Who Believes in the Yeti?

<I’m running out of conspiracies. Suggestions to the email address below as to things I could write about would be very welcome. Credit would be given.>

by Timothy Chilman

email: timothychilman@yahoo.com

The yeti, based on descriptions from Sir Edmund Hillary, who, with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was the first to climb Mount Everest. Photo: Edwin Duesiester

Late in 2011, more than a dozen of what were described as scientists from the United States, Russia, China, Canada, Sweden, and Estonia met in Tashtagol, 2,000 miles east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region of Siberia. They declared that they were 95 percent certain that one incarnation of the yeti, the Siberian snowman, existed in that region. The Americans and Russians agreed to share once-secret data pertaining to the Yeti which was collected during the Cold War.

They claimed to have found “footprints, a probable den and various markers that Yetis mark their territory with.” They described their evidence as “irrefutable.” Gray yeti hair, they said, would be submitted to a laboratory for DNA analysis.

The organizer of the conference, Igor Burtsev, head of Kemerovo State University’s Yeti Institute, said that yeti were neanderthal men who had escaped extinction. The conference called for a campaign to “work out a more serious relationship in society and mass media” to the yeti. Burtsev said, “We need to think about how to integrate the Yeti into society. Should they be treated as normal citizens? Should they be treated like animals? No, because they are more intelligent. There’s a lot to think about here.”

One attendee, Robin Lynn, said she had seen twisted willow branches used by yetis to mark their territory, and 14 inch-wide footprints. A nest in a cave was also reportedly found. Lynn said, “I know they exist. I see them every day.” She claims that 10 yeti-like animals reside on her land in Michigan, and she feeds them regularly in her back garden, although she has no photographs.

Another representation of the yeti. Photo: Jean-no.

Loren Coleman is something of a believer, although he dislikes that word due to its religious overtones. He says there is “good evidence” of the yeti which deserves further investigation. In 2003, he opened the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, to display the many artifacts he had amassed in the course of half a century, including 150 footprint casts. He is the co-author of The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates. He has, he says, always believed that evidence of the yeti will one day be found, but it would be as a result not of brief excursions to the field, but long-term funding of probably female researchers who would live in the field for as much as six months. A Jane Goodall for the yeti would be preferable as apes can be intimidated by male pheromones. The real Goodall, incidentally, is convinced that some primates are yet to be discovered.

Coleman was invited to the conference to deliver a presentation, but when he asked for his airfare to be paid for, “They turned around and said, ‘Oh no, we can’t afford that.’” He was advised to buy a cheap flight online.

This believer does not believe. Coleman said of the Russian declaration: “This does not seem to be any more than what you hear about from weekend excursions in North America that go out, discovering some hair of undetermined origin, calling it ‘bigfoot hair,’ then locating some broken branches and piled trees, saying it was made by bigfoot, and finding footprints that look like Sasquatch tracks… They are not ‘proof’ that would hold up, zoologically.”

One person who attended the conference, Idaho State University anthropologist and author of Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, Jeffrey Meldrum, was even more dismissive. He described the findings of the conference as “very orchestrated” and likely to be natural occurrences, which had given him “a very awkward feeling.”

The only American in the group, Meldrum was initially happy to learn that the Russian government was interested in a Yeti institute. His suspicions were aroused when Igor Burtsev said, “We are on the brink of finding the yeti at long last.” Burtsev went on to tell the assembled scientists that they might see yeti footprints in a cave. Meldrum said that a right footprint then found was “a little vague and not real distinct.” He said that it was a large cave, and there should have been footprints everywhere. Another point against is that if a cave had genuinely recently housed a yeti, equipment would have been set up to record the creatures.

When Meldrum and a cameraman attempted to venture further into the cave, a regional government official called them back “rather harshly.” The cave had seen frequent human visitors, evidenced by graffiti, campfire remnants, and trash. Two more right footprints were found, leading Meldrum to ask, mischievously: “Is the yeti playing hopscotch?” He expected to see both right and left footprints. He also thought it odd that all the footprints led out of the cave, and none led in.

In the cave, Meldrum said that any resident animal would have a bed of some kind, and almost immediately thereafter was found a “neat little fern bed.” It was not pressed-down, as Meldrum would have expected, and neither was there hair, which he said would have been present.

Burtsev dived into the fern bed, causing Meldrum to think: “Well, that’s very scientific, Igor. You’ve just contaminated the whole scene.” He also thought the twisted trees were very convenient, being close to an oft-used trail and bearing what he took to be tool-markings. Tool markings, a feature also found elsewhere, could mean that the yeti is more intelligent, or could indicate human agency. Meldrum then realized that the whole event had been staged for the benefit of the media, to promote Kemerovo as a skiing destination.

Kemerovo airport. Photo: Leonid Mamchenkov.

The far-flung region of Kemerovo is lightly populated, with its 36,873 square miles accommodating only three million people. Its impoverished economy has traditionally centered on the mining of coal and metal, but now the government is attempting to prompt diversification into tourism, and the local yeti legend is known to be helpful to this. If the conference was intended for this purpose, it had some success, as people in their hundreds have visited the supposed yeti cave. The first day of the skiing season is known as the Day of the Yeti, and there is much yeti-related merchandise on sale.

Another stunt a month before the conference was the visit to the yeti cave by Nikolai Valuev, the Beast from the East. Seven feet tall and 23 stone in weight, Valuev was the tallest, heaviest boxing champion ever before he lost his title to the Untied Kingdom’s David Haye in 2009. A spokesman for the Kemerovo government said the boxer wished to “talk to the yeti about life.” While a story in the Weekly World News stated that Valuev saw a yeti and punched it, the man himself said he saw many journalists, but no yetis. Al Jazeera reported that he had recently entered Russian politics, and his visit may have been intended to assist with that.

Igor Burtsev says there are around 30 authoritative scientists in Russia who study the yeti. The Russian government has offered a million roubles ($32,000) for evidence of the creature. One Russian media wag commented that the conference’s claim to 95 percent certainty amounted to “We haven’t actually found anything, but we very, very much wanted to have found something.” Dmitry Islamov, Vice governor of Kemerovo Region on Economics and Regional Development, remarked: “Its doesn’t matter that <the researchers> might not have yetis. The main thing is that when people come to the Shoria mountains, they truly enjoy its unique nature.”

Meldrum said there had been talk of making the conference an annual event, and he is confident he will not be invited to return. He declined to sign the group’s statement of “95 percent certainty.” Despite his experiences, he still believes there has been enough evidence over the years to suggest that the yeti is real. He claims to have seen more than 200 footprints left by yetis, and heard their call: “high-pitched tones that travel some distance.”

There have been false alarms. In 2007, American television host, Josh Gates, asserted that he had found three mysterious footprints in snow close to a stream in the Nepalese section of the Himalayas. Locals believed the “Gates track” was made by bears, and while it was, at first, treated as evidence of the yeti, no more has been heard of it.

An almost-hairless animal was captured alive by hunters in the Sichuan region of China in 2010, and although it was reported to be a yeti, it was later found to be a civet: a small, cat-like animal found in the region. The animal lost its fur due to mange. Loren Coleman said that if the Asian press were to get into the habit of calling every unidentified animal a yeti, “it’s going to muddy the waters of cryptozoology.”

In California in 2011, researchers into another mysterious hominid, bigfoot, claimed to have discovered evidence in the shape of hair and prints left on two windows of a pickup truck. The truck belonged to Jeffrey Gonzalez, founder of the Sanger Paranormal Society, and was temporarily abandoned during a snow storm when the occupants were on a Memorial Day bigfoot expedition in the Sierra National Forest of California. He said he “almost threw up” when he found a print on the passenger side window of his vehicle.

Also found was a print of a face – “Such an awesome picture. You can see the nose, the eye, the hair all over the face” – and a 12 inch footprint. The entity was thought to not be a bear, as none of the four ice chests in the truck which were filled with food had been disturbed.

Gonzalez contacted Mickey Burrow, a forensic law enforcement photographer who had been an expert witness for courts for 14 years and believes bigfoot is real. Burrow said he definitely had the know-how, having tested more than 5,000 crime scenes. He treated the vehicle as if it had been broken into. He said it appeared that something had come to the truck and put its face to the window. He was not overly impressed by the other prints on the windows, saying he was “very iffy on it,” and that it looked like a paw print rather than the print of a biped’s hand. However, he did say that that could not rule out the finding, as the exact shape of bigfoot was unknown.

At a press conference in Fresno, the Society appealed for funds to have the hair and DNA swabs of oil deposits tested. Loren Coleman said the face print could be that of a homeless person. He also said the footprint could be that of a bear, but he did not attempt to explain the undisturbed food. A DNA sample, he said, would be more conclusive. While the internet abounds with tellings of the story, there is nothing to speak of further developments.

Cryptozoology, literally “the study of hidden animals,” has acquired a measure of respectability in recent years. Several universities run courses in the subject, with one of the first created by Loren Coleman at the University of Southern Maine, where he taught zoology for 20 years. He says cryptozoology’s following has expanded from a handful of people to tens of thousands, hundreds of whom email him every day.

A picture of the yeti which does not accord with the description of Loren Coleman. Picture: Ipipipourax.

The yeti is muscular, weighs from 200 to 400 pounds, and has four digits. Coleman says the creature is usually between five and seven-and-a-half feet tall, and thinner than most people imagine. He describes it as “hearty-looking,” with brownish-black fur, sometimes lighter at the top of the head. The Siberian snowman has white fur on its arms.

John Bindernagel, a 70 year old Canadian, has spent 30 of his 70 years seeking the yeti. He says that people’s accounts generally attest that the yeti has deeply-set eyes, a round chin, and ears covered with hair. The foot is like that of a human, but broader. Some people say females are slimmer than males, and some say they can climb trees. He says he saw bigfoot in Ohio in 2007.

The Siberian snowman is less fearful of humans than are other mystery hominids. They are sometimes to be seen at the edge of forests, staring at people, and are not considered to be wild animals. In Nepal, on the other hand, yetis have been said to attack yaks and sherpas. Sightings of the Siberian snowman have tripled in the last two decades, and scientists of the Darwin Museum in Moscow believe there could be a several dozen of them.

Coleman says that there is literature speaking of the yeti dating back three millennia. At the conference in Tashtagol, a local professor presented a document said to have been written by a German soldier late in the 14th century, which spoke of a captured man and woman “whose bodies were covered with hair while their hands and faces were hairless.”

Who believes in the Yeti? Uncle Sam did. Archivist Mark Murphy could not believe his eyes when he found certain documents from the National Archives which originated from the State Department in the 1950s. “I thought I was seeing things.” The documents, he says, demonstrate that finding the yeti was “a big deal” and that the U.S. government took it seriously.

The U.S. Foreign Service memo, "Regulations Governing Mountain Climbing Expeditions in Nepal - Relating to Yeti." Photo: www.archives.gov.

A memo from the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu written by Counselor Ernest Fisk on November 30, 1959, laid down three regulations for expeditions seeking the yeti in Nepal: the first was that a permit must be purchased; the second was that any captured yeti should be kept alive, except where self-defense dictated otherwise; and finally, news of any finding was to be cleared by the government of Nepal, presumably to allow it to take credit.

A dispatch from the U.S. embassy in New Delhi dated April 16, 1959, described the many American attempts to find the yeti in Nepal. It said that “American resources in the last two years have been concentrated on effort to capture the abominable snowman.” The term “abominable snowman” arose from a book by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard Bury entitled Mount Everest: the Reconnaissance.

The most famous photograph of a supposed yeti footprint. Photo: www.visitnepal.com.

Yetis have been sighted in the Khumbu region, at the foot of Mount Everest. The most famous photograph of a supposed yeti footprint was taken on a reconnaissance expedition to Everest in 1951 which was led by John Hunt. () It was published in the Times newspaper on December 6 of that year. The footprint is next to an ice axe, making it 13 inches long and eight inches wide.

When Sir Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest in 1953, they found no evidence of the yeti, however Tenzing’s father claimed to have seen the creature. He became ill and died days after, which is said to be a common result of encounters with the yeti.

In 1954, the British newspaper, the Daily Mail, funded the so-called Snowman expedition to Everest. Ancient paintings of yetis were photographed, large footprints seen, and hair samples found.

There is no shortage of people who say that they saw the yeti. The British mountaineer, Don Whillans, claimed to have seen a yeti when climbing Annapurna in 1970.

In 2007, hunters in the Kirov region of Russia killed a bear and left it while they fetched a truck to transport it. When they returned 40 minutes later, the bear had gone, but there were signs of dragging. They set their dogs on the scent, but when the dogs came to a tree, they halted and whimpered in fear. Then, a giant, hairy figure – “leshiy” is Russian for “forest man” – was seen near the tree, beside the dead bear. A chunk of flesh was missing from the bear.

47 year-old local government official, Liliya Zenkova, was on a camping trip in a remote area of Siberia. She fell asleep in the back seat of her car with the windows open. Around 5a.m., she felt her right hand being caressed. She knew it was not her husband, because it was gentle. She looked outside and saw a six-and-a-half foot tall creature with gray hair. At her husband’s insistence, she did not tell her story, but changed her mind upon hearing similar tales.

In Kemerovo, residents have complained that the Siberian snowman steals hens and sheep. One villager, Afanasy Kiskorov, said he rescued a yeti while hunting in 2010. The beast was screaming, having fallen into a swollen river. He said it looked like a “huge man” and tried repeatedly to escape the water, but kept falling back in. Kiskorov held out a tree branch, which the animal grabbed, allowing it to be pulled to the river bank. Then it ran away.

In 2011, 82 year-old Raisa Sudochakova saw a yeti: “It was still a tall creature, but not giant. It was covered with long, brown-grey hair, like a bear. It wasn’t a bear. I have lived all my life in Siberia and wouldn’t make that mistake.” She said the creature walked in a near-human manner.

In 2009, bikini-clad Justyna Folger was paddling in a river while on a camping trip to the Tatra mountains of Poland. She saw a dark creature on the opposite river bank. It stood on two legs and ran off. It was filmed by her boyfriend. Another such creature had been filmed the week before.

In Tibetan, the yeti is called metohkangmi – “filthy snowman.” In North America, it is the sasquatch; in China, the yeren; in Australia, the yowie; in Malaysia, the sejarang gigi; and in Brazil, the mapinguari. As Loren Coleman says, “All of these different kinds of hominids and anthropoids that are unknown are merely waiting to sort of be found if people have patience.”


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2 thoughts on “Who Believes in the Yeti?

  1. ANON 02/17/2012, 10:56 am:

    Sasquatch must be his brother…

  2. Frenzy 02/18/2012, 6:22 am: