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He's the mythical beast whose possible existence has fascinated people and confused scientists for centuries.
Bigfoot, Yeti, Abominable Snowman and Sasquatch are just some of the names for mysterious ape-like creatures who’ve been spotted roaming the Earth.
Could they be ancient humans such as Neanderthals, or are they half human/half ape, a new and undiscovered animal species – or simply a hoax?
Now a leading scientist has travelled around the world, including to the USA, the Himalayas and Russia, to take a closer look at the legend.
Bryan Sykes, who is a professor of human genetics at Oxford University, also put out a worldwide call for Bigfoot samples, such as hair, that he can subject to the most sophisticated DNA tests available – the most ambitious Bigfoot DNA analysis ever seen.
Sykes believes his DNA tests are 100%. He has previously been involved in high-profile cases dealing with ancient DNA, including that of Ötzi the Iceman, the mummy of a man who lived between 3,400 and 3,100 BCE.
Bigfoot is a controversial subject, beset with scandals that have destroyed the careers of previously respected scientists in the past – but this has not put off Sykes.
He says: “Science doesn’t accept or reject anything, all it does is examine the evidence and that is what I’m doing.
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“I want to find the answer, and that should be the basis for any scientific investigation. If there is anything really exciting, we will find it.”
Sykes’ work is explored in a three-part documentary series on BLAZE, which starts on New Year’s Day.
The first episode focuses on the legend of the Yeti, believed to be roaming the Himalayan mountain range.
From the British diplomat who first heard stories of “wild men” attacking people in 1832, to the journalist who coined the phrase “the Abominable Snowman” in 1921, there have been varying descriptions of the Yeti.
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Often, he is described as varying in height between five and nine feet, well-built and covered in white, brown or reddish fur.
Although sightings are rare and evidence is scant, there have been a few incidents over the years and the Yeti has even appeared in stories of the Himalayan Sherpa people.
Bigfoot Files presenter, scientist Mark Evans, who worked with Sykes on the show, travelled to Nepal to find the real story behind the centuries-old tales.
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He endured altitude sickness at Everest Base Camp, where a photograph of a footprint in the snow there led to “Yeti-mania” in 1951.
He also looked at ancient manuscripts and spoke to people who claimed to have encounters with the creature.
“As a biologist, I leapt at the chance to be involved in Bryan Sykes’s project,” says Evans.
“Every part of the Himalayas has its own legend and our challenge is to unpack the various theories that fuel this.”
In Nepal, Mark met one Sherpa who witnessed a Yeti attack 50 years ago when he was 16.
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Sona Hisha described being high on the mountain with his zopkio – a cross between a yak and a cow used for trekking – when he heard a “big noise”.
“We were really scared that the Yeti was going to kill us,” he recalls, saying that they slept in a rock cave to hide.
“The next morning, we found that two of the zopkio had been killed by the Yeti and had been eaten.
“The Yeti looked like a human, walking on two legs. He was dark brown, but his face was white.”
Evans also spoke to French explorer Christophe Hagenmuller, who came face to face with a Yeti in 2003.
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Hangenmuller said he was told by somebody he helped while trekking that they had heard a hunter had killed a “strange creature”.
“He thought he could show me the creature – but on the condition that I had to promise I would never reveal the place where I would travel with them and see the animal,” adds Hagenmuller.
“We travelled for four days to a village. There, I met the hunter and saw the animal which was killed 30 years ago and it was stuffed.
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“The first thing that came to my mind was that it was a mix of a wolf and a bear.
“It was sized like a small human, with long fur and a big mouth and large teeth.” Hagenmuller said he asked if he could take fur samples from the hunter, which he took back to Europe.
When he heard about Sykes’ project – which saw him receiving Yeti hair from all over the Himalayas for his research – he sent it to him for testing.
Although Sykes and Evans initially thought it could be a brown bear, it did not come back with the result they were expecting.
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“The DNA result is a perfect match with a polar bear,” says Sykes. “It was so unusual we double-checked it.
“And more strangely, it isn’t a modern polar bear. It matches ancient polar bear DNA from a jaw bone of a species that died out at least 40,000 years ago.”
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This result was also found on a sample of Yeti hair from Bhutan – but the Himalayas is unable to support the marine life needed for polar bears to feed.
Sykes’ theory is it was a hybrid between a brown bear and a polar bear, that had travelled to the mountain range from the Arctic north many years ago.
“Maybe when the Yeti is seen it’s one of these hybrid bears, because they’re not behaving like a normal bear,” he adds.
“Polar bears hunt humans and maybe these hybrid bears do too.
“This is a massively important result as to the identity of the Yeti.
“This may well be the basis for the Yeti legend throughout the whole of the Himalayas.”
● Bigfoot Files is showing on BLAZE on New Year’s Day from 6pm.
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