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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baby Mammoth Lyuba Astounds Scientists

ReutersScientists inspecting the carcass of a baby mammoth in the Arctic city of Salekhard. It is considered one of the best preserved specimens of its kind.
Lyuba was only about four months old when she died on a full stomach. Ten thousand odd years later she is set to become world famous.

Scientists have hailed the discovery of the baby woolly mammoth, dubbed Lyuba, as one of the finest examples of preserved mammoths ever discovered after it emerged from the melting permafrost in western Siberia.

"There has never been such a find," Pavel Kosintsev, one of the first scientists to see the mammoth, said in a telephone interview from Yekaterinburg.

"The mammoth is an animal that you look at and you see that there is an entire epoch behind it, a huge time period when climate was changing," said Alexei Tikhonov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Zoological Institute in televised comments last week.

With her trunk still intact, eyes in place and small tufts of fur still on her skin, Lyuba looks more like a museum fake than a link to life in the Ice Age, though her tail seems to have been nipped off.

One hundred and thirty centimeters long, 90 centimeters high and weighing only 50 kilograms, the mammoth is almost exactly as it was when it died nearly 10,000 years ago, said Kosintsev, deputy head of the Zoological Museum in the Institute of Ecological Plants and Animals.

"The animal died and immediately was buried in a watery area or a bog. There was no decay. She was located there in a frozen state for several thousand years," said Kosintsev. Lyuba likely reappeared to the world after the river's bank slipped at the end of last year, he said.

Lyuba was found almost two months ago on May 15 by Yury Khudi, a nomadic reindeer tribesman near the Yuribei River in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region. Khudi, a Nenets, thought it was a sick reindeer at first and went to investigate, said Kosintsev. When he saw that it was a mammoth, he went to the nearest village to tell of his find.

She was named Lyuba by scientists in honor of Khudi's wife, though how he feels about that is not yet known as he is back in the tundra with his reindeer.

"We could not contact him, but if he says it is not the right name we will change it," said Kosintsev. Mammoth finds are usually named after the person who finds them.

To keep her from deteriorating, Lyuba is being stored at minus 10 degrees Celsius in an industrial freezer in the Yamal-Nenets republic's regional museum in Salekhard, the regional capital.

Mammoths, believed to be close relatives of the modern day elephant, roamed the earth from almost 5 million years B.C. to just a few thousand years B.C. when they disappeared.

Although mammoths once inhabited almost the entire world, Russia has always had a strong association with the beast. Mammoths are considered special animals by northern tribes, said Natalia Fyodorova, the deputy director of the museum, in a telephone interview from Salekhard.

"All the native tribes have tales about this mythical animal," she said. When finding mammoth parts, native tribes such as the Nenets often take them to their holy places to talk with their souls. Now, she said with a touch of pride, "they tell the museum."

It is not only the native tribes who have their explanations for the mysterious animal. One mythic explanation for the existence of the woolly mammoth in the far reaches of Russia is that they were the last of Carthaginian General Hannibal's war elephants after they crossed over the Alps into Italy in the second century B.C.

An international conference gathered last month in Salekhard, including experts from the United States and France, to decide what to do with the mammoth.

Lyuba will go to Japan soon for a CT scan at Jikei University to be examined by a team led by professor Naoki Suzuki. "It will give a unique chance to compare the herbivores of then with today's," said Suzuki, Itar-Tass reported. After going to Japan, Lyuba will return to Russia.

"I think she will not only be shown in Salekhard but all over the world," said Fyodorova.