NEW YORK — A genetic analysis of hair collected by people catching a glimpse of what they believed was a yeti, Bigfoot or Sasquatch has matched the samples to bears and other common animals, dealing a blow to those who believe mythic beasts roam the wild unbeknownst to science.
The researchers undertook the analysis, reported Tuesday, because of complaints from eyewitnesses that despite hundreds of sightings and footprint evidence, science has never taken seriously their claims that surviving bands of ancient humans, extinct apes or other mysterious creatures roam the Pacific Northwest, Himalayas and elsewhere.
Since rejecting a claim without examining the evidence is unscientific, said geneticist Bryan Sykes of Oxford University, he and colleagues decided to investigate. “I don’t think cryptozoology has been served particularly well by the scientific community,” Sykes said.
He teamed with Oxford University and the Museum of Zoology in Lausanne, Switzerland, to solicit hair samples “attributed to one of these creatures by the donor,” he said.
After microscopic and other examination weeded out samples that were plant and glass fibers, Sykes’ team recovered DNA from 30 hair samples. They sequenced the genomes and compared the sequences to those of known animals.
Eight samples from Russia had DNA sequences of the brown or black bear, horse, cow or raccoon, they report in Proceedings of the (British) Royal Society B.
Bigfoot hairs from California, Washington, and other U.S. states had genome sequences that matched those of the black bear, porcupine, horse, sheep, wolf (though possibly dog or coyote), cow and other common species.
Hair from one yeti shot by a hunter on the Tibetan Plateau 40 years ago had DNA matching some sequences from a fossil of a polar bear that lived during the Pleistocene, the last ice age.
The polar bear is not known to have inhabited northern India. The scientists speculate that the hair may be from a previously unknown species of bear or a polar-bear/brown-bear hybrid which “may well contribute to the biological foundation of the yeti legend,” they write.
“We are going to carry out more tests to find out” if the hairs come from hybrid bears unknown to science, Sykes said, “but first we have to find one in the wild. The expedition is in the planning stage.”
Interest in creatures unknown to science has remained strong ever since the discovery of mysteriously large footprints in the 1950s in Northern California.
The Animal Planet series “Finding Bigfoot” began its fifth season last month, chasing down reported sightings of animals that one star of the show called “so freakin’ elusive, it drives me nuts, man.”
In May, two hunters in Bethel, Alaska, told a local newspaper that, while out on the tundra, they spotted a Bigfoot sitting beside a lake with its legs stretched out. The creature was too tall to be human, they told the paper, and did not resemble a moose. They did not report retrieving hairs.