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Preserved carcass of Ice Age woolly rhino found in Siberian permafrost

By December 31, 2020Science and technology

A well-preserved woolly rhino with its last meal still intact found in the extreme north of Yakutia. Photo credits: Sakha Today, as originally published by Metro.

Metro | December 30, 2020

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The extraordinary remains of an extinct woolly rhinoceros have been found in an Ice Age necropolis in Siberia. The frozen carcass is 80 per cent intact and may be around 34,000 years old although its age is still to be confirmed.

Scientists discovered the hazel-coloured juvenile beast with its teeth in place close to the site where the world’s only baby woolly rhino called Sasha was dug out in 2014.

Two extinct cave lion cubs were also found here in the Abyisky district of Yakutia last year close to a tributary of the remote Tirekhtyakh River.

Evidence of the last meal of the new rhino remains in its insides. Scientist Dr Albert Protopopov said: ‘According to preliminary estimates, the rhino is three or four years old and is a very young individual. ‘Most likely, it drowned in the river. The carcass is very well preserved. ‘Among other things, part of the internal organs are preserved, which in the future will make it possible to study in more detail how the species ate and lived.’

A well-preserved woolly rhino with its last meal still intact found in the extreme north of Yakutia (Credits: Sakha Today) The gender of the Pleistocene creature – preserved in the Siberian permafrost – is not yet revealed. A horn was discovered close to the rhino, but is not pictured.

Baby rhino Sasha located nearby was earlier dated at 34,000 years, but the new one could be between 20,000 and 50,000 years old. ‘The Abyisky rhinoceros can already be called the only one of its kind in the world,’ he said. ‘Earlier, not even the bone remains of individuals of this age were found, not to mention the preserved carcasses of animals. As a rule, these were either cubs or adults.’

The find is being preserved in a glacier pending a move to Yakutsk where the beast will be presented to the scientific community. The unique discovery was three or four years old when it died at least 20,000 years ago (Sakha Academy of Sciences /The Siberian Times) Dr Valery Plotnikov, a researcher with the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), said the age of the new find is between 20,000 and 50,000 years old. ‘But we have not yet done radiocarbon analysis.’

Local entrepreneur Pavel Yefimov who was behind the discovery is presenting the animal to the Academy of Sciences. The beast was originally found by a local resident Alexei Savvin. Sasha – seven months old when it died – was found to have strawberry blond curls. This colouring means the creature had a markedly different look to the slate grey rhinos of Africa.

But Sasha’s discovery – showing the stubs of two horns – also suggested the species was distinctly larger than the modern-day rhinoceros. The species once roamed across modern Europe and Russia, and were present in southern England.

Dr Plotnikov said of Sasha: ‘We have learned that woolly rhinoceroses were covered in very thick hair. ‘Previously, we could judge this only from rock paintings discovered in France. ‘Now, judging by the thick coat with the undercoat, we can conclude that the rhinoceroses were fully adapted to the cold climate very much from a young age.’