A group of international scientists made headlines last month after suggesting they were "95 percent" certain they'd found evidence that the elusive Yeti -- or fabled Siberian Snowman -- really exists.
But one scientist who was part of the big snowman hunt tells The Huffington Post that local Siberian officials staged the entire snowman scenario -- all for publicity.
"It was a very awkward feeling because here I was a guest and this was clearly orchestrated," said Idaho State University anthropologist and anatomist Jeffrey Meldrum.
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This still image taken from a 1977 film purports to show Bigfoot in California.
A film still shows what former rodeo rider Roger Patterson said is the American version of the Abominable Snowman of Nepal and Tibet. The film of the tall creature was shot by Patterson and Robert Gimlin northeast of Eureka, Calif., in October 1967.
As a motor biker was driving through the Grand River area of Ohio in April 2012, an alleged Bigfoot ran across the road and was caught on videotape.
Depicted is an illustration of a creature reported to inhabit the Kemerovo region of Siberia. Scientists from the U.S., Russia and other countries have yet to find one of these creatures known as the Russian Snowman. In early October, researchers claimed to be 95 percent certain that the animal exists.
An alleged footprint of a Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, appears in snow near Mount Everest in 1951. Now, scientists are setting out to find evidence of a reported unknown, hairy, bipedal creature known as the Siberian Snowman.
Bigfoot or bear? Impression left on the driver's side window of a pickup truck owned by Jeffrey Gonzalez. The bizarre image was left by an alleged Bigfoot in California's Sierra National Forest over Memorial Day 2011. DNA samples of the impressions will eventually determine the identity of the animal responsible for them. (See next slide for a close-up of the paw-like impression.)
Close-up of the "paw" print image. The impression was reportedly left by Bigfoot on the window of a pickup truck in the California Sierra National Forest over Memorial Day weekend 2011.
Bigfoot or bear? Pictured is a second impression left on the rear side window of the same truck from the previous slides. According to forensic/law enforcement photographer Mickey Burrow, "What you're seeing is a swipe mark. It looks like a small hand, swiping to the left, leaving another impression, and there's hair within those areas -- you can see where the hair would be."
This footprint was found over Memorial Day weekend, 2011, near Fresno, Calif. by a group of campers who were on a Bigfoot-hunting expedition. The print, measuring approximately 12 inches, was found near a truck where possible DNA evidence was left behind by more than one Bigfoot creature.
This footprint was found in 2008 in the Sierra National Forest near Fresno, Calif.
Thomas Byers snapped this photo of "Bigfoot" along Golden Valley Church Road in Rutherford County on March 22, 2011.
Bill Willard is the leader of a group searching for evidence of a Sasquatch or Bigfoot creature, spotted by, among others, his two sons in Spotsylvania County. He is shown on May 19 in Thornburg, Va., with a plaster cast he made from a suspicious footprint several years ago.
This still frame image from video provided by Bigfoot Global LLC shows what Whitton and Dyer claimed was a Bigfoot or Sasquatch creature in an undisclosed area of a northern Georgia forest in June 2008.
This October 2007 image was taken by an automated camera set up by a hunter in a Pennsylvania forest the previous month. Some said it was a Bigfoot creature; others believed it was just a sick bear.
A preserved skull and hand said to be that of a Yeti or Abominable Snowman is on display at Pangboche monastery, near Mount Everest.
Idaho State University professor Jeffrey Meldrum displays what he said is a cast of a Bigfoot footprint from eastern Washington in September 2006. Some scientists said the school should revoke Meldrum's tenure.
Joedy Cook, director of the Ohio Center for Bigfoot Studies, talks to a visitor to his booth on Oct. 15, 2005, at the Texas Bigfoot Conference in Jefferson, Texas. The event, hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, drew enthusiasts and researchers of the legendary creature.
Ken Gerhard of Houston, Texas, holds a duplicate plaster cast footprint Oct. 15, 2005, at the Texas Bigfoot Conference. The event, hosted by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, drew enthusiasts and researchers of the legendary creature.
Josh Gates, host of Syfy TV's "Destination: Truth," holds a plaster cast of what Malaysian ghost hunters said was a Bigfoot footprint in 2006.
Al Hodgson, a volunteer guide at the Willow Creek-China Flat Musuem in California, holds up a plaster cast of an alleged Bigfoot imprint in 2000. The museum houses a collection of research material donated by the estate of Bob Titmus, who spent his life trying to track the creature.
Costume maker Philip Morris, who does not believe the Bigfoot legend, claimed the Patterson-Gimlin film showed a person wearing a gorilla suit that he made.
And now, as researchers claim that twisted tree branches are possible proof of the Yeti's existence, Meldrum is offering a word of caution.
"Since nobody has demonstrated to me any corroborating evidence, like footprints in direct association or hair intertwined in any of these [tree] structures, I'm much more inclined to think the majority of them are just natural occurrences," he said.
Meldrum was among a handful of scientists and investigators invited to Russia's Kemerovo region -- about 2,000 miles east of Moscow -- in October to look at possible evidence of a large, hairy primate, known as the Yeti or Siberian Snowman.
"I was happy when I learned there was interest by Russian government authorities to promote and sponsor the organization of a [Yeti] institute," Meldrum said.
"I thought that, at the very least, the official recognition of an institute -- of the need and the desirability to investigate these claims -- was a positive step," he said.
Meldrum, author of "Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science," was the only American scientist in the group that traveled to a huge cave in Kemerovo, home to an alleged Yeti.
His suspicions began when trip organizer Igor Burtsev, head of the Yeti Institute at Kemerovo State University, told the group that it might find some remains of Yeti footprints in the cave.
"Somebody found a right footprint," Meldrum said. "But I thought it was a little vague and not real distinct. It was a pretty expansive cave and there could've been footprints all over the place, if there was something tromping around in there in the sand."
When Meldrum decided to go farther into the cave on his own, followed by a cameraman, "one of the regional government people saw us and rather harshly called us back, stopping us from going any farther back."
"I thought that was kind of odd, and then someone picked up a little tuft of hair that was apparently pressed into the footprint. At that point, I wasn't comfortable with the situation and had an inkling of what might be happening," Meldrum said.
Adding to his growing feeling that the entire situation was a setup, the respected American scientist (pictured at right, holding a replica of a Bigfoot cast from Washington state) said that the trail leading to the cave had been well maintained and showed signs of being frequently visited, including graffiti on the cave walls, remnants of some campfires and discarded trash.
Another piece to this problematic scenario was that as soon as Meldrum suggested he couldn't place any credibility in just one footprint, suddenly another one was found -- another right footprint. When he looked a little further, he found a third print, "but it was also a right and I said it would be nice to find a left one, and I said facetiously, 'Is the Yeti playing hopscotch here?'" (See Meldrum inside the cave in the video at the top of this story.)
"But my point was simply that if this was a spontaneous line of tracks, we'd expect to see both rights and lefts," he said. "And why is it that the tracks are only leading out and none are leading in?
"If an animal is occupying this cave, it's not going to sleep on this cold, wet ground. It's going to have some kind of a bed or a nest of sorts. And just as if on cue, I'd barely got the words out when one of the [officials] raised his torch beam and there, under a little alcove on the side, was this neat little fern bed or mattress or nest."
It was at this point that Meldrum said he realized that everything that happened in the alleged Yeti lair was likely completely staged for his and the media's benefit. The publicity certainly wouldn't hurt Kemerovo's skiing tourism activities.
"These prints were too odd-looking and I said to everyone that if something was sleeping in here, this nest would be compacted and pressed down," Meldrum said. "We should be able to quickly find hair among the things here, and I can't see anything."
Meldrum added that Burtsev then dove onto the ferns in front of the cameras. "And I thought, 'Well, that's very scientific, Igor, you've just contaminated the whole scene.'"
Most of the participants and press were excited about what was found in the cave, which led to the headlines declaring they were "95 percent" certain of Yeti's existence.
But Meldrum was disappointed with the entire incident, including talk of how fallen and twisted trees across the trail were assumed to be an intentional action on the part of a Yeti or a wild snowman, obstructing the trail. He thought the close proximity of the twisted branches was suspiciously convenient.
Despite his skepticism of what happened in Siberia, Meldrum nonetheless believes there's been enough real and anecdotal evidence over many decades that suggests there might really be tall, hairy, unknown hominids in the Siberian region with similar characteristics to reported Bigfoot and Sasquatch sightings found elsewhere in the world.
With so much hype over alleged footprints, broken tree branches and a nest of ferns, let's not forget what would constitute the ultimate proof in the decades-old hunt for the Yeti or its North American hairy cousins: a body, dead or alive. That would open up a whole new branch of hominid science and would certainly quiet the skeptics.
And now that he's voiced his dubious opinion on the events of the Siberian Yeti hunt, Meldrum said he doubts he'll be included in any future Russian field trips.
"They were talking about having this conference become an annual event," he said, "and I'm quite confident I will not be invited back."