Looking for, searching for Yeti ended last month with a lock of horsehair, revealed a BBC Radio 4 program covering the Himalayan hunt.
Andrew Benfield, a writer and meditation teacher, spent years searching for the Yeti with his skeptical friend and political analyst Richard Horsey. The couple traveled through India, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan, listening to stories about the legendary creature and eventually made “Yeti”, a BBC Radio 4 series about their search.
The series ended on a high in June – a mystery hair provided by an unnamed source awaiting DNA analysis. A bonus episode published on October 20 now revealed that the hair came from a horse.
Benfield told Live Science that the result “doesn’t feel right” after three years of searching. “A horse was as boring as could be,” Benfield said. But the DNA analysis doesn’t invalidate the series or the stories of the people they spoke to, according to the couple.
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Tales of an ape-like creature roaming the Himalayas date back centuries. Western interest in the Yeti, or Abominable snowman, began in the early 1950s after British climber Eric Shipton returned from Everest with photographs of giant steps. Subsequent investigations led by Westerners failed to find any scientific evidence of the creature’s existence.
Having worked in international development, Benfield doesn’t like that indigenous accounts of the Yeti are dismissed just because white explorers haven’t found one. He was also reassured by an interview of Sir David Attenborough, filmed in 2013, in which Attenborough said he thinks “there might be something to the Abominable Snowman mystery”. Attenborough is not appearing in the new radio series.
In 2019, Benfield set out to hear first-hand stories about the Yeti and invited Horsey, who has a PhD in cognitive psychology, to join him. “If I could convince him, I knew I was on to something,” Benfield said.
The BBC tuned in in 2022, just before the duo headed to Bhutan and the Sakteng Game Reserve, a 286-square-mile (740-square-kilometer) national park set up in part to protect the Migoi, or Yetis, according to Daily Bhutan. Here, Horsey finally gets a story that shakes his skepticism, and Benfield acquires the alleged hair of the Yeti.
The hair was about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. Benfield cut it in half and sent a piece to Charlotte Lindquist, an evolutionary biologist at the University at Buffalo in New York. Lindqvist and her team found that the DNA matched Altai horses, a mountain breed from Asia.
Lindqvist was also part of a 2017 study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B who analyzed nine alleged Yeti samples and found that eight came from bears and one came from a dog. She previously said she had no doubt about it the creature is a myth.
Benfield accepts the DNA results, but has not yet parted with the other half of the hair, which he told Live Science is currently in his closet. He also talked about the vast, untouched, unexplored nature of the Himalayas and said the Yeti stories come from people who know the region.
“You certainly respect the knowledge of the local people when you’re there because they keep you alive,” Benfield said. “Who am I to question these people? They are there every day.”
Horsey didn’t think they would come back with DNA evidence, but told Live Science that the Yeti was more important to local people than he ever imagined. “We realized that for most of these people it didn’t matter at all whether it physically existed,” Horsey said. “That’s the role it plays in their world.”
Writer Tshering Tashi details Bhutan’s belief in the Yeti in a 2020 article on Kuensel online, the web edition of Bhutan’s national newspaper. In it, he said people in Bhutan are convinced the Yeti exists but are “in no rush” to produce evidence.
“While there is certainly a biological entity behind the mythology, we believe it will not be in the shape and form in which Westerners have romanticized it,” Tashi wrote.