A British research has concluded that the legendary Himalayan yeti may in fact be a sub-species of brown bear.
DNA tests on hair samples carried out by Oxford University genetics professor Bryan Sykes found that they matched those from an ancient polar bear.
Prof. Bryan Sykes subjected the hairs to the most advanced tests available.
He says the most likely explanation for the myth is that the animal is a hybrid of polar bears and brown bears.
Prof. Bryan Sykes conducted the DNA tests on hairs from two unidentified animals, one from Ladakh – in northern India on the west of the Himalayas – and the other from Bhutan, 800 miles further east.
The legendary Himalayan yeti may in fact be a sub-species of brown bear
The results were then compared with the genomes of other animals that are stored on a database of all published DNA sequences.
Prof. Bryan Sykes found that he had a 100% match with a sample from an ancient polar bear jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway, that dates back to between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago – a time when the polar bear and closely related brown bear were separating as different species.
The species are closely related and are known to interbreed where their territories overlap.
The sample from Ladakh came from the mummified remains of a creature shot by a hunter around 40 years ago, while the second sample was in the form of a single hair, found in a bamboo forest by an expedition of filmmakers around 10 years ago.
Prof. Bryan Sykes said that his results were “completely unexpected” and that more work needed to be done interpreting them.
He said that while they did not mean that “ancient polar bears are wandering around the Himalayas”, there could be a sub-species of brown bear in the High Himalayas descended from an ancestor of the polar bear.
“Or it could mean there has been more recent hybridization between the brown bear and the descendant of the ancient polar bear,” Prof. Bryan Sykes said.
A new European report suggests that some of the continent’s key animals have made a comeback over the past 50 years.
Conservationists say species such as bears, wolves, lynx, eagles and vultures have increased in numbers.
They believe that protection, curbs on hunting and people moving away from rural areas and into cities have helped Europe’s wildlife to recover.
The analysis was carried out by the Zoological Society of London, Birdlife and the European Bird Census Council.
The report was commissioned by the conservation group Rewilding Europe.
Frans Schepers, the organization’s director, said: “People have this general picture of Europe that we’ve lost all our nature and our wildlife.
“And I think what the rest of the world can learn from this is that conservation actually works. If we have the resources, a proper strategy, if we use our efforts, it actually works.”
Over the past few centuries, animals in Europe have not fared well. Hunting, habitat loss, and pollution have sent animals into decline.
But this report marks a reversal in fortunes.
The researchers looked at 18 mammals and 19 bird species found across Europe.
They found that all, apart from the Iberian lynx, had increased in abundance from the 1960s.
The largest increases were for the European bison, the Eurasian beaver, the white-headed duck, some populations of the pink-footed goose and the barnacle goose. These had all increased by more than 3,000% during the past five decades.
Europe’s key animals have made a comeback over the past 50 years
For top predators such as the brown bear, numbers have doubled. And for the grey wolf, which saw serious losses in the past, populations have climbed by 30%.
For mammals, the comeback was largest in the south and west of Europe, and their range had increased on average by about 30%. The average range of the birds remained stable.
Frans Schepers said: “The wildlife comeback actually started after World War II in the 1950s and 1960s. Compared to the numbers in the 1600s and 1700s, it’s still at a very low level, but it’s coming back.”
The researchers believe a combination of factors have been driving this return.
Legal protection in the EU, such as the birds directive and habitats directive, had helped to revive the fortunes of species, as had dedicated conservation schemes, said Frans Schepers.
And while some animals are still hunted in parts of Europe, there are often limits on the number that can be killed.
“It is also because people are leaving the countryside, which leaves more space for wildlife,” he said.
The recovery of some species, particularly large predators, has raised concerns. In France, for example, where wolves have recently returned, farmers are concerned that their livestock is at risk.
The report warns that this could be a growing problem, but suggests that governments should put in place compensation schemes to offset any losses for farmers. It also says that rural communities could benefit from more animals, as ecotourism could offer a boost to local economies.
The finding is surprising when seen in the global context, where biodiversity is in continuing decline.
Prof. Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London, said: “We’re trying to find success stories so we can learn from them, so we can see what works and scale that up across the conservation movement globally.
“And it is really important that we focus on success and where we are winning.
“But there are massive challenges out there globally. And we have to realize that the threats that Europe creates are not just within our borders, it’s internationally, and that we are having an impact on the 60% decline we’re seeing in low income countries around the world.”
He also warned that Europe’s wildlife was at a pivotal moment.
“We just have to be aware that into the future there will be increasing pressure for food production and so on within Europe,” Prof. Jonathan Baillie said.
“And for a lot of these species, where we have seen the gains, we might lose them again if we are not careful. So it’s our job to keep our eye on the ball.”