Lyuba the Baby Mammoth

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Waking the Baby Mammoth

Helicopter Lands at Nenets Encampment
Helicopter Lands at Nenets Encampment. Photo credit © Olivier Ronval
In May 2007, a baby woolly mammoth was discovered exposed on the Yuribei River in Yamal Peninsula of Russia, by a nomadic reindeer herder named Yuri Khudi. One of five baby mammoths discovered over the course of thirty years, Lyuba ("Love" in Russian) was a nearly perfectly preserved, healthy female of about one to two months old, who probably suffocated in the soft river mud and was preserved in permafrost. Her discovery and investigation was examined in the National Geographic documentary film, Waking the Baby Mammoth, which premiered in April 2009.

This photo essay discusses some of the intensive research and questions surrounding this momentous discovery.

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Discovery Site of Lyuba, the Baby Mammoth

Dan Fisher investigates soils in the area where Lyuba was discovered
Dan Fisher investigates soils in the area where Lyuba was discovered. Photo credit © Francis Latreille

The 40,000 year old baby mammoth called Lyuba was discovered on the bank of the frozen Yuribei River near this location. In this photo, University of Michigan Paleontologist Dan Fisher puzzles over the sediments which consist of very thin layers of soil.

The implications are that Lyuba wasn't buried in this location and eroded out of the deposit, but rather was deposited by the movement of the river or ice after she eroded out of the permafrost farther upstream. The location where Lyuba spent forty thousand years buried in the permafrost has yet to be discovered and may never be known.

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How Did Lyuba the Baby Mammoth Die?

Close Up of Lyuba in St. Petersburg Laboratory
Close Up of Lyuba in St. Petersburg Laboratory. Photo credit © Florent Herry

After her discovery, Lyuba was transferred to the city of Salekhard in Russia and stored at the Salekhard museum of natural history and ethnology. She was temporarily shipped to Japan where a computed tomography scan (CT Scan) was conducted by Dr. Naoki Suzuki at the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo Japan. The CT scan was conducted ahead of any other investigation, so that researchers could plan a partial autopsy with as little disturbance of Lyuba's body as possible.

The CT Scan revealed that Lyuba was in good health when she died, but that there were large amounts of mud in her trunk, mouth and trachea, suggesting that she may have suffocated in soft mud. She had an intact "fat hump", a feature used by camels—and not a part of modern elephant anatomy. Researchers believe the hump regulated heat in her body.

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Microscopic Surgery for Lyuba

Researchers at the Microsurgery on Baby Woolly Mammoth Lyuba
Researchers at the Microsurgery on Baby Woolly Mammoth Lyuba. Photo credit © Pierre Stine

At a hospital in St. Petersburg, researchers performed investigative surgery on Lyuba, and removed samples for study. The researchers used an endoscope with a forceps to examine and sample her internal organs. They discovered that she had consumed her mother milk, and her mother's feces—a behavior known from modern baby elephants who consume their mothers' feces until they are old enough to digest food themselves.

From the left, Bernard Buigues of the International Mammoth Committee; Alexei Tihkonov of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Daniel Fisher of the University of Michigan; reindeer herder Yuri Khudi from the Yamal Peninsula; and Kirill Seretetto, a friend from Yar Sale who helped Yuri connect with the science team.

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Your Citation
Hirst, K. Kris. "Lyuba the Baby Mammoth." ThoughtCo, Jan. 20, 2016, thoughtco.com/lyuba-the-baby-mammoth-171483. Hirst, K. Kris. (2016, January 20). Lyuba the Baby Mammoth. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/lyuba-the-baby-mammoth-171483 Hirst, K. Kris. "Lyuba the Baby Mammoth." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/lyuba-the-baby-mammoth-171483 (accessed November 23, 2017).