Posting photographs of “mysterious footprints” that measure 32×15 inches, the Army claimed on Twitter Monday that its mountaineering expedition team in the higher Himalayas had sighted “the mythical beast Yeti”. It went on to claim that the “elusive snowman” had “only been sighted nearby at Makalu-Barun National Park in the past”.
Yeti or snowman is a mythical creature that is part of many legends and folklore in the Himalayan areas of India, Nepal and Tibet. Believed to be a bipedal ape-like creature, it has never been sighted, and most scientists believe no such creature exists.
But sightings of unusually large footprints have been reported by mountaineers and adventurers in the past as well, and these have variously been explained as footprints of other animals such as the Asiatic black bear or Tibetan brown bears. So, when the claim on Twitter went viral, the sighting of a “mythical” Yeti sparked disbelief on social media at the Army’s expense.
Daniel Taylor, who has spent years searching for the mythical Yeti and has written a book ‘Yeti: The Ecology of a Mystery’, believes the footprints put out by the Army could also be that of bears, possibly one footprint overlapping on the other. “This is almost certainly the Himalayan Black Bear, with overprints of hind foot on to front foot,” Taylor told The Indian Express.
“The size of the footprints is extraordinary. If (this is) only one footprint, this is the size of a dinosaur. So it has to be an overprint (overlap), almost certainly Ursus thibetanus (Asiatic black bear). Maybe, a mother bear with a baby cub hopping behind,” he said.
Army sources said the announcement was based on physical proof of on-the-spot narration, photos and videos. Sources said that the Army got inputs about 10 days ago and decided to post the photographs on Twitter after concluding that there was evidence that matched earlier theories. According to PTI, the Army will send the pictures and videos captured by its personnel to domain experts.
Read | What is Yeti?
Two recent studies, both published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, made a genetic analysis of hair, bones and faeces claimed to have been that of Yeti and both concluded that almost all of these came from bears. Charlotte Lindqvist, an associate professor at the University of Buffalo in New York, and a co-author of one of those studies, said so far all evidence suggested that everything claimed to be that of the Yeti actually belonged to local bears and that this might not be a different case.
“So far, all genetic evidence extracted from supposed Yeti remains show that they came from bears that live on the region today. No research has proven the opposite and I am not at all convinced these footprints provide any new evidence to prove otherwise. I am sure there are many more plausible explanations for these footprints,” she told The Indian Express.
“It is indeed curious that they seem to follow in a line, and where did these other prints on the picture come from? I believe experts have said before that bears can walk in their own footprints, possibly making the imprints look larger and possibly explaining such large footprints,” she said. Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at the Department of Biological Sciences at the Idaho State University in the US, said the photographs indicated that the footprints were left by a “galloping quadruped (four-footed animal)”.
“They (footprints) are rather melted out and distorted, making the dimensions ambiguous. However, the gait pattern is evident,” he said.
The Army team which claimed to have sighted the footprints is the Mountaineering Expedition to Mount Makalu (8485m) comprising five Officers, two JCOs and eleven other ranks. This expedition was flagged off on March 26 and is part of Army’s objective of summiting all challenging peaks above 8000 metres.