I shared an elevator not so long ago with Matt Moneymaker. In a Beverly Hills hotel. He saw my TV Critics Association name badge, looked at me quizzically and said, “Didn’t you write about me?”
Moneymaker, the Finding Bigfoot guy, had seen something I had written at the time for the local paper in Vancouver — the wilderness surrounding Vancouver in southwestern BC is Bigfoot country, or said to be, at any rate — and this was his way of saying he hadn’t appreciated my tone in the article. That tone was not so much skeptical as, well . . . satirical. I saw his lifelong ambition — well, nine seasons and counting of Finding Bigfoot — as parody, and had decided that while Finding Bigfoot was rousingly good TV, it was not exactly good science.
I thought about Moneymaker when I came across a recent heading in The Guardian: “DNA sampling exposes nine ‘yeti specimens’ as eight bears and a dog.”
“Huge, ape-like and hairy,” the Guardian science correspondent Nicola Davis wrote, “the yeti has roamed its way into legend, tantalizing explorers, mountaineers and locals with curious footprints and fleeting appearances. Now researches say the elusive inhabitant of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau has been unmasked.”
It turned out that scientists studying nine DNA samples of hair and teeth, ostensibly from yetis, found the samples belonged to bears. One sample, though, proved to be different — the exception that proves the rule? — and not just because it had been taken from a stuffed yeti, as opposed to a yeti that had been hit by a car on the Alaska Highway or shot by a fat dentist from Minnesota.
The sample in question turned out to be a genetic mélange consisting of the hair of a bear and the teeth of a dog. Bear bites dog, or dog bites bear: take your pick.
Either way, the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the yeti was decidedly a ‘no.’
Darn scientists. Ruining everything with their, ahem, facts.
“It demonstrates that modern science can . . . try and tackle some of these mysteries and unsolved questions we have,” spoilsport-in-chief Dr. Charlotte Lindqvist told The Guardian, Lindqvist, a trained biologist, specializes in bear genomics and was co-author of the study at State University of New York at Buffalo, a public research university formerly known as the University of Buffalo. SUNY Buffalo counts NASA astronauts Ellen Baker and Gregory Jarvis and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer among its alumni, and is the largest public university in the state of New York. The school’s motto is Mens sana in corpore sano — “Sound Mind in a Sound Body” — and academic standards are high. We’re not talking about Trump University here, so any research findings have to be taken seriously.
Dr. Lindqvist herself studied at the University of Denmark in Copenhagen and conducted her postdoctoral research at University of Oslo, Norway, specializing in “speciation processes, polyploidy and hybridization in animals and plants, particularly marine mammals.” Her current projects include the study of polar bear evolution — critically important now, considering the effects of climate change on Arctic polar bear populations — and microbiata in marine mammals.
It seems the yeti of myth and mountain lore owes more to the Tibetan and Himalayan brown bear, genetically speaking, than the Abominable Snowman first hinted at in mountaineer B.H. Hodgson’s account of journeying through northern Nepal in 1832, as published at the time in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Closer to home, there have always been suspicions that Bigfoot is a distant cousin of the yeti, in the same way the North American grizzly is a distant cousin of the Himalayan brown bear.
The skeptics may be a dime-a-dozen, but Moneymaker is having none of it. Skepticism, that is.
“Actually there’s every kind of evidence that these things exist, except bones, except a carcass,” he told TV critics in Los Angeles. “There’s sound recordings, there’s videos, there’s photographs, there’s footprint casts, there’s hairs. There’s everything except a carcass. And they’re very rare. They’re not everywhere. And animals, when they die out in the woods, usually they’re in places where people aren’t going to stumble across them.”
Moneymaker is a real name, by the way. Or so he says.
“It’s actually a translation of the last name ‘Geldmacher,’ which is very common in Germany. It was translated in 1789. It means coinmaker in the Middle Ages.”
Meanwhile, back in the world of science, Lindqvist’s findings may have temporarily dashed cold water on a tantalizing “what if” tale, but they’ve provided plenty of fodder in social media chat rooms.
Hikers in Tibet and the Himalayas need not fear the monstrous yeti, goes one salient piece of advice, but they’d l better carry bear spray if they do.
As for Finding Bigfoot — in which the lads search far and wide, but never actually catch up to one — one skeptic on YouTube asked, somewhat pointedly, “How come everybody sees a Bigfoot except them?”
“Shouldn’t they at least have found a dead one?” another doubter wanted to know.
“We asked the hosts of Finding Bigfoot why it’s taking them so damn long,” the science-technology website Gizmodo said of Moneymaker and Bigfoot “evidence analyst” Cliff Barackman, back in 2016, when Bigfoot was in its eighth season.
That answer should be self-evident, one doubter groused on the site’s message board.
How is this show still alive, another demanded to know.
Well, that part’s easy.
If Bigfoot — or the yeti for that matter — doesn’t exist in real life, surely the show can last forever.