“Trying to answer the question ‘Does the Yeti exist’ is nothing new. To my mind though, this is the wrong question. The bigger and more important question? ‘What if the things that gave rise to the possibilities of its existence no longer exist’?”
“Why isn’t the Mirka here?”
I was in a remote valley deep within the Himalayas, discussing my list of locally endangered animals with a group of herders.
“They’re difficult to find. But you can if you follow their trails.”
The comment certainly didn’t have all the herders nodding in agreement- there was plenty of animated disagreement and some laughter. Nevertheless, the herder stood by his question.
There was just one problem – I had no idea what a Mirka was. I asked the assembled group to explain the animal.
‘Yetis’ one of the other herders replied. The Himalayan version of the Bigfoot.
For me, this interaction highlighted something that goes well beyond the work that drew me to this valley in the first place. The Yeti was a reminder of two inherently connected worlds – wild places, and the stories of ‘wildness’ that go with them.
This herder had summed up a very complex relationship, which lies at the heart of the work I do, in one sentence.
Trying to answer the question ‘Does the Yeti exist’ is nothing new. To my mind though, this is the wrong question. The bigger and more important question? ‘What if the things that gave rise to the possibilities of its existence no longer exist’?
What happens when the biological and ecological wildness that could hide the Yeti – make its existence a perpetual ‘maybe’ – start to disappear? This is a question that in many ways goes to the heart of the protection and conservation of mountain landscapes.
A related question: what if the rich cultural traditions that house Yeti stories are lost, because of social change, modernisation and science ‘proving’ it doesn’t exist? This is a question of the centrality of cultural diversity and cultural traditions to the resilience of mountain communities.
The Yeti is a window into the diverse and rich cultural connections people have with ecosystems and landscapes in the Himalayas. The legend’s gradual disappearance mirrors the gradual disappearance of these connections.
To look through this window, to discover the links and the pressures, you need to follow the Yeti’s trails.