Category Archives: bears

Episode 042: Mystery Bears



This week we’re going to learn about bears, including a bunch of m y s t e r y  b e a r s!

Hi! I am a panda bear!

A polar bear:

A spectacled bear:

A baby spectacled bear OMG LOOK AT THAT BABY:

The giant short-faced bear was indeed giant:

Further reading:

Shuker Nature

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

I’m in the mood for a bona fide mystery animal, and I bet you are too. So this week let’s learn about some mystery bears.

There are eight species of bears alive today that we know of: brown, polar, spectacled, sloth, sun, Asian and American black bears, and the giant panda. The other ones you may have heard of, like grizzlies, are subspecies of those eight. For a long time pandas were not considered bears at all, but more closely related to raccoons. These days they’re definitely in the bear box, but they’ve evolved in a completely different direction from other bears for some 19 million years, which is why they’re so different.

Before we get into the mysteries, let’s talk about just how different pandas are from other bears. As you probably know, the panda eats bamboo almost exclusively, unlike all other bears which are either omnivorous or, in the case of the polar bear, carnivorous. To survive on bamboo, the panda has evolved a lot of unusual adaptations. The front paws, for instance, have five toes just like all bears, and also a thumb. The thumb is actually a modified wrist bone that juts out from the base of the paw and helps the panda hold bamboo stalks as it eats the leaves.

Bamboo is not very nutritious. It’s certainly low in protein, especially considering that while the panda eats almost nothing but bamboo, it still has the digestive system of a carnivore. Special microbes in the panda’s intestines help break down the bamboo so the panda can digest it, but it takes a lot of bamboo to provide the energy a panda needs. A panda eats 20 to 30 pounds of bamboo leaves, stems, and shoots every day, or 9-14 kg, which means it also poops a whole lot. Seriously, it poops something like 40 times a day. And it still doesn’t have a lot of energy. It mostly just sits around eating and pooping. But while the panda just chews leaves all the time, it still has bear fangs and it will eat meat and eggs when it can. Researchers think that the panda only became exclusively a bamboo eater about two million years ago.

The panda lives in the mountains of China in only a few places. It used to also live in the lowlands but farming and other development drove it into more remote areas. There are about 50 pandas in captivity these days and somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 pandas in the wild, with the population finally increasing after laws protecting pandas from poaching started to be enforced.

The people of China knew about the panda for centuries, although they were considered rare and elusive even in the olden days, but it wasn’t until 1869 that anyone from outside of China had a clue that gigantic roly-poly black and white bamboo-eating six-toed bears were real. Seriously, would you believe that? In 1869 a French missionary and naturalist bought a dead panda from some hunters, dissected it to study, and sent the skin to a zoologist friend in Paris.

So it’s possible that there are other mystery bears out there, known to the locals who don’t realize their bears are special, just waiting to be spotted by someone who knows a thing or two about bears.

In 1920 a Swedish scientist named Sten Bergman was shown the pelt of a bear by locals during an expedition to the Kamchatka Peninsula. That’s in the very eastern part of Russia on the Pacific coast and is sparsely populated. It’s mountainous with a cluster of active volcanos and it’s well known for the brown bears that live in the area. The Kamchatka brown bears are among the largest brown bear subspecies in the world, almost the size of the closely related Kodiak brown bear. When it stands on its hind legs it can be almost ten feet tall, or 3 meters. It’s mostly harmless to humans. Mostly. It hardly ever kills people. Just, you know, occasionally. The Kamchatka brown bears have long brown fur, sometimes pale brown but usually a sort of medium brown. They’re certainly not black. But the pelt that Dr. Bergman was shown was jet black and had short fur. But it was definitely a bear pelt, and the pelt was definitely enormous—much larger than a brown bear pelt. Bergman also saw a huge skull supposedly from one of the black bears, and a paw print 15” long and 10” wide, or 38 cm by 25 ½ cm.

Unfortunately none of the giant black bears have turned up since, living or dead. It’s possible that the bear was an unusually large brown bear with anomalous fur. Brown bears do have considerable variability in both the color and length of their fur, so it’s not out of the question that occasionally a brown bear is born that is actually black. It’s also possible that this black bear is actually a different species of bear, but that it’s either gone extinct or is extremely rare and only lives in far remote areas of Siberia these days.

But the Kamchatka Peninsula has another mystery bear for us to ponder. In 1987 a hunter named Rodion Sivolobov bought a giant white bear skin from locals. It looked like a big polar bear pelt, but the locals assured him it was from a very specific, very rare type of local bear.

They called it the irkuiem and described it as large but with a relatively small head, relatively short hind legs, and an unusual method of running. It supposedly runs in a sort of rocking motion, bringing both hind legs up to the forelegs, then throwing the forelegs forward together to start a new stride–more like a rabbit’s bounding run than a bear’s typical gait.

Sivolobov sent samples of the pelt to various zoologists in Russia, but they said there wasn’t much they could determine without a skull. But with DNA testing so much more advanced these days, it would be REALLY NICE if Sivolobov would get right on that and get his white bear pelt tested. If it really exists and if he’s not scared he was sold a marked-up polar bear skin with a tall tale.

The polar bear lives in the Arctic and is so closely related to the brown bear that the two species occasionally crossbreed when their range overlaps. Technically polar bears are marine mammals since they hunt seals on sea ice and spend a lot of time in the water. Sometimes a polar bear will drift for long distances on a piece of sea ice, or may swim for days, crossing hundreds of miles of ocean.

Polar bear feet are huge, around 12 inches wide or 30 cm, which helps keep the bear from sinking in the snow since its weight is more widely distributed on broad paws. Think snowshoes. Broad feet also helps it swim faster. The paw pads are bumpy so it’s less likely to slip on ice, and the claws are short and strong for digging in snow and ice. The polar bear stays warm because its body is heavily insulated with fat, plus its fur is thick with a soft undercoat that insulates so well that polar bears really are virtually invisible to heat-sensing radar. Male polar bears grow long fur on their forelegs, apparently because lady polar bears find that attractive. Unlike most other bears, polar bears don’t hibernate.

Georg Wilhelm Steller was a German naturalist who took part in explorations of Kamchatka Peninsula and other areas. He’s the guy that Steller’s sea-cow is named after and one day it’s getting its own episode. Anyway, in 1751 Steller wrote a book called, in English, Beasts of the Sea, and in it he mentions a report of a white sea-bear. He didn’t see it himself, but here’s his account, which I’ve taken from Karl Shuker’s excellent blog ShukerNature. I’ll link to it in the show notes.

Here’s the quote:

“Report, as I gather from the account of the people, has declared that the sea-bear, as it is called by the Rutheni and other people is different. They say it is an amphibious sea beast very like a bear, but very fierce, both on land and in the water. They told likewise, that in the year 1736 it had overturned a boat and torn two men to pieces; that they were very much alarmed when they heard the sound of its voice, which was like the growl of a bear, and that they fled from their chase of the otter and seals on the sea and hastened back to land. They say that it is covered with white fur; that it lives near the Kuril Islands, and is more numerous toward Japan; that here it is seldom seen. I myself do not know how far to believe this report, for no one has ever seen one, either slain or cast up dead upon the shore.”

Shuker suggests that this report may actually be of a fur seal, which is found in the area and has sometimes been called a sea-bear. Then again, fur seals aren’t white. They’re gray or brown and would appear darker in the water.

The Kuril Islands are a string of 56 volcanic islands that stretch between the northeastern tip of Hokkaido, Japan to the southern tip of Kamchatka Peninsula, a distance of about 810 miles, or 1300 km. Some of the largest islands are inhabited by brown bears, but it’s far from the Arctic. Polar bears get overheated easily in warmer areas, so a population of polar bears—or even a stray one—is unlikely that far south.

There are also stories of pure white bears in the forests of Hubei province in China. It’s always possible this is a garbled account of the panda, but maybe not.

In 1864, Inuit hunters supposedly killed a huge bear with yellowish fur. Naturalist Roderick McFarlane acquired the skin and skull and sent them to the Smithsonian, which promptly lost them. That’s the story, anyway. In fact, the Smithsonian did misplace the skin and skull for a while, but zoologist Clinton Hart Merriam found and examined them. He decided it was a new species of bear due to the skull’s odd shape and the light tan color of the fur.

Older polar bears do tend to have yellowish fur so maybe that’s all this bear was. But it might have been something else. As I mentioned earlier, polar bears and various subspecies of brown bear do sometimes crossbreed and produce fertile young. It’s rare, but it happens occasionally both in the wild and in captivity. The resulting babies show traits of both polar bears and brown bears, and tend to be pale brown or tan in color with darker brown paws. Then again, there’s a MonsterQuest episode that I haven’t actually seen where a paleontologist examines the McFarlane skull and states it’s just that of a young female brown bear.

For having only eight species, bears are remarkably widespread and vary considerably in diet and appearance. The sloth bear mostly eats insects, for instance. It lives in India and has shaggy black fur with a pale muzzle and white claws, big floppy ears, and a white V-shaped mark on the chest. It lacks upper incisors, which helps it slurp up insects.

Sloth bears are actually pretty darn awesome. Males often help raise the cubs and mothers carry their babies around on their backs. The sloth bear doesn’t hibernate, probably because it doesn’t really get cold where it lives.

The spectacled bear lives in South America. It’s the last close relative of the giant short-faced bear that went extinct about 11,000 years ago. The spectacled bear is mostly black, although some individuals may appear brown or reddish, and most but not all have lighter markings on the face and chest. Its head is much less bearlike than other bears, with a rounded face and short snout. It mostly eats plants and lives in the Andes Mountains and surrounding areas. It spends a lot of time in trees, and will even build a little platform in a tree to sleep on or store food on.

And you know what? Paddington Bear is modeled on the spectacled bear.

The spectacled bear is not especially scary. Its relative, the giant short-faced bear, was another story. It lived in North America, especially in California, and its remains have been found in the La Brea tar pits. But it also lived as far south as Mississippi. And it was huge. It was simply enormous. It stood up to 6 feet at the shoulder, or 1.8 meters, and twice that when standing on its hind legs. One website I read pointed out that regulation height for a basketball rim is ten feet, which means a giant short-faced bear could dunk the ball every time without doing anything more strenuous than standing up. It was probably an omnivore like most modern bears, but we have mastodon bones that show tooth marks from the short-faced bear.

Naturally, as with just about any extinct animal, people keep hoping they’re not really extinct and occasionally someone reports seeing a giant short-faced bear. Some cryptozoologists speculate that the Kamchatka Peninsula mystery bears may actually be short-faced bears, but since short-faced bear fossils have only been found in North America, it’s probably not likely that there would be any living in Russia. Besides, the short-faced bear would have looked very different from the brown bear, probably shaped more like a colossal spectacled bear. Locals would definitely notice the difference. Moreover, it’s not likely to live in the same area that already has a population of brown bears, since both animals would then be competing for the same resources.

Personally, while the giant short-faced bear is awesome to imagine, I’m perfectly happy with it not wandering around in the forests. Because I like to hike. And I worry enough about the relatively small and harmless American black bear as it is.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast online at strangeanimalspodcast.com. We’re on Twitter at strangebeasties and have a facebook page at facebook.com/strangeanimalspodcast. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on iTunes or whatever platform you listen on. We also have a Patreon if you’d like to support us that way.

Thanks for listening!


Episode 035: The Yeti (Bigfoot part 1)



It’s October, MONSTER MONTH! We’re starting it off right with an episode about the Yeti! I literally could have made this episode an hour long without even touching on half the information out there, but no one wants to listen to me talk for that long. If you’re intrigued and want to hear more about our big furry friend from the Himalayas, check out the fine podcasts listed below.

The Himalayas, in map form:

A Himalayan brown bear (tongue blep alert!):

A bear standing up (this is a brown bear from Alaska but I like the picture. Bears stand up a lot):

Recommended listening:

Museum of Natural Mystery – episode 14: “Backtracking with Bigfoot” – highly recommended for information about North American bigfoot/Sasquatch lore and history. It’s family friendly and not very long. I heart it.

MonsterTalk – episode 116 “Yetipalooza” – lots of Yeti information and some terrible, terrible puns

Strange Matters Podcast – “Legendary Humanoid Creatures” – a good overview of a lot of different bigfoot type monsters, including the Yeti

Hidden Creatures Podcast – Episode Six A “Yearning for the Yeti’s Discovery” and Episode Six B “The Yeti…Again” – lots of info on the Yeti

All of the above should be family friendly, with possible mild language.

Resources/further reading:

The Historical Bigfoot by Chad Arment

Abominable Science! by Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero

Hunting Monsters by Darren Naish

Show transcript:

Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.

It’s October and that means monsters. Let’s jump right in with one of the biggest stars of cryptozoology, bigfoot!

As part of my research for this episode, I listened to other podcasts that have covered bigfoot and his kin. One of those was the Museum of Natural Mystery’s episode 14, Backtracking with Bigfoot. I was more than a little dismayed when I listened to that one, because it’s exactly what I had hoped to do with this episode. In fact, while Museum of Natural Mystery covers other topics than just animals, when they do focus on animals they scratch the same itch I created Strange Animals podcast to scratch. If I’d discovered them earlier, the podcast you’re listening to now would probably be about music or something, not animals.

There’s a link to Backtracking with Bigfoot in the show notes and I highly recommend you go listen to it. It focuses mainly on the Bigfoot phenomenon in North America, from Sasquatch to skunk apes. Rather than cover the same ground, my focus here is going to be on bigfoot legends from other parts of the world. There’s so much fascinating information out there that I had to break the episode into two parts. This week we’re looking at the yeti.

But first, some background. There are a couple of starting places for the modern concept of bigfoot. In 1921, the Everest Reconnaissance Expedition found tracks in the snow resembling a bare human foot. They realized the tracks were probably made by wolves, the front and rear tracks overlapping and the snow melted enough to obscure the paw pads. Expedition leader Charles Howard-Bury wrote that the expedition’s Sherpa guides claimed the tracks were made by a wild hairy man.

At about the same time, the 1920s, British Columbian schoolteacher John W. Burns was collecting reports of Native encounters with giant wild people. He coined the term Sasquatch by anglicizing a couple of different words from several different Native dialects.

Burns published his stories in magazines. Howard-Bury talked to reporters about his Everest expedition. The idea of bigfoot took shape and took off in the public imagination. It merged with giant apes and ape-men in popular culture, like King Kong in 1933 and the movie Tarzan the Ape Man in 1932, both of which were huge hits.

Before this, from the early 19th century to around the 1940s, newspaper reports that would today be called bigfoot sightings were attributed to wild men or occasionally to escaped gorillas or other apes. Some were hoaxes, some seem to concern real humans living outside of society, and some are probably misidentifications of bears and other real animals. Very few suggest the wild man in question was a creature unknown to science. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any legit sightings of an actual bigfoot mixed in, just that bigfoot wasn’t yet a common concept.

But by 1967, year of the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, the notion of bigfoot as a huge, hairy, upright ape was firmly planted in western culture. Most of us know a fair amount about North American Sasquatches just from popular culture. ‘Squatch-hunters on TV stumble around in the woods at night, which by the way I never understood since apes are not nocturnal. Bigfoot appears in TV commercials, movies, and is the subject of documentaries that are all pretty much identical. But most of us are less familiar with the Yeti.

The English-speaking world first learned about the Yeti after a 1921 expedition to Mount Everest. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the expedition members recognized that a line of huge human-like prints they spotted in the snow above 20,000 feet probably belonged to wolves or some other four-legged animal. The forepaw and hind paw prints overlapped, making a double track of what looked like long, relatively narrow footprints. Then the snow partially melted, obscuring the details and enlarging the prints. Colonel Howard-Bury, the expedition leader, was very clear about this in the London Times in October 1921, and dismissed as superstition the Sherpas’ statement that the tracks belonged to a hairy wild man.

Maybe all that was true, but if you’re a journalist hoping to sell papers, which story are you going to run with? After the expedition returned to India, journalist Henry Newman interviewed the porters and published a sensational account of their stories. He translated their name for the wild man, Metoh kangmi, as “abominable snowman.” Maybe you’ve heard of it.

As it turns out, Metoh kangmi means something closer to man-bear. In fact, it means man-bear, man-bear, because both mi-te and kangmi mean the same thing.

The peoples who live in and around the Himalayas speak a lot of different languages. They also have a lot of different names for what we call the Yeti. Yeti is a corruption of a Sherpa term, yeh-teh, meaning “animal of rocky places,” although it may be related to the term meh-teh, which means man-bear. Other terms translate to wild man, cattle bear, brown bear, and white bear. I’m going to refer to all these creatures as the Yeti for convenience sake.

While the pop culture version of the Yeti is a white bigfoot striding through the snow, actual sightings of Yetis are of brown, black, or even reddish creatures. Local Yeti lore throughout the Himalayas doesn’t describe a specifically upright apeman or even a particularly human-like monster, either. To locals, yetis are fairly amorphous, and when they are described, they tend to have bear-like or even big-cat-like characteristics.

As an example, here’s a quote from one of the earliest Yeti reports, from 1889. I’m taking the quote from the book Abominable Science by Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero. Links to all the books I used in my research are in the show notes, of course. Anyway, the quote itself comes from a book called Among the Himalayas by Laurence A. Waddell:

“Some large footprints in the snow led across our track, and away up to higher peaks. These are alleged to be the trail of the hairy wild men who are believed to live amongst the eternal snows, along with the mythical white lions, whose roar is reputed to be heard during storms. The belief in these creatures is universal among Tibetans. None, however, of the many Tibetans I have interrogated on this subject could ever give me an authentic case. On the most superficial investigation it always resolved itself into something that somebody heard tell of.”

Waddell goes on to declare that the wild man was nothing more than a bear, then says that the people of the area are just superstitious ignoramuses.

I dislike that most descriptions and discussions about Yetis are filtered through European experiences, and that the older reports especially have a high-handed tone that ruffles my feathers—not just racist, but classist as well. Brown people and poor people are not stupid, and what someone from one culture dismisses as a superstition may be a deeply held religious belief in another culture. Moreover, as anthropologist John Napier wrote in 1973, the superstitious sherpas that white explorers sneer at may actually have been having a sly joke at their employers’ expense—that or they’re just being polite and telling their employers what they think they want to hear. Or both, heck. People are complicated.

But consider what has happened when Europeans eager to discover the “truth” of the Yeti encounter Buddhist monks with Yeti relics. In 1959 Tom Slick, a rich Texas oilman who liked to indulge his hobby of bigfoot hunting—we met him in the giant salamander episode, you may remember—funded an expedition to Nepal to hunt for the Yeti. This was his fourth Yeti hunt, and some historians suspect he and many other explorers in the area had CIA connections. This was during the cold war, remember. But Slick’s interest in the Yeti was genuine, and during his 1958 expedition he had tried to buy a mummified Yeti hand from a Buddhist monastery in Pangboche, Nepal. The hand, along with a Yeti scalp, was a sacred relic and definitely not for sale. So in 1959 Slick arranged for explorer Peter Byrne to go back to the monastery and steal a finger from the hand. Supposedly Byrne replaced the missing finger with a human finger he had brought with him. Where on earth do you even get a human finger? Anyway, as Byrne reports, to get the finger out of Nepal he gave it to the actor Jimmy Stewart, who was one of the expedition’s backers. Stewart’s wife Gloria smuggled the Yeti finger out of the country in her lingerie case. It was later analyzed and found to be a human finger.

Everything about this story is horrible. First of all, it is not cool to steal sacred relics. Second, it’s not cool to swap out human body parts to cover your theft. And third, you know what they did with the stolen Yeti finger that turned out to be human? They lost it, that’s what they did. For decades no one knew where it had gone. Fortunately, it was rediscovered in a London museum in 2008, and DNA analysis confirmed it was human. The BBC interviewed Byrne in 2011 and his story had changed somewhat about his acquisition of the finger. He now says he paid the monastery for it. Mmhm. Sure. Someone stole the rest of the hand from the monastery in the 1990s, along with a yeti skull-cap.

Other Yeti remains have been analyzed more ethically. Sir Edmund Hillary, the guy who first summited Everest, and zoologist Marlon Perkins mounted an expedition in 1960 through ‘61, and went back to the Pangboche monastery to examine their relics. But this time, no one stole anything. In fact, the expedition paid for some repairs to the monastery, and paid for a village elder to accompany a Yeti scalp they were allowed to borrow, which they sent to be analyzed. They also raised money to construct schools and medical clinics in remote villages, among other good works.

The Yeti scalp, and others like it, turned out to be made from the shoulder skin of a goat-like wild animal called a serow. In fact, the Hillary-Perkins expedition was able to make its own Yeti scalps with serow skins dried over a conical wooden mold. It sent its homemade scalps with the borrowed scalp for analysis without telling the lab that some were not authentic. The results came back that all the scalps were made from the same type of animal skin.

In 1986 mountaineer Reinhold Messner had a terrifying encounter with an unknown animal. I’m going to quote it at length because it’s pretty awesome. It’s from his book My Quest for the Yeti, but I have taken the quote again from Abominable Science.

“Making my way through some ash-colored juniper bushes, I suddenly heard an eerie sound—a whistling noise, similar to the warning call mountain goats make. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the outline of an upright figure dart between the trees to the edge of the clearing, where low-growing thickets covered the steep slope. The figure hurried on, silent and hunched forward, disappearing behind a tree only to reappear again against the moonlight. It stopped for a moment and turned to look at me. Again I heard the whistle, more of an angry hiss, and for a heartbeat I saw eyes and teeth. The creature towered menacingly, its face a gray shadow, its body a black outline. Covered with hair, it stood upright on two short legs and had powerful arms that hung down almost to its knees. I guessed it to be over seven feet tall. Its body looked much heavier than that of a man of that size, but it moved with such agility and power toward the edge of the escarpment that I was both startled and relieved. Most I was stunned. No human would have been able to run like that in the middle of the night. It stopped again beyond the trees by the low-growing thickets, as if to catch its breath, and stood motionless in the moonlit night without looking back.”

Messner finishes the sighting by saying it rushed up the slope out of sight on all fours. Messner fled to the nearest village.

After that he spent the next ten years searching for more information on the Yeti. He examined Yeti remains in various monasteries and in all cases found they were either taxidermied creations made from various known animals, or the pelts of bears. In 1997 in the peaks of the Nanga Partains, he and his guide Rozi Ali saw what the locals called a dremo. That’s a Tibetan word commonly used for both the yeti and the Himalayan brown bear. Here’s his description:

“One afternoon, after a long trek, we encountered another dremo. He fled when he saw us, but then seemed to stop and rest in a hollow. I approached the spot from behind some ridges so that he wouldn’t pick up my scent. Rozi Ali followed me. When I began to climb down to where the animal was sleeping in the grass, Rozi Ali tried to stop me. I broke free from his grasp and came within twenty yards of the animal, where I took some good pictures. Rozi Ali, crouching some way back, begged me to make a run for it. He was sweating with fear.

“The animal woke up and looked at me in the way a startled child would a stranger. It was a young brown bear.”

He also says they saw another dremo later, while in Kashmir, and it was “running away on two legs. From a distance it looked uncannily like a wild man”. But it too was a brown bear.

Messner concluded, not unreasonably, that the Yeti was a bear. Many others agree. As it happens, I agree too, and I wonder if a bear that walks upright like a person is perhaps considered to have supernatural traits. After all, Messner found it eerie even when he knew what he was seeing. That might explain the overlap between terms for yeti and terms for bears, and would also explain why so many words translated as yeti actually mean man-bear. But I’d be delighted if a strange upright animal lives in the remote parts of the world, even if that strange animal just turns out to be a new species of bear.

In 2014, geneticists from Oxford University analyzed hair samples from a Himalayan bear and determined that the DNA was similar to that of a 40,000 year old polar bear. But a new analysis in 2015 by geneticists from the Smithsonian and the University of Kansas was a lot less exciting, determining that the hair belonged to a native brown bear after all—but probably to a rare, endangered subspecies of brown bear that lives in parts of the Himalayas, sometimes called the Tibetan blue bear. It’s not blue, by the way. It’s brown. I don’t know why it’s called a blue bear.

The Himalayan brown bear usually lives above the timber line in the mountains and like other bears is omnivorous. That means it eats both plants and meat. It especially likes to eat marmots, a chubby rodent related to squirrels that looks a lot like a prairie dog.

Many cryptozoologists think the Yeti and other bigfoot-type creatures must be either an unknown offshoot of the human family, like a Neandertal, or another unknown great ape that has developed an upright stance, such as a descendant of Gigantopithecus. They even propose that different types of bigfoots are different species of upright ape, all unknown to science.

I do think there are a lot of unknown animals out there, but I’m definitely skeptical that somehow we’ve overlooked multiple living species of giant apes, and not only that, that we haven’t even found fossil or subfossil remains of any of them. Gigantopithecus, by the way, is RIGHT out as a possibility. It was huge, sure, and an ape, sure, but it disappeared from the fossil record 300,000 years ago and ate mostly bamboo. Some researchers think it died out due to competition with pandas, in fact. It was related to orangutans and probably looked more like a big gorilla than a human, and would not stand upright. Remember that among all mammals, humans are the only ones who have developed true bipedalism, and we’ve sacrificed a lot in exchange. For instance, we have weak backs, childbirth is much more difficult, and we frequently die from falling off our own feet and cracking our heads, despite our massively thickened skulls. Other apes would not have developed bipedalism unless they faced the same intense evolutionary pressures that our ancestors did millions of years ago. But we have found no evidence whatsoever that other apes developed bipedalism.

So what about the Yeti being the descendants of Neandertals or other close human relatives? That’s a stronger argument, but if you’ve listened to episode 25 about our close cousins, you’ll remember that they were wearing jewelry and making tools before disappearing from the fossil record only around 30,000 years ago. They didn’t have fur and wouldn’t have been walking around in the snow with bare feet. Our cousins basically looked and acted a whole lot like we do. Remember also that the ancestors of humans and our close relations have been painting our bare skins with ochre and other minerals for 300,000 years for social reasons. We’re not going to go back to sprouting thick fur coats and wandering the mountains in solitude, not without many millions of years of selective evolutionary pressures. But bears are already big hairy solitary animals, and bears can and do walk upright for stretches, especially younger animals.

I could talk about the Yeti for the next hour and still not cover all the material available, so if you’re a Yeti enthusiast who’s sputtering about me skipping all the best evidence, there are a ton of excellent podcasts who’ve covered the topic in much more detail and come up with much different conclusions than I have. I’ve included links to a bunch of them in the show notes for anyone who’s interested in digging a lot deeper into the Yeti’s history.

Next week we’ll be visiting other remote areas of the world to look at more obscure bigfoot-type legends, from Australia’s bunyip and yowie to the giants of Patagonia. Until then, remember to sample the candy you bought to give out on Halloween, to make sure you made good choices. It’s okay if you have to get more later.

You can find Strange Animals Podcast online at strangeanimalspodcast.com. We’re on Twitter at strangebeasties and have a facebook page at facebook.com/strangeanimalspodcast. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, email us at strangeanimalspodcast@gmail.com. If you like the podcast and want to help us out, leave us a rating and review on iTunes or whatever platform you listen on. We also have a Patreon if you’d like to support us that way. Rewards include stickers and twice-monthly bonus episodes.

Thanks for listening!