Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Asian Apeman: Searching for the Yeti by Jennifer Rivkin

"For hundreds of years, people living in the Himalayan mountain range have reported seeing a creature they call the Yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman). Eyewitnesses say that the Yeti walks upright like a human. However, it is much larger, has the face of an ape, and is covered in thick brown, reddish, or white fur. Over the years, hundreds of sightings have been reported."

If North America's Bigfoot/Sasquatch is too shy for most of us to glimpse, inquisitive adventurers might head for Asia, where Bigfoot's cousins, the Yeti/Alma/Abominable Snowman, have even more spotters. After all, a mysterious monster, vouched for by no less than the famed Sir Edmund Hillary, first to scale Mt. Everest, himself saw huge footprints believed left by the Yeti. Yeti sightings are not rare, and sets of those famous footprints had been previously preserved in castings or photographs by several adventurers--B.H. Hodgson in 1832, Laurence Waddell in 1899, and N.A. Tombazi in 1925. Unlike Bigfoot's human-like footprint, the Yeti prints resembled those of great apes, but gorillas were never known to live in central Asia and the modern orangutan does not have a coat that would enable it to survive at high Himalayan altitudes.

Other sightings and reports describe a rather different beast, smaller, more human-like, and living together in caves or tunnels as families. Called the Alma, this creature is reported often in Russia, but like the Yeti and Abominable Snowman, expeditions to locate a specimen have always failed. Theories that the Alma is a surviving relative of early hominins or Gigantopithecus, an extinct giant ape which once roamed China and India, have failed to find specimens of hair or bone that have a DNA link to these actual creatures.

As Jennifer Rivkin's Searching for the Yeti (Mysterious Monsters) (Rosen/PowerKids Press, 2014) has it, Asia's apeman remains as much a mystery as our North American Bigfoot buddy. Intriguingly, the fact that the human-like appearance of the Alma suggests a relationship to the recently discovered hominins called Denisovans, whose prehistoric range corresponds closely to the reported range of the Alma (eastern Russia to southeast Asia) and whose DNA includes a gene for high-altitude survival found in modern Tibetans, is a tantalizing possibility that Rivkin does not include in this edition. (See more about Denisovans here).

But as long as spottings of reclusive humanoid critters persist around the world, scientists, monster hunters, and authors will likely explore the Denisovan link in the next round of of Abominable Snowman books. Like the various titles in Rivkin's Mysterious Monsters series this title teases the appetite of middle readers for the strange, scary, and monstrous, with plenty of appealing and realistic illustrations and actual photos by explorers and naturalists, incisive fact boxes, and an appendix with glossary, bibliography, web links and index, packed into a quite readable thirty-two page format.



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