“Oriental yeti”– April Fools?

April 5, 2010 • 11:30 pm

by Greg Mayer

The Telegraph and the Times have stories up about the creature below from China, which they’ve dubbed the “oriental yeti”.

"Oriental yeti" from the Telegraph.

The Times headline writer notes that it “looks like a bear without fur”. The story is so absurd, I first thought it an April Fools joke, but the datelines are April 5 or 6, so I guess not.

So what’s absurd? First, there’s the name. ‘Yeti’ is a name for the abominable snowman, the supposed bipedal ape or ape-man of the Himalayas. The animal in the photo obviously bears not the slightest resemblance to a man or ape. ‘Oriental’ is a curious modifier for yeti, since yetis are Oriental– they occur (or are supposed to occur) in Asia. Whoever bestowed this moniker on the creature evidently hasn’t the slightest idea what the word ‘yeti’ means, and perhaps doesn’t know what ‘oriental’ means either.

Then there’s the description of it as a ‘bear without fur’. While it is only very sparsely haired, it doesn’t look at all like a bear. The head and ear shape are all wrong, but if this is too subtle, it has a long, thick tail! (Hint: bears have very short tails; more bear info here.) The creature is said to have emerged from ‘ancient woodlands’, which sounds mysterious, but the articles note it was trapped by local hunters. Both articles betray very low standards of science journalism; really, in fact, no standards at all.

So it’s not a bear or a yeti; what is it? It’s clearly a mammal of the order Carnivora (but not of the bear family, Ursidae) suffering from some skin disease, likely mange. It doesn’t look like a member of the dog, cat or weasel families to me, but it does look like a civet, so my money is on a mangy civet. (Here’s info on a civet that occurs in China– I’m not saying it’s this particular species; more on civets in general here.) The forlorn looking critter is said to have been sent to Beijing for DNA tests. Darren Naish over at Tetrapod Zoology is good at getting to the bottom of these sorts of stories, and I hope he’ll take this one up.

By the way, this is what a mangy bear does look like.

Mangy American black bear from http://www.jesseshunting.com/photopost/data/503/2204bear-black-mange-fla-2002.jpg.

UPDATE. At Mammoth Tales, John McKay also says it’s a civet, specifically a binturong.