Ice wasteland reveals mammoth carcase preserved for 10,000 years

LYING on her side with her trunk stretched in front of her, she looks as if she might have died yesterday. But Lyuba the baby mammoth probably met her fate more than 10,000 years ago.

The discovery of the best-preserved specimen of its type was made by a Siberian reindeer herder, who stumbled across a piece of ivory while working on the tundra wasteland.

Now the carcase of the six-month-old female calf, who has been named after the herder's wife, is to be sent to Japan for study.

She was discovered in May by Yuri Khudi near the Yuribei River, in Russia's Yamal peninsula.

She is in unusually well-preserved condition, with her trunk and eyes still intact. The body even retains some fur.

Alexei Tikhonov, the vice-director of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: "The mammoth has no defects except that its tail was bitten off. In terms of its state of preservation, this is the world's most valuable discovery."

Mammoths, famous for their furry coats, huge tusks and massive bulk, are believed to have appeared on Earth some 4.8 million years ago. They roamed the northern plains of Europe and Siberia until the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age.

Herds were known to exist in Russia as recently as 5,000 years ago, and are the ancestors of the elephant species.

The 4ft 3in tall, 100lb specimen dates from the end of the last Ice Age.

Larry Agenbroad, the director of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs research centre in South Dakota, said: "To find a juvenile mammoth in any condition is extremely rare." Dr Agenbroad added that he knew of only three other examples.

It is thought that Lyuba will now be sent to Jikei University in Tokyo, where a team led by Professor Naoki Suzuki will carry out an extensive study of the carcase, including scans of its organs. Two earlier recovered mammoths, including the "Jarkov mammoth" found frozen in Taimyr, Siberia, in 1997, were also sent there. Prof Suzuki said CT scans of the beast would provide "an unprecedented opportunity to obtain anatomically important data".

Dr Agenbroad warned that scientifically valuable Siberian mammoth specimens were being lost to a lucrative trade in ivory, skin, hair and other body parts.

"You can now go on almost any fossil marketing website and find mammoth hair for $50 an inch. It has grown beyond anyone's imagination," he said.

Dr Agenbroad added: "Russia says that any mammoth remains are the property of the Russian government, but nobody really pays attention to that."

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