In 1951, British mountaineer Eric Shipton came back from a Mount Everest expedition with a new adventure under his belt and pictures that would make the world believe there was a large-footed creature living in the Asian mountains called the yeti.
Since then, it seems like every bone, footprint, or piece of hair found in the woods or mountains has become potential evidence of a large, hairy mythical creature that many claim to have seen but have never been able to unequivocally prove their existence.
In 2014, Charlotte Lindqvist, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Buffalo in New York, conducted a study that analyzed two supposed yeti samples. Instead of belonging to the yeti, the samples were identified as belonging to a potential hybrid of a brown bear and polar bear.
Lindqvist revisited the study in November 2017 and analyzed nine additional yeti samples collected from caves, monasteries, and other sites in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau that included hair, bone, tooth, skin, and feces. The results? Eight of the samples were from Asian black bears and the ninth from a dog. Another letdown for the yeti fanbase.
But despite coming up short here—and loads of other studies—many still believe that mythical creatures, like the yeti, exist.
The Proof We Have
You’ve likely seen blurry pictures and poor-quality videos of supposed creatures like Bigfoot or the chupacabra—also called cryptids—from all over. However, thanks to a world in which videos and pictures are digitally manipulated, this simply isn’t proof enough for many to believe. The proof that we do have is also pretty far-fetched for many.
But for author, film producer, and cryptid researcher Lyle Blackburn, the proof he has seen is evidence enough that these creatures really do exist.
“The most tangible items of proof, in my opinion, are the track castings of alleged ape-like creatures such as Bigfoot, yeti, yeren, orang pendek, etc., which have been found in various parts of the world,” Blackburn says. “For example, I have seen or have in my collection some Bigfoot casts taken by law enforcement officials in North America. Given the accounts of their discovery and subsequent examinations by experts familiar with ape anatomy, dermal impressions, and locomotion, these are considered to be from an unknown species.”
But is this unknown species really that of a monster lurking around, or is there another explanation?
“There is tons of physical evidence out there that can neither be proved or disproved, such as howls, tree structures, and encounters,” says John E. of the group Bigfoot 911. “Native American folklore has spoke of Bigfoot, as well as many other creatures, going back thousands of years. In my opinion, the belief in this creature roots in a lack of understanding of nature. In other words, what we can’t explain must be some sort of mythical creature.”
But others, like paranormal investigator Jeffrey Gonzalez, still insist that there is something out there and claims he has seen it himself.
“Do I believe?” he asks, “You bet I do. Why? I have seen them. I have interviewed people who have seen them.”
And although Gonzalez is aware of the skeptics and that they may believe that the stories are fabricated, he insists that those he interviews are not lying.
“Not when the circumstances of their sightings have something to do with other sightings from different people , who have never met, who can describe how many creatures, sizes, sound, and location,” he says. “And sometimes they have evidence.”
The Proof We Need
From footprints to hair samples, solid “proof” of these creatures has come out of the woodwork; however, the type of evidence that is needed hasn’t been found yet, says Blackburn.
“While there are some compelling pieces of evidence, none of it can be considered absolute proof because there is no type of specimen to compare it to,” he says. “At this point, only an actual body will be enough to prove the existence of any cryptid.”
This is for a few reasons, he says. First, because having specimens is the way that science has always proved that something exists. And secondly, because seeing is believing.
“Creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster have become so much a part of pop culture that no mainstream science group or individuals are going to accept these as a real until some conclusive proof is obtained,” he says.
And until such evidence is produced, even Bigfoot hunters may not believe in their existence.
“With what we have today in terms of technology, I don’t believe this creature exists,” says John E. “In my opinion, in the last 50 years, humans have intruded into just about every known climate/habitat on Earth that is not underwater. With a creature as big as this, we would have documented it somehow.”
But even without a true declaration that yeti or Bigfoot exist, it seems that many still want to believe—and do—anyways.
Why do we believe, and why do we want to?
Are cryptids like that of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, where children have been told over the years of their existence and that they should believe, yet they don’t really see any evidence that they are real except for what they have heard? Is hearsay enough for a person to believe, or is belief created for other reasons?
According to John E., it’s all about coming up with an explanation for what we don’t understand.
“Physiologically speaking, I think that this is a defense method that the brain enacts in order to preserve one’s sanity that has experienced something they can’t explain,” he says. “Kind of like when your house creaks in the night and you say it’s old or it’s just settling or any of a number of things that you could possibly think of other than the monster in the closet.”
Others believe, however, as a way to make sense in an uncertain world.
“Humans have always been fascinated with ‘monsters,’ which is essentially what cryptids are at their most basic level,” says Blackburn. “Monsters are woven into our religions, folklore, stories, and overall culture going back as far as recorded history. Perhaps it’s a result of people having always seen strange creatures, or perhaps this is a subconscious way of dealing with the uncertainty of the world around us.”
Whatever the reason for believing or not believing is, it’s safe to say that a large amount of the population is unconvinced.
Why are our standards so high for proof of cryptids?
Some things you just have to see to believe. For many, this is true of cryptids. Despite all of the photos, imprints, documents, and other types of evidence, a good portion of the world still doesn’t believe. This begs the question of why do people need such substantial proof when it comes to the world of cryptids? Why isn’t a picture enough? Why isn’t film that portrays a giant hairy creature walking through the woods enough to change the minds of the skeptics?
Gonzalez thinks that it is because they are afraid to believe.
“Many people don’t want to know,” he says. “I think if they ever found out that Bigfoot was real, it would change their belief system, and I think that scares them. If I would be able to prove that Bigfoot exists, then what about all the other paranormal subjects? Are there aliens? Is there a God? Their life would change overnight. Some people could handle it, but a lot would not be able to, so they would rather continue living their life without knowing.”
For some, they are unable to believe simply because they haven’t seen the right kind of evidence.
“While I do not believe in the Bigfoot myself, that does not mean I discount anyone’s experience,” John E. says. “I have no authority to declare this creature non-existent. I haven’t looked behind every tree and I haven’t turned over every rock. Science is ever-changing, and I am open to new discoveries, so long as it is properly done and not just by proclamation of a man on TV.”
And for others, they may choose to believe simply because they want to.
“I think a lot of people want to believe there’s still some mystery in this world,” says Blackburn. “And that’s good. We should always keep an open mind about what we can still discover.”
Will there ever be the right kind of proof to make the non-believers believe? No can know for sure.
“It’s okay to rule out a video or photo because there will be another one tomorrow that just might be the real thing,” Blackburn says. “Credible witnesses have undoubtedly seen unexplained creatures. The question is…just what exactly are they?”