A mysterious hairless creature, dubbed the “Oriental yeti,” has been trapped by hunters in a remote region of central China. Apparently, it emerged from ancient woodlands. Described by its finders as “a bit like a bear but with a tail like a kangaroo,” it reportedly makes a noise like a distressed cat.
Chinese scientists are hoping that DNA tests will prove it to be the zoologists’ equivalent of the Holy Grail — a mammal new to science. Could it be? Time to examine the facts.
First, its size. The yeti is, according to legend, a mysterious bear-like beast, standing well over the height of a man. The mammal discovered in China is a small, possum-like creature, perhaps 60cm long at most. Next, its appearance: particularly its hair, or in this case the lack of it. Photographs reveal a wrinkled, pink animal, sprouting a few tufts of hair and several nasty looking lesions on its exposed skin.
Far from being naturally hairless, this is, according to Oxford scientist and TV presenter George McGavin, a very sick animal indeed.
“It looks like a shaved civet, and to be honest I think it probably is. You can immediately see that it has lost its hair, probably through illness,” he said.
And McGavin is highly skeptical about the idea that this animal may be new to science, as has been claimed.
“If this truly is a new discovery I would be very surprised,” he said.
McGavin can speak from experience, having led the recent expedition to the jungles of Mount Bosavi in New Guinea, featured on the BBC series Lost Land of the Volcano. While there, McGavin and his team did indeed discover a mammal new to science: a giant rat, provisionally named the Bosavi woolly rat.
Such findings are becoming increasingly infrequent, as the vast majority of the globe has now been explored, meaning that most large or medium-sized mammals have already been discovered and named.
If you still want to find a creature new to science, and even have it named after yourself, there is still plenty of scope — but you would be best advised to focus on the smaller stuff. In the last decade alone almost a quarter of a million new species have been described — though most are micro-organisms rather than mammals.
And, so far at least, there have been no confirmations of a miniature hairless yeti.
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