Nov 05, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

New Yeti Research in Nepal Leads to Surprising Discovery

Bigfoot or Sasquatch may have found a soft spot in the hearts and minds of North Americans who are becoming accustomed to images and impersonations of the giant hairy beast appearing in commercials and public service announcements, being the focus of annual festivals and tourist attractions and moving away from a violent reputation to one more benevolent and co-existing with humans. That is not the case in the Himalayan mountain ranges of Asia, where Bigfoot’s cousin, the Yeti, still terrifies residents who have centuries of tales of a beast with many names but common vicious and wild reputations befitting of the vicious and wild climate of the mountains. Despite that, researchers devote scant attention to the many reports, often with supporting photos and fur, of Yeti encounters. One such researcher sat on evidence from a sighting in Nepal for 20 years before finally analyzing it … and his conclusion is a surprising revelation. Is this the smoking footprint?

Did you get my good side?

“When showing me the footprints, they told me that the animal doesn’t have heels. They told me that the heels went missing after the horse of Guru Padmasambhava, the Buddhist master who traveled across Tibet, stepped on the heels of a sleeping Mithe.”

Dr. Madhu Chetri is the Project Chief at the National Trust for Nature Conservation-Manaslu. Manaslu, which means "mountain of the spirit," is the eighth-highest mountain in the world (26,781 ft or 8,163 meters) and part of Nepalese Himalayas in the west-central part of Nepal. In this position, he is most concerned with the conservation of endangered snow leopards and Himalayan wolves. However, he is acutely aware of the traditions of the Nepalese people and knew what locals were referring to when they showed him photos of footprints of a Mithe – they believed this was the Yeti or man-bear, as Mithe or Michê translates to. Other areas call it the Dzu-teh (cattle bear), Migoi (wild man), Bun Manchi (jungle man), Mirka (wild man), and Kang Admi or Xueren (Snow Man). None of them call it the “Abominable Snowman” – that name comes from a mispronunciation and misinterpretation of native names by European explorers. As Chetri explained to Mongabay News, he was shown the footprints in 2002 shortly after he had been assigned to the area.

In 2003, locals took Chetri to large pits measuring seven feet (2.1 meters) deep that they claimed were dug by Yeti searching for Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana), its favorite food. (Photos can be seen here.) Well, its favorite food in Nepal. The Chuchuna, the Yeti of Russian folklore, is a seven-foot hairy wild man creature that occasionally consumes human flesh. Most cultures describe the Yeti as a carnivorous creature – eating Argali sheep, the Bharal or blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), and the Markhor or screw-horned goat. Lacking those, the Yeti will go vegetarian and eat plants like bamboo – the Himalayas don’t have much of a salad bar selection. That doesn’t stop them from being seen by the locals, who brought Chetri fur samples, photos of footprints and locations where he could see a Yeti for himself. It wasn’t long before he did.

“It was in September 2007 when I was in the Damodar Kunda area in Mustang that I first saw the animal with my own eyes. I used a scope and mounted a camera on it to record its movement.”

Chetri saw what he was expecting to see – not a Yeti but a brown bear (Ursus arctos). While not sure which of the many species it was, he noted that “it had a yellowish scarf-like ‘collar’ around its neck, similar to the Tibetan brown bear [Ursus arctos pruinosus].” Case closed on the Nepal Yeti? Not really. Brown bears are extremely unusual in Nepal, even though it is surrounded by areas that are homes to one or more of the ten (and possibly more) subspecies – which include the Tibetan, Himalayan (U. a. isabellinus), European (U. a. arctos) and East Siberian (U. a. collaris) brown bears. The Tibetan and the Himalayan brown bears can be found close to Nepal, but have never been confirmed to have been seen there. Chetri’s first encounter looked Tibetan, but he needed more evidence … especially since field guides to the wild mammals of Nepal were coming out and Chetri was compiling his lists of endangered species to protect. If Nepal had a brown bear, its rarity would place it on both lists.

“I did publish a short article in the NTNC newsletter stating that a brown bear had been spotted in Mustang, but couldn’t get a journal article because the camera images were not up to the mark.”

Chetri tells Mongabay News he photographed another brown bear in 2007, but it was too dark to positively identify. In 2008, he found footprints which looked like brown bear tracks to him and Yeti prints to the locals … strengthening his belief that the Nepal Yeti was a brown bear. By 2013, Chetri was working on the animal he is most noted for photographing – the snow leopard  (Panthera uncia) – when locals told him the location of another Yeti. This time, he had plenty of high-quality camera traps already set up in the area for snow leopards, so he just kept them in operation.

“I kept the camera on the selected site for around 35 days and managed to get a few shots of the animal.”

Upon inspecting the photos, Chetri concluded this Nepal Yeti was indeed a Tibetan brown bear. (See the photos for yourself here.) However, his bills were being paid by his snow leopard photographs and research, so the Yeti identity announcement got lost in his to-do pile … for nearly ten years. IN the meantime, other photos began showing up of Tibetan brown bears in Nepal, so time was running out for Chetri to lay claim to having the first confirmed photo of one in Nepal. He finally published the photos and the details in the journal Threatened Taxa.

A photo of a captive Tibetan brown bear (not the one in the article).

“This is the first camera-trap confirmation of the Tibetan Brown Bear in the central Himalaya. The distribution map was updated based on direct observation, signs and field reports gathered from reliable sources. The presence of signs (diggings, footprints, and feces) and direct observation in the Annapurna-Manaslu landscape reveal that bears are closely associated with Himalayan marmots and other small rodents. Local folklore, legends, and cultural beliefs have played important roles in Brown Bear conservation in the central Himalaya.”

Are the locals upset with Madhu Chetri for proving their Yeti is a Tibetan brown bear? Not really. It is still extremely rare – in fact, extremely endangered – and the Nepalese are staunch conservationists. It is more likely that outsiders who believe the Yeti is a Himalaya-dwelling, carnivorous cryptid cousin of Bigfoot are the ones who will be upset. That’s too bad. Just because you want to believe doesn’t mean you can reject science and facts. If you want to prove it exists, find some real Yeti fur, feces or clear photos.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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