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Melting Russian Permafrost Yields New Woolly Rhino Specimen

Russian researchers say this may be the best-preserved woolly rhino ever found

Researchers say some of this woolly rhino's internal organs may still be preserved. (Valery Plotnikov / Courtesy of the Siberian Times)
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A shockingly well-preserved woolly rhinoceros has emerged from the thawing muck of the Russian permafrost, reports Valeria Sukhova for the Siberian Times.

Valerii Plotnikov, a mammoth researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, tells RT’s Jonny Tickle that this may be the best-preserved example of the extinct Ice Age mammal ever found.

There are soft tissues in the back of the carcass, possibly genitals and part of the intestine,” he tells RT. “This makes it possible to study the excreta, which will allow us to reconstruct the paleoenvironment of that period.

Plotnikov tells local Russian outlet Yakutia 24 that the woolly rhino specimen includes all four limbs, its horn and even some of its woolly coat, according to report from Reuters. The scientist also says wear marks on the horn suggest the creature may have used its bony protrusion to gather food, perhaps scraping away snow to reach tender greenery underneath.

Wear marks on the horn suggest the creature may have used its bony protrusion to gather food, perhaps scraping away snow to reach tender greenery underneath. (Valery Plotnikov / Courtesy of the Siberian Times)
The animal looks to have died young at three or four years of age and likely drowned. (Valery Plotnikov / Courtesy of the Siberian Times)
Soft tissues near the carcass's back, its genitals and part of the intestine all seem to remain intact. (Valery Plotnikov / Courtesy of the Siberian Times)

Plotnikov tells the Siberian Times that the animal looks to have died young at three or four years of age and likely drowned. “The gender of the animal is still unknown,” he adds.

The prehistoric beast was found in the Yakutia region in August and is thought to have roamed the Arctic plains between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago, Plotnikov tells the Siberian Times. The Associated Press reports that radiocarbon dating tests should deliver a more precise estimate of its age once the ancient carcass reaches a lab.

According to the Siberian Times, the ancient remains are stuck in a remote location near the Tirekhtyakh River until ice roads form and they can be transported to a research facility in Yakutia’s capital city of Yakutsk.

After initial study in Yakutsk, the remains will be sent to Sweden for further analysis, per RT. Plotnikov mentions Swedish researcher Love Dalen, a paleogeneticist at Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History, as a potential collaborator for unspooling the specimen’s biological secrets. "It’s a fantastic find, clearly one of the best preserved woolly rhinos ever discovered," he says.

Dalen has previously extracted DNA from other well-preserved woolly rhino tissues to help answer questions about their mysterious extinction. "This specimen will be very important for our ongoing project to sequence the genomes from multiple rhinos in order to examine the species’ evolutionary history," he says.

According to the Siberian Times, the new woolly rhino specimen was discovered by local resident Alexei Savvin just a short distance away from the site that produced the world’s only example of a baby woolly rhino. That specimen, first unearthed in 2014, was subsequently spruced up and named Sasha.

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