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article imageBaby Mammoth Could One Day Headline 'Pleistocene Park'

By Brandon McPhail     May 12, 2009 in Science
In May of 2007, Siberian reindeer farmer Yuri Khudi was tending to his herd when he noticed something on a sandbank in the Yuribei River.
Upon closer inspection Khudi realized that the remains of what looked like a baby elephant were in fact those of a baby mammoth. As it turns out, this was an extremely significant find being the most well preserved mammoth remains ever reported to the scientific community.
Khudi is a member of the Nenet ethnic minority, a well-known group of Russian indigenous people comprised of only 34,665 individuals including 10 000 nomadic reindeer herders, according to the last census of the region taken in 1989. The Nenet people have been unearthing the remains of mammoths for as long as their culture has been in existence. In fact the Nenet people have incorporated the mammoth, or “mamont” into many of their cultural beliefs and stories.
One such story describes herds of mammoths roaming the frozen underworld, herded by evil gods. The Nenet believe that finding the remains of the “mamont” will bring an early death to the one who makes the discovery. Understanding the scientific significance of his find, Khudi accepted what might be a bad omen, sacrificed a baby reindeer, took a heavy belt of vodka and reported the find to a local museum in Yar Sale, 240km from the find. Museum operators quickly took Khudi along for a helicopter ride to the site. When the helicopter touched down it was apparent that someone had taken the baby mammoth, named Lyuba after Khudi’s wife.
While the Nenet people are hesitant to tell others of their mammoth finds due to the associated beliefs of an early death, they also know that ivory is worth a lot. The Nenet people have dealt in mammoth ivory for over a hundred years. Somehow Khudi’s cousin had found out about the discovery and had subsequently taken the mammoth and sold it to a local store owner. When Khudi and museum staff found the baby mammoth it was propped up against the side of the store, showing damage to the tail and ears caused by stray dogs. Local police and museum staff persuaded the store-owner who had purchased the remains to hand over the rare find.
The discovery of this well preserved, Pleistocene-era mammoth reinvigorates the prospect of cloning a mammoth from well-preserved cells. Using the same science that has cloned several mammals including Dolly the sheep, scientists hope to transplant the intact cellular nucleus of a mammoth into the egg of an Indian elephant resulting in the live birth of a baby mammoth.
Russian, American and Canadian national park services in conjunction with the University of California at Berkley have been contributing to “Pleistocene Park”. The “park” is located in the Sakha Republic (a.k.a. Yakutia), a remote part of the Russian Siberian region. To date, Canadian bison and Muskoxen from Alaska have been transplanted into the region from North America. While ancient grasses and small plants are present in the area, scientists have been making efforts to spread these plants throughout the park. What the public will be truly interested in, and possibly willing to pay money to go and see, are the megafauna. Animals that would have roamed the plains of ancient Sakha such as moose and wild horses already present in the area. Scientists are excited to see the interactions of native species and North American transplants, what may garner greater media and public interest is the possibility of cloned herds of mammoths roaming across the Siberian wild.
While the initial plans for the park do not officially call for the cloning and establishment of a mammoth population, speculation throughout the scientific community suggests that such a cloned animal would find a home there. Currently the “Mammoth Creation Project” located in Japan is working to create such a beast from other mammoth finds, including specimens from Siberia and the Great Lakes region of North America.
More about Mammoth, Siberia, Cloning
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