2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Myths

Purported Yeti scalp at Khumjung monastery
Purported Yeti scalp at Khumjung monastery

The Yeti is an apelike cryptid said to inhabit the Himalaya region of Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. The names Yeti and Meh-Teh are commonly used by the people indigenous to the region, and are part of their history and mythology.

Most mainstream scientists, explorers and writers consider current evidence of the Yeti's existence to be weak and better explained as hoax, legend or misidentification of known species. Even today, the Yeti remains one of the most famous creatures of cryptozoology. As such, the Yeti can be considered an arctic version of the Sasquatch.


Name variations

The name Yeti is derived from the Tibetan yeh-teh ( Tibetan: གཡའ་དྲེད་;  Wylie: g.ya' dred), a compound of the words yeh ( Tibetan: གཡའ་;  Wylie: g.ya') meaning "rocky" or "rocky place" and ti, te or teh ( Tibetan: དྲེད་;  Wylie: dred) which translates as "bear", the full name being "rock bear".

Pranavananda goes on to illustrate the root of the words "ti", "te" and "teh" in that they are derived from the spoken word 'tre' (spelled "dred"), Tibetan for bear, with the 'r' softly pronounced as to be almost inaudible, thus making it "te" or "teh".

Other terms used by Himalayan peoples do not translate exactly the same, but refer to legendary and indigenous wildlife.

  • Meh-teh ( Tibetan: མི་དྲེད་;  Wylie: mi dred) translates as "man-bear"
  • Dzu-teh - 'dzu' translates as "cattle" and the full meaning translates as "cattle bear" and is the Himalayan Red Bear.
  • Migoi or Mi-go ( Tibetan: མི་རྒོད་;  Wylie: mi rgod) (pronounced mey-goo) translates as "Wild Man" (.
  • Mirka - another name for "wild-man", however as local legend has it "anyone who sees one dies or is killed". The latter is taken from a written statement by Frank Smythe's sherpas in 1937.
  • Kang Admi - "Snow Man"
  • Jo-bran - "Man-beast"

Himalayan wildlife attributed to the Yeti sightings include the Chu-Teh, a Langur monkey living at lower altitudes, the Tibetan Blue Bear, the Himalayan Brown Bear and the Dzu-Teh (commonly known as the Himalayan Red Bear).

The term Yeti is often used to describe various reported creatures:

  • A large apelike biped (that some suggest could be a Gigantopithecus)
  • Human-sized bipedal apes (the Almas and the Chinese wildman)
  • Dwarflike creatures (such as the Orang Pendek).

The term is often used to refer to creatures fitting any of the aforementioned descriptions. For example, the fear liath has been dubbed as the "Scottish Yeti".

The "Abominable Snowman"

The appellation "Abominable Snowman" was not coined until 1921, the same year Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury led the Royal Geographical Society's "Everest Reconnaissance Expedition" which he chronicled in Mount Everest The Reconnaissance, 1921 In the book, Howard-Bury includes an account of crossing the "Lhakpa-la" at 21,000 feet (6400 meter) where he found footprints that he believed "were probably caused by a large 'loping' grey wolf, which in the soft snow formed double tracks rather like a those of a barefooted man". He adds that his Sherpa guides "at once volunteered that the tracks must be that of "The Wild Man of the Snows", to which they gave the name "metoh-kangmi". "Metoh" translates as "man-bear" and "Kang-mi" translates as "snowman".

A bit of confusion exists between Howard-Bury's recitation of the term "metoh-kangmi" and the term used in H.W. Tilman's book Mount Everest, 1938 where Tilman had used the words "metch" (which may not exist in the Tibetan language) and "kangmi" when relating the coining of the term "Abominable Snowman". Further evidence of "metch" being a misnomer is provided by Tibetan language authority Professor David Snellgrove from the School of Oriental Studies in London (ca. 1956), who dismissed the word "metch" as impossible to conjoin the consonants "t-c-h" in the Tibetan language." Documentation suggests that the term "metch-kangmi" is derived from one source (from the year 1921). It has been suggested that "metch" is simply a misspelling of "metoh".

Like the legend itself, the origin of the term "Abominable Snowman" is rather colorful. It began when Mr Henry Newman, a longtime contributor to The Statesman in Calcutta (using the pen name "Kim") interviewed the porters of the "Everest Reconnaissance expedition" upon their return to Darjeeling,. Newman mistranslated the word "metoh" as "filthy" or "dirty", substituting the term "abominable", perhaps out of artistic license. As author H.W. Tilman's recounts, "[Newman] wrote long after in a letter to The Times: The whole story seemed such a joyous creation I sent it to one or two newspapers'".

Tilman continues, "Whatever effect Mr Newman intended, from 1921 onwards the Yeti... became saddled with the description "Abominable Snowman," an appellation which can only appeal to the music-hall mind than to mammalogists, a fact which has seriously handicapped earnest seekers of the truth", a view supported by Sanderson "It cannot be denied however that Mr Newman put the Yeti 'on the map'. During the twenties and thirties, sightings...of prints and of the animal itself occurred right across the Himalaya from the Burmese frontier to the Karakoram, not all of them by credulous witnesses."

Events & Studies

19th century

In 1832, the Journal of the Asiatic society of Bengal published trekker B. H. Hodgson's account of the Yeti in northern Nepal. His native guides spotted a tall, bipedal creature covered with long dark hair, which seemed to flee in fear. Hodgson did not see the creature, but concluded it was an orangutan.

An early record of reported footprints appeared in 1889 in L.A. Waddell's Among the Himalayas. Waddell reported his guide's description of a large apelike creature that left the prints, which Waddell concluded were actually made by a bear. Waddell heard stories of bipedal, apelike creatures, but wrote that of the many witnesses he questioned, none "could ever give ... an authentic case. On the most superficial investigation it always resolved into something that somebody had heard of."

Early 20th century

The frequency of reports increased during the early 20th century, when Westerners began making determined attempts to scale the many mountains in the area and occasionally reported seeing odd creatures or strange tracks.

In 1925, N.A. Tombazi, a photographer and member of the Royal Geographical Society, allegedly saw a creature at about 15,000 ft (4572 meter) near Zemu Glacier. Tombazi later wrote that he observed the creature from about 200 or 300 yards, for about a minute. "Unquestionably, the figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping occasionally to pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes. It showed up dark against the snow, and as far as I could make out, wore no clothes." About two hours later, Tombazi and his companions descended the mountain, and saw what they assumed to be the creature's prints, described as "similar in shape to those of a man, but only six to seven inches long by four inches wide... The prints were undoubtedly those of a biped."

The Pangboche Scalp

The Pangboche Hand and Yeti "Scalp", 1954
The Pangboche Hand and Yeti "Scalp", 1954
Dr. Biswamoy Biswas examining the Pangboche Yeti scalp during the Daily Mail Snowman Expedition of 1954
Dr. Biswamoy Biswas examining the Pangboche Yeti scalp during the Daily Mail Snowman Expedition of 1954

The Daily Mail "Snowman Expedition" of 1954, on March 19 printed an article which described expedition teams obtaining hair specimens from a scalp found in Pangboche monastery. The hair was analysed by Professor Frederic Wood Jones, F.R.S, D.Sc., (who died on September 29 1954) and an expert in human and comparative anatomy.

The research consisted of taking microphotographs of the hairs and comparing them with hairs from known animals such as bears and orangutans. Professor Woods-Jones concluded that the hairs of the Pangboche scalp were not actually from a scalp. He contended that some animals do have a ridge of hair extending from the pate to the back, but no animals have a ridge (as in the Pangboche relic) running from the base of the forehead across the pate and ending at the nape of the neck.

The hairs were black to dark brown in colour in dim light, and fox red in sunlight. None of the hairs had been dyed and were probably exceedingly old. During the study, the hairs were bleached, cut into sections and analysed microscopically. Wood-Jones was unable to pinpoint the animal from which the Pangboche hairs were taken. He was, however, convinced that the hairs were not of a bear or anthropoid ape. He suggested that the hairs were not from the head of a coarse-haired hoofed animal, but from its shoulder..

Late 20th century

Western interest in the Yeti peaked dramatically in the 1950s. While attempting to scale Mount Everest in 1951, Eric Shipton took photographs of a number of large prints in the snow, at about 6,000 m (19,685 ft) above sea level. These photos have been subject to intense scrutiny and debate. Some argue they are the best evidence of Yeti's existence, while others contend the prints to be from a mundane creature, and have been distorted by the melting snow.

In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reported seeing large footprints while scaling Mount Everest. But Hillary would later discount Yeti reports as unreliable.

During the Daily Mail Snowman Expedition of 1954, the largest search of its kind, the mountaineering leader John Angelo Jackson, made the first trek from Everest to Kangchenjunga during which he photographed symbolic paintings of the Yeti at Thyangboche Gompa. Jackson tracked and photographed many footprints in the snow, most of which were identifiable. However, there were many large footprints which could not be identified. The flattened footprint-like indentations were attributed to erosion and subsequent widening of the original footprint by wind and particles.

Beginning in 1957, wealthy American oilman Tom Slick funded a few missions to investigate Yeti reports. In 1959, supposed Yeti feces were collected by Slick's expedition; fecal analysis found a parasite which could not be classified. Bernard Heuvelmans wrote, "Since each animal has its own parasites, this indicated that the host animal is equally an unknown animal."

In 1959, actor Jimmy Stewart, while visiting India, reportedly smuggled remains of a supposed Yeti, the so-called Pangboche Hand, by concealing it in his luggage when he flew from India to London.

In 1960, Sir Edmund Hillary mounted an expedition to collect and analyse physical evidence of the Yeti. He sent a Yeti " scalp" from the Khumjung monastery to the West for testing, whose results indicated the scalp to be manufactured from the skin of the serow, a goat-like Himalayan antelope. But some disagreed with this analysis. Shackley said that the "hairs from the scalp look distinctly monkey-like, and that it contains parasitic mites of a species different from that recovered from the serow."

In 1970, British mountaineer Don Whillans claims to have witnessed a creature when scaling Annapurna. While scouting for a campsite, Whillans heard some odd cries which his Sherpa guide attributed to a Yeti's call. That very night, Whillans saw a dark shape moving near his camp. The next day, he observed a few human-like footprints in the snow, and that evening, viewed with binoculars a bipedal, apelike creature for 20 minutes as it apparently searched for food not far from his camp.

In Shamanism

In South America, the Yeti is known not as a creature, but as a shamanist god by the name of Banjankri. The Yeti is encountered only in a trance state.


In his book Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality, primatologist John Napier provides firsthand reports and analysis on the subject, and argues that amongst the evidence for the Yeti, "unlike the Sasquatch, there is little uniformity of pattern, and what uniformity there is incriminates the bear."

In 2003, Japanese mountaineer Makoto Nebuka published the results of his twelve year linguistic study postulating that the word "Yeti" is actually a corruption of the word "meti", a regional dialect term for "bear". As in other traditional cultures, the ethnic Tibetans fear and worship the bear as a supernatural being. Nebuka's claims were subject to almost immediate criticism, and was accused of linguistic carelessness. Dr Raj Kumar Pandey, who has researched both Yetis and mountain languages, said "it is not enough to blame tales of the mysterious beast of the Himalayas on words that rhyme but mean different things."

After reviewing eyewitness accounts and physical evidence, many cryptozoologists have concluded that Yeti reports are misidentification of mundane creatures. Well-financed expeditions have turned up little positive evidence of its existence, although one expedition to Bhutan did retrieve a hair sample that, after DNA analysis, could not be matched to any known animal.

In 1997, South Tyrolean mountaineer Reinhold Messner claimed to have a face-to-face encounter with a Yeti. He has since written a book, My Quest for the Yeti, and claims to have actually killed one. According to Messner, the Yeti is actually the endangered Himalayan Brown Bear, Ursus arctos isabellinus, that can walk upright or on all fours.

Enthusiasts speculate that these reported creatures could be present-day specimens of the extinct giant ape Gigantopithecus, as the only evidence recovered from Gigantopithecus (other than teeth) are jawbone remains indicating a skull atop a vertical spinal column (as in hominines and other bipedal apes such as Oreopithecus). However, while the Yeti is generally described as bipedal, most scientists believe Gigantopithicus to be quadrupedal, and so massive that, unless it evolved specifically as a bipedal ape (like Oreopithecus and the hominids), walking upright would have been even more difficult for the now extinct primate than it is for its extant quadrupedal relative, the orangutan.

In popular culture

The Yeti has become a cultural icon, appearing in movies, books and video games. The creature is usually depicted as the scary "Abominable Snowman", but is occasionally used as comic relief. In 2006, Disney opened a ride called "Expedition Everest" in Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom. Inside the waiting area is a Yeti museum, complete with "Yeti-damaged" items and cement-cast footprints.

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