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Extinct Baby Woolly Rhino Remains Found in Siberia

The rhino calf, nicknamed 'Sasha' after the hunter and businessman who found it, is the only complete young specimen of the species ever found.

The remains of a baby woolly rhino that roamed the Earth at least 10,000 years ago have been discovered in a frozen riverbank in Siberia, researchers said.

The rhino calf, nicknamed "Sasha" after the hunter and businessman who found it, is the only complete young specimen of the extinct species ever found, according to scientists at the Yakutian Academy of Sciences in Russia, to whom the creature was donated for study.

The researchers hope to extract DNA from the specimen to determine its placement on the mammal family tree. [See photos of Sasha, the baby woolly rhino]

"The newly found is about 1.5 meters long [4.9 feet] and 0.8 meters high [2.6 feet]," said study researcher Albert Protopopov, head of the mammoth fauna studies department of the Yakutian Academy of Sciences in Russia, as translated by Olga Potapova, the collections curator and manager at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. By contrast, adults of this species could reach up to 15 feet (4.5 m) long and 6 feet (1.9 m) high at the shoulders, Protopopov said.

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Since the 18th century, the remains of only a few adult woolly rhinos have been discovered. Two complete bodies without hair were found in Staruni in what is now Ukraine, and a headless, frozen mummy was found in eastern Siberia, Potapova said. Woolly rhinos were depicted in late Paleolithic cave paintings in Western Europe, which add to scientists' knowledge of what the animals looked like, she added.

But the remains of rhino calves are very rare and fragmented, and little to nothing is known about the young animals, Protopopov told Live Science, via Potapova. Woolly rhinos likely had very high infant mortality - "that's why is a very lucky find for us," he said.

The new remains are from a very young rhino, probably between 3 and 4 years old, said fellow researcher Evgeny Maschenko, of the Paleontological Institute in Moscow, as translated by Potapova.

"The young rhino mummy was covered by thick hair" and had two fist-size horns that were tightly attached to its skull, Maschenko said. Based on the size of its horns, Sasha had probably already been weaned from its mother, but it's not clear whether the calf was a male or female, he added.

Woolly rhinoceroses (Coelodonta antiquitatis) first appeared some 350,000 years ago during the Pleistocene epoch, which lasted from 2.59 million to 11,700 years ago. The animals fed on mostly low-growing herbaceous vegetation, and were widely found in the mammoth steppe, a vast cold and dry region spanning from Spain in the west to eastern Siberia in the east, and from subarctic latitudes in the north to the Mediterranean, southern Siberia and northern China in the south.

Woolly rhinos lived at the same time as, and shared a habitat with, woolly mammoths, but the two species are not related. The woolly mammoth is a cousin of the modern Asian elephant, whereas the woolly rhino is most closely related to the modern rhino, Potapova said.

Woolly rhinos went extinct about 10,000 years ago. Some scientists believe overhunting was the cause, but the more likely culprit is climate change, which caused the disappearance of the animals' food sources and habitat, researchers said. Unlike other large mammals of the time - such as woolly mammoths, steppe bison, cave lions and native horses - woolly rhinos may not have been able to cross the land bridge now occupied by the Bering Strait, because they were unable to adapt to the tundra climate, the researchers said.

If the researchers can obtain DNA from Sasha, they plan to sequence the animal's genome. This would allow scientists to identify the rhino's closest relatives, and determine whether there were one or two species of woolly rhino in the Late Pleistocene, Protopopov said.

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There's been a lot of buzz among scientists lately that it might be possible to bring extinct animals "back to life" by cloning their DNA and breeding them in a related, living animal, a process called de-extinction. Some scientists have suggested using this technique to bring back the woolly mammoth, but could it also be used to revive the woolly rhino?

Currently, it seems too complicated, Protopopov said. Traditional cloning methods won't work for this purpose, he said, because even if his team can reconstruct the complete genome of the rhino specimen, there is no close modern relative with which to perform crossbreeding.

Besides, Maschenko said, even if humans could bring these creatures back from extinction, "should we proceed?"

More from LiveScience:

Image Gallery: 25 Amazing Ancient Beasts Image Gallery: Fossils Reveal Rhino's Grisly Death Wipe Out: History's Most Mysterious Extinctions Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Article originally appeared on LiveScience.

Shown is the preserved body of "Sasha," the woolly rhino.

Sept. 11, 2012 --

More than 8,000 scientists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) have identified 100 of the most threatened animals, plants and fungi on the planet. Conservationists fear these animals may die out, since none offer humans with obvious benefits. Among those listed is this animal, the red crested tree rat (Santamartamys rufodorsalis). The small rodent was only known from two specimens collected in 1898 from the Santa Marta Mountains in Colombia -- until 2011 when one of the elusive rats shuffled up to two biologists in the field.

Muennink's spiny rat (Tokudaia muenninki) is a rodent in the family Muridae. It is found only in Okinawa Island, Japan. In 2008, the first wild specimen in over 30 years was caught in the northern part of Okinawa island.

Salanoia durrelli, also known as Durrell's vontsira, is a Madagascan mammal found only in the Lac Alaotra area. It is most closely related to the brown-tailed mongoose.

The geometric tortoise (Psammobates geometricus) is a medium-sized terrestrial tortoise that is the rarest of the three tent tortoise species, native to southern Africa. The threatened tortoise is named for the highly geometric pattern on its domed shell.

Archey's frog, Leiopelma archeyi, is a primitive frog native to New Zealand. The frog closely resembles fossilized remains of frogs that lived 150 million years ago.

The Table Mountain ghost frog (Heleophryne rosei ) has highly webbed rear limbs that make it a strong swimmer, but weak jumper. It is found on the slopes of Cape Town's Table Mountain.

The Sumatran rhinoceros (Diceros sumatrensis) is a small rhino that survives in dwindling numbers in the Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests.

The Amsterdam albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis) is a large albatross which breeds only on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean.

Yes, even fungi are threatened with extinction. This fungus, Cryptomyces maximus, appears as shining black blisters with orange/yellow highlights. It is seen, very rarely, throughout Europe.

The Santa Catarina's guinea pig, Cavia intermedia, hails from South America. It is found in Brazil on the small island of Moleques do Sul in the state of Santa Catarina.

The Great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is found in India and adjoining regions of Pakistan. The large bird features long legs giving it an ostrich-like appearance and it's among the heaviest of flying birds. It's estimated that as few as 250 individuals survive today.

The stunning, but critically endangered, Araripe manakin (Antilophia bokermanni) was first discovered as recently as 1996. The bird, which lives in north eastern Brazil, was named Antilophia bokermanni in honor of the Brazilian zoologist and wildlife filmmaker Werner Bokerman, who died in 1995.

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