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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Siberian Mammoth to Stay in Russia




The 20,000-year-old woolly mammoth chopped from the permafrost in Arctic Siberia last week is not likely to be brought back to life to roam the tundra, and instead will become the first specimen in a future museum in the tundra, expedition members said Tuesday.


A 23-ton block of frozen soil containing the well-preserved carcass of the long-extinct animal is currently sitting outside the airport in the town of Khatanga, waiting to be transferred to its icy cave in the town on Nov. 15, said Bernard Buigues, the French polar explorer who organized the expedition.


"We managed to recover the mammoth without defrosting it," Buigues said. "It has never been done before."


Remains of over 300 mammoths have been dug out of their natural sarcophaguses in Siberia since 1799, but all of them were defrosted on the site, said Alexei Tikhonov, Russia's leading paleontologist, who has been working on mammoth expeditions for 15 years. The new method of extraction gives scientists unprecedented research opportunities.


Speaking to a packed hall of journalists, Buigues eased fears that the specimen would be taken abroad, saying the mammoth would become part of a museum in its home town of Khatanga.


But Tikhonov disappointed the audience when he said the Jarkov Mammoth, named after the Siberian family that first discovered it, cannot be brought back to life.


"Even if we found a mammoth who'd open its eyes and wink at us, we wouldn't be able to clone it," he said.


Even if a living sperm cell were found, the Indian elephant, the closest relative to the mammoth is not close enough for cross-breeding, Tikhonov said.


He said if scientists find a well-preserved mammoth cell, they will attempt to decipher its gene. But so far no mammoth expeditions have managed to find a mammoth cell with intact DNA chains.


"It's a problem of centuries to come," Tikhonov said. "We haven't yet deciphered the human gene."


The Jarkov Mammoth consists of about one third of the animal's skeleton, minus the skull and tusks, which were severed by the Jarkovs, and a dozen odd bones. There is a lot of fur, but virtually no muscle left, Tikhonov said.


Siberia's Vrangel Island and Taimyr Peninsula, where the mammoth was found, are the last places where mammoths died out, and the animals roamed there just 3,500 years ago, Tikhonov said. The giant herbivores began dying out 11,000 year ago, when the climate became gradually wetter and the lush Siberian grass fields turned into swamps, leaving them without food.


Buigues, who is hoping to attract Western tourists to Khatanga with the help of the mammoth, said he was more optimistic than his Russian colleagues about bringing the mammoth back to life.


"I believe in magic," he said.