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article imageBaby woolly rhino, 10,000 years old, found in Siberian permafrost

By JohnThomas Didymus     Feb 26, 2015 in Science
Yakutsk - A baby woolly rhinoceros, believed to be 10,000 years old, has been discovered well-preserved in Siberian permafrost. The discovery is causing excitement because it is the first time that an infant specimen of the extinct species has been found.
According to the Siberian Times, the remains of the cub, weighing about 132 pounds (60 kg), was presented on Wednesday to the Academy of Sciences in Yakutsk, capital of the Sakha Republic, by a local hunter and businessman, Aleksandr Banderov. He found the well-preserved rhino in a ravine on the bank of a stream in September last year while sailing on the Semyulkyah River with a friend, Semen Ivanov.
Sakha Republic is Russia's largest and coldest region, also known as Yakutia.
"We were sailing past a ravine and noticed hair hanging on the top of it," Banderov told the YSIA news agency. "At first we thought it was a reindeer's carcass, but after it thawed and fell down we saw a horn on its upper jaw and realized it must be a rhino. The part of the carcass that stuck out of the ice was eaten by wild animals, but the rest of it was inside the permafrost and preserved well."
Sasha moments after Aleksandr Banderov found him
Sasha moments after Aleksandr Banderov found him
Aleksandr Banderov
Although, the lower half of the carcass that was sticking out of the permafrost had been eaten by wild animals, much of the baby rhino’s upper half — the head, including the face, one ear, one eye, nostrils, teeth and mouth, as well as body wool — was in good condition.
The creature's two horns were also found preserved on the carcass.
The cub is believed to have been about 18 months old when it died. But Russian scientists say they will extract DNA to conduct tests to determine precisely the age of the cub and the time it died.
Aleskandr Banderov and friend with  Sasha
Aleskandr Banderov and friend with 'Sasha'
Academy of Sciences, Republic of Sakha
Previous DNA analyses suggest that the closest extant relative of the extinct ancient species is the Sumatran rhino.
Woolly rhinos are believed to have become extinct about 10,000 years ago. Based on the few remains found and rock paintings by early man, scientists believe that the full-grown woolly rhino was about 13 ft in length and weighed about 4, 400 pounds. It had two keratinous horns, the longer being about 24 inches.
Wooly rhinos roamed the ice tundra of Europe and northern Asia during the Pleistocene epoch. The species' woolly hide and shot stocky limbs made them well adapted to their cold environment.
The reason why the species became extinction is uncertain. But it is known that they survived the last glacial period. They finally died out about 10,000 years ago due, most likely, to rising temperatures at the end of the Ice Age and disease outbreaks, possibly exacerbated by overhunting by early humans.
Scientists believe that preserved remains of infant woolly rhinoceros are rare because the infant mortality rate of the species was low, probably because nursing dams protected their young fiercely.
First baby woolly rhino found
First baby woolly rhino found
Academy of Sciences, Republic of Sakha
The species is also believed to have been a slow breeder.
Albert Protopopov, who heads the Mammoth Fauna Department of the Sakha Republic Academy of Sciences, said, "If the adult's morphology is known, we know nothing about the children. So far we have even not come across teeth, and now we have a skull, head, soft tissue, teeth, hopefully, in good condition at our disposal. First, of course, we will [extract] DNA, because the object is not thawed and it is quite possible its DNA preserved better than the previous findings. I think we can tell about the first results in a week or two."
He told The Siberian Times, "The find is absolutely unique. We can count a number of adult woolly rhinos found around the world on fingers of one hand. A baby rhino was never found before. There was only one case in the 21st century when we found a frozen carcass of a grown up woolly rhino in Yakutia."
He added: "Even to find a skull of a baby rhino is very lucky indeed. The possible explanation to it is that rhinos bred very slowly. Mothers protected baby rhinos really well, so that cases of successful attacks on them were extremely rare and the mortality rate was very low."
Baby woolly rhino on display at the Academy of Sciences  Republic of Sakha
Baby woolly rhino on display at the Academy of Sciences, Republic of Sakha
Academy of Sciences, Republic of Sakha
Baby woolly rhino on display at the Academy of Sciences  Republic of Sakha
Baby woolly rhino on display at the Academy of Sciences, Republic of Sakha
Academy of Sciences, Republic of Sakha
Partly because fewer preserved remains have been found, adult woolly rhinos have not been studied as mammoths. Even less is known about infant woolly rhinos. The latest find is therefore important because it is the first time that a preserved carcass of a cub has ever been found.
Researchers hope that "Sasha" will help to shed light on many unanswered questions about ancient woolly rhinos, and how they lived and developed into adults
More about Sasha, woolly rhino, baby woolly rhino, siberian permafrost, Permafrost
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