Book Review by Skeptic Kenneth A. Sayers
"Something Hidden Behind the Ranges:
A Himalayan Quest"
by Dr. Daniel Taylor-Ide
When it comes to maybe-monsters,
the Himalayan Yeti or Abominable Snowman is perhaps the world's favorite.
Reportedly a man-ape five to seven feet tall, the elusive Yeti has for
centuries left trails of footprints that have baffled nearly everyone.
Nearly everyone, that is, except the scientists. Academia has held that
the prints, almost always found in snow, are the
melted and enlarged tracks of known Himalayan mammals - such as bears
and langur monkeys.
A pleasant exception
to this rule appeared in 1972, when Dr. John Napier, head of primate biology
at the Smithsonian, published Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth
and Reality (Jonathon Cape Ltd., 1972). In this now-classic book, Napier
meticulously analyzed every Yeti footprint report that had been compiled
up to that date. He had no trouble dismissing most of the tracks as those
of known animals and concluded that a combination of legend and "false
identity" had resulted in the modern belief in the Yeti. The aforementioned
Shipton footprint was the only piece of evidence that that continued to
bother Napier. He wrote: "The Shipton print . . . is the one item
in the whole improbable saga that sticks in my throat; without it I would
have no hesitation in dismissing the Yeti as a red herring, or, at least,
a red bear."
Taylor-Ide clearly comes out of his experience certain that the Yeti is a myth. This conclusion has been reached before, but what is important is how Taylor-Ide reached it. Unlike numerous earlier Yeti criticisms by armchair scientists, Taylor-Ide made his findings in the field. In fact, it is quite apparent that Taylor-Ide set out on his exploits fairly convinced of the Yeti's reality. It was only after on-site research that he realized that there probably wasn't anything out there - making his conclusions all the more convincing.
controversy has arisen recently concerning the "cryptozoological
method," which is performed by questioning local wildlife experts
in order to learn about possible scientifically unknown animals. Taylor-Ide
and friends conducted such inquiries in the Barun
To Cryptozoologists, perhaps the most important part of the book is found on pages 256 through 260. Here, Taylor-Ide tries his best to explain the 1951 Shipton footprint as an overprint of two bear tracks. To someone uninitiated in the subject, this may seem trivial. To others familiar with the Yeti legend, this is tantamount to explaining the origins of the universe, as many consider the Shipton footprint the main piece of evidence in favor of the Yeti. Taylor-Ide maintains that although his "overprint" hypothesis seems unlikely (considering the enigmatic clarity of the photograph), it is a much more viable alternative than accepting that it was left by a hair-covered, 600-pound primate.
Taylor-Ide's findings have importance to all those interested in a skeptical approach to cryptozoology. He relates an intelligent way to investigate reports of unknown animals, while at the same time he refrains from making evidence out of nothing. Also, his anecdotes on Himalayan life and natural history are, for the most part, accurate and extremely fascinating. Finally, and most important, Taylor-Ide communicates the need to preserve wild areas such as the Himalayas - places where human mysteries, real or imagined, can continue to thrive.
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