London - With·its matted hair and bald patches it resembles a much-loved toy somewhat past her prime.
In fact this creature is the best-preserved specimen of a woolly mammoth ever found – whose prehistoric prime was 39,000 years ago.
Even clumps of the animal’s distinguishing hair are remarkably intact after being trapped in glacial ice until she was discovered in Siberia earlier this year.
She is now to go on public display in Yokohama, Japan. But while the public can get a remarkable glimpse of our planet’s past, scientists will be continuing tests that could give the extinct species a future.
Experts who found the female mammoth in May also discovered a sample of its blood inside ice beneath the carcass – which scientists claim may be used to regrow one of the animals, which last walked the earth around 4,000 years ago.
Preserved muscle tissue was also found from the creature, which was aged between 50 and 60 when she died, according to the Russian team who made the discovery on islands off the northern coast of Siberia.
Semyon Grigoriev, from the North Eastern Federal University in Siberia, said: ‘We were really surprised to find mammoth blood and muscle tissue.’ He hailed it as ‘the best-preserved mammoth in the history of paleontology’.
Parts of the carcass are especially well preserved because they remained entirely frozen for thousands of years – including the hair. However, the upper torso and two legs, which were entombed in the soil, have been gnawed by prehistoric and modern predators and almost did not survive.
It is the first ever well-preserved sample of blood from a woolly mammoth and has reopened the debate over the morality of Jurassic Park-style projects to restore extinct creatures to the planet
The blood and other samples have been made available to South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk’s private bioengineering laboratory, which has confirmed it is working with other mammoth DNA samples in a bid to return the extinct Siberian mammoth.
The eventual plan is to plant an implanted egg into a live elephant for a 22-month pregnancy. The hope is that at least one living cell of the mammoth was preserved ‘although even with such well-preserved remains, this may not be the case’.
Earlier this year a group of scientists from around the world met for TEDx conference in Washington, sponsored by National Geographic.
The group were discussing the possibility of bringing 24 animals back from extinction, also known as ‘de-extinction’.
The animals included the dodo bird, the Carolina Parakeet, last seen in 1904 in Florida, and the Quagga, a plains zebra which once lived in South Africa but died out in 1883. However, some scientists insist it will be impossible to create the same mammoths as once roamed the earth. Dr Grigoriev initially put the age of the animal at around 10,000 years but more recent dating tests suggest the creature is much older, dating back around 39,000 years.
‘It is great luck that the blood preserved and we plan to study it carefully,’ he said. ‘For now our suspicion is that mammoth blood contains a kind of natural anti-freeze.’
He suggested that the animal was so well preserved because it did not ‘defrost and then freeze again’.
‘We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died,’ he added. ‘Due to this fact the lower part of the body, including the lower jaw, and tongue tissue, was preserved very well.’ - Daily Mail
WOOLLY MAMMOTH FACTS
* The last colony of woolly mammoths lived on Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia, until 1700 BC.
* It is thought 150million mammoths are still buried under the permafrost.
* The animal’s age can be easily discovered from the rings of its tusk, much like looking at the rings of a tree.
* Mammoths lacked the large ears of today’s elephants, minimising frostbite and heat-loss.
* Mammoth ivory - which is often found preserved in ice - is considered a legal and ethical alternative to elephant tusks, selling for up to $400 a lb.
* In 1951, mammoth meat was allegedly served during the annual dinner of The Explorers Club in New York. It was claimed to have been taken from a frozen carcass found on an island off Alaska. - Daily Mail