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Young Mammoth Likely Butchered by Humans

The carcass of the juvenile Yuka may have been cut up, eaten and then buried by ancient people.

THE GIST

- The carcass of a well-preserved, frozen, juvenile mammoth carcass has been discovered in Siberia.

- The remains include much of the mammoth's pink flesh and blonde-red fur.

- Humans likely butchered parts of the mammoth at least 10,000 years ago.

A juvenile mammoth, nicknamed "Yuka," was found entombed in Siberian ice near the shores of the Arctic Ocean and shows signs of being cut open by ancient people.

The remarkably well preserved frozen carcass was discovered in Siberia as part of a BBC/Discovery Channel-funded expedition and is believed to be at least 10,000 years old, if not older. If further study confirms the preliminary findings, it would be the first mammoth carcass revealing signs of human interaction in the region.

The carcass is in such good shape that much of its flesh is still intact, retaining its pink color. The blonde-red hue of Yuka's woolly coat also remains.

"This is the first relatively complete mammoth carcass -- that is, a body with soft tissues preserved -- to show evidence of human association," Daniel Fisher, curator and director of the University of Michigan's Museum of Paleontology, told Discovery News.

Fisher, who is also a professor, worked with an international team of experts to analyze Yuka. French mammoth hunter Bernard Buigues of the scientific organization "Mammuthus" saved the specimen from falling into the hands of private collectors.

Although carbon dating is still in the works, the researchers believe Yuka died at least 10,000 years ago, but may be much older. The animal was about 2½years old when it died.

Fisher described what likely happened on that fateful day:

"It appears that Yuka was pursued by one or more lions or another large field, judging from deep, unhealed scratches in the hide and bite marks on the tail," Fisher said. "Yuka then apparently fell, breaking one of the lower hind legs. At this point, humans may have moved in to control the carcass, butchering much of the animal and removing parts that they would use immediately.

"They may, in fact, have reburied the rest of the carcass to keep it in reserve for possible later use. What remains now would then be 'leftovers' that were never retrieved."

He explained that the removed parts include most of the main core mass of Yuka's body, including organs, vertebrae, ribs, associated musculature, and some of the meat from upper parts of the legs. The lower parts of each leg and the trunk remain intact.

Buigues added that it appears the humans were particularly interested in the animal's fat and its large bones, which they kept close to the body of the carcass. He believes it is possible that a ritual may have taken place involving the bones.

Kevin Campbell of the University of Manitoba also studied Yuka. Campbell famously published the genetic code of mammoth hemoglobin a few years ago.

"Most permafrost-preserved mammoth specimens consist solely of bones or bone fragments that currently provide little new insight into the species' biology in life, even if DNA can be extracted and sequenced from these samples," Campbell said. "This extremely rare finding of a near complete specimen, like the discovery of the baby mammoth Lyuba in 2007, will be a boon to researchers as it will help them link observed phenotypes (morphological features that we can see) with genotype (DNA sequences)."

PHOTOS: Faces of Our Ancestors

Such information could help reveal whether or not mammoths had all of the same hair colors that humans do. An intriguing and controversial application would be to bring a mammoth back to life via cloning.

Campbell supports pursuit of that goal, saying it "may well lead to important new discoveries in bioengineering." Buigues is also in favor and said, "I'm not against having a mammoth in my garden in future."

Tim Walker, producer and director of a forthcoming BBC/Discovery Channel show called "Woolly Mammoth" that will feature Yuka, told Discovery News that cloning a mammoth could take years or even decades.

"Then, if it did happen, wouldn't a single mammoth be lonely and sad?" he asked. "They were, after all, communal animals."

The mammoth, which is thought to be approximately two and a half years old when it died, appears to have been cut open at some point.

Lonesome George - the Last Pinta Island Tortoise

June 25, 2012 -

Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise and celebrated symbol of conservation efforts has died. George passed away in the Galapagos Islands with no known offspring after several attempts at breeding George with other similar tortoise species, according to AFP. Lonesome George's longtime caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found the giant tortoise's remains stretched out in the "direction of his watering hole" on Santa Cruz Island, according to AFP. Estimated to be more than 100 years old, the creature's cause of death remains unclear and a necropsy is planned. Lonesome George was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when giant tortoises of his type, Geochelone nigra abingdoni, were already believed to be extinct, according to AFP. The following is a look at other at risk animals in the world.

NEWS: Extinct' Giant Tortoise Found on Remote Island

Animals at Risk Since the Endangered Species Act's passage 33 years ago, 1,800 species have been listed as endangered and nine have become extinct. ARKive, a collection of the world's best wildlife films and photographs, gathered together a list of the most at risk animals. The Tiger has undergone large population declines across Cambodia and the rest of Asia, according to ARKive.

Blue Whale (Endangered) Once hunted nearly to extinction, the blue whale is the largest animal to have ever lived, growing to around 27 meters (88.5 feet) long and weighing up to an astounding 120 tons. It also produces the loudest call of any animal on Earth. Although hunting of the blue whale was banned in 1966, the recovery of this magnificent marine mammal has been exceptionally slow.

Giant Panda (Endangered) The giant panda is universally admired for its appealing markings and seemingly gentle demeanor. A charismatic conservation icon, the giant panda is threatened by habitat loss, with large areas of China’s natural forest being cleared for agriculture, timber and firewood to meet the needs of the large and growing human population.

Tiger (Endangered) The tiger is one of the most emblematic symbols of conservation today, and its distinctively patterned coat and fearsome reputation make this species instantly recognizable. However, the tiger is facing the grave threat of extinction due to illegal poaching and habitat loss.

Sumatran Orangutan (Critically endangered) The name of the Sumatran orangutan means "person of the forest." The biggest threat to the Sumatran orangutan is the loss of its forest habitat, with around 80 percent of the forest on Sumatra vanishing in recent years due to illegal logging, gold mining and conversion to permanent agriculture, in particular, palm oil plantations.

Black Rhinoceros (Critically endangered) Contrary to its name, the black rhinoceros is actually grey in color. It was hunted almost to the brink of extinction for its impressive horn, which can grow up to 60 cm (23.6 inches), largely due to the demand for horn in Chinese traditional medicine and for traditional dagger handles in Yemen.

Philippine Eagle (Critically endangered) The striking Philippine eagle is the world's largest eagle and also one of the world’s most threatened raptors. The destruction of its habitat is the main cause of its dramatic decline, with vast tracts of tropical forests in the Philippines having been cleared for commercial development and for shifting cultivation.

Kakapo (Critically endangered) As the world’s only flightless parrot, the kakapo is a truly unique bird which is threatened by introduced species in its native home of New Zealand. Conservationists have taken the drastic measure of removing all surviving kakapo to predator-free islands, so far averting the extinction of this remarkable bird.

Hawksbill Turtle (Critically endangered) The hawksbill turtle possesses a beautiful marbled shell, which has been exploited for thousands of years as the sole source of commercial tortoiseshell. Illegal demand for its shell, and for its eggs, meat and even stuffed juveniles as exotic gifts, have led to the dramatic decline of this species over the last century. A further threat to the hawksbill turtle is global climate change.

Lemur Leaf Frog (Critically endangered) The lemur leaf frog is specially adapted for a life in the trees with adhesive pads on its toes. Eggs are laid on leaf surfaces and when hatched the larvae are washed off or fall into water below. This nocturnal tree frog was once considered to be a reasonably common species in Costa Rica, but it is threatened by the loss of its forest habitat and most populations in Costa Rica have recently disappeared.

Scalloped Hammerhead (Endangered) Forming impressively large schools, female scalloped hammerheads gather in the Gulf of California during the day, around underwater mountains known as seamounts, where they perform a wide range of behaviors yet to be understood. The scalloped hammerhead is under threat due to fishing pressures and in particular is a victim of shark finning. ANIMAL PLANET: Endangered Species Guide