Tell us about Makalu-Barun National Park and your work with the local communities in creating the “Yeti Trail”.
In my search for the Yeti, I stumbled upon what is probably the greatest wilderness on earth. But it wasn't a protected area. The local villagers planted fields in Barun. On the Tibetan side, the Chinese built a road into the valley directly north of Barun to mine wood! It was one of the three or four most majestic places on the planet, so I told myself I had to do something to protect it.
But I am not the World Wildlife Fund. So I decided to apply my family's legacy of community-based health solutions to conservation. I worked with the local communities to manage the whole landscape instead of just individual areas. When I started doing this in the mid-eighties, the idea was already being discussed, but nobody had ever done it. So it was quite exciting to implement the idea of participatory, area-based nature conservation in one of the highest places on earth. Now tourists can hike the Yeti Trail through a pristine, wild park.
Daniel, you spent 60 years looking for the Yeti. What are your final thoughts on the subject? And how did this odyssey change your life?
In this series of discoveries, I developed a completely new understanding of biology - in my opinion and in the opinion of many other biologists - that I call bio-resilience. In our quest to save life, we focus on the diversity of DNA. But there are certain life forms like crows, cockroaches, and migrating clams that are more resilient than others and can handle the changes in temperature and humidity caused by climate change. The yeti's lesson is that we must cultivate and build this resilience in biology if we are to save life itself.
That changed my life because I now understand life in a different way. In a world that is becoming increasingly urban, it is important to understand that we are part of life and connected to it. There are Yeti legends all over the world. There is a Russian legend about the jungle man, and there is also a Chinese one. This leads us to the question of why there is this human longing for such human-like appearances. I am convinced that they date from the Victorian Age when people circled the world in search of the missing link.
The big mystery inside us is that we want to have a connection to the hereafter. And we need symbols that help us understand this connection. That's why we believe in God or angels or the Loch Ness monster. Throughout human history and across all human cultures, we have created messengers from the beyond. That’s what the yeti is, after all.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Follow Simon Worrall on Twitter and his website.
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