Archive for September 8th, 2015

Woolly rhino calf died 34,000 years ago

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015


Sasha, the woolly rhinoceros calf discovered last year by hunters preserved in the permafrost of Siberia’s Sakha Republic, is 34,000 years old. When the find was announced, scientists hadn’t yet had the chance to date the remains. They knew it had to be at least 10,000 years old because that’s when the woolly rhino went extinct. Radiocarbon testing found that Sasha lived and died during the Karginsk interglacial period, a time between ice ages when what is now the Sakha Republic had a much warmer climate than it does today.

Researchers from the Academy of Sciences Republic of Sakha who performed a necropsy on Sasha estimate the baby was around one and a half years old when it (the sex of the animal hasn’t been determined) died. This was determined from the size of the skull which is the same as it would be for an 18-month white rhinoceros calf. Its age will be pinpointed with more accuracy when scientists take detailed measurements of the teeth.

Meanwhile, the initial necropsy has already pinpointed a probably cause of death.

Dr Albert Protopopov, head of the Department of Mammoth Fauna Studies, in Yakutsk, said: “The nasal passages of the rhinoceros were clogged with mud, so that we can say that most likely it drowned.” He explained: “Paleontologists believe that the mortality rate in babies of such large animals was very low. We will try to find out in the course of these research what killed this very rhino calf.”

The rhino is missing its midsection, but even so it’s exceptionally well-preserved. The front and back legs and most of its skin, covered with thick light grey hair, are intact. The head is in such condition Sasha looks asleep. The eyes, ears and tongue are all still there. The excellent state of preservation gives scientists confidence that they will be able to recover viable DNA for testing, a prospect that excites scientists all over the world who will be given the opportunity to study this unique specimen. Dr. Protopopov again:

“The DNA of woolly rhino is poorly studied indeed. This find gives us the opportunity to compare the woolly rhino with the modern rhinos and find out how far they are from each other on the evolutionary path.”

The University of California, Santa Cruz will analyze any DNA in the hope they can sequence the woolly rhinoceros genome and compare it to modern rhinoceroses. A plethora of Russian scientists will have a crack at the Sasha apple, as will researchers from the University of Amsterdam, the University of Groningen, the University of Leeds, the University of Bristol and the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The Academy of Sciences Republic of Sakha were thoughtful enough to film the necropsy and release clips of it on YouTube.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/9GU4DpNBe28&w=430]

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