Jul
29
2008

Science is making my Yeti magic stronger.

A yeti: preparing a powerful spell.
A yeti: preparing a powerful spell.Courtesy teotwawki
It’s time again, Buzzketeers—get on the cryptocouch. Go on and sit down. Just as you are is fine. I understand that some of you may be a little crusty and gross, and that’s fine; you were probably just planning on getting a little internet on by yourself this morning, and maybe you let your crust build up, your funk get funkier, and didn’t expect to have to set yourself down on a cryptocouch with other Buzzketeers.

Don’t sweat it. The cryptocouch is big enough for all of us, with room to spare for buffer zones, and it’s upholstered such that I can just hose it off later. And that may be necessary, if your orifices aren’t up for some serious cryptozoology this early in the day.

And now you’re on the cryptocouch, despite your reservations. How did I ever convince you to do that? Hey, it’s only to be expected—my Yeti magic is particularly strong today. Usually my Yeti magic is fueled by groundless faith, but today, oh today, my Yeti magic is burning the high-octane gas of scientific uncertainty.

Uncertainty may not sound very good to some of y’all, but when science gets up in your grill as often as it does with cryptozoology, you take what you can get. And today, instead of scientists thrusting and grinding statements like “That’s bear hair,” or “That’s a sick coyote” in our faces, it says, “hello, this is different.” That is, so-called Yeti hair collected in India has recently been identified as “inconclusive.”

Let’s slow down and use our words.

Scientists at Oxford Brookes University, lead by “ape expert” Ian Redmond, have recently spent some time examining a couple of mysterious hairs from the Garo Hills of northeast India. The hairs were collected after a local forester reported seeing the region’s Yeti/Bigfoot thinger (specifically, the “Mande Barung”) in the area three days in a row.

The hairs have been compared to samples collected by Sir Edmund Hilary, a mountaineer and explorer, who did some Yeti-searching in Nepal in the 60’s. And that’s cool, except Sir Edmund’s specimens have generally been agreed to be from a kind of antelope, something that Hilary himself was probably aware of.

The Oxford Brookes researchers, then, began examining the new hairs “fully expecting them to come from a known animal.” The hairs, each less than two inches long, however, now appear to have come from an unknown animal. The scientists say that, under a microscope, the hairs look slightly human, slightly like an orangutan, and slightly like Hilary’s samples (so, slightly like antelope hair). But they don’t look exactly like hair from a known animal, especially none that are known to live in the Garo Hills. So, even if the hairs don’t come from a Yeti (or whatever)m they may be evidence of a slightly more mundane new species. Which is pretty neat.

The next step that will be taken with the hairs is their submission to that colossal buzz-kill we call genetic testing. The hairs, which still have follicle attached, will be sent to two separate laboratories in Oxford and Cardiff for DNA analysis. Even if the results don’t identify the hairs as belonging to a specific species, they should at least show what their original owner was related to (like a primate, or, say, a type of antelope).

How about that? Powerful stuff, huh? So cast your Yeti spells while the news is still hot, because who knows what the DNA tests will bring us.

Now get off the couch. I have to sleep there, and you’re making it all grimy.

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