THURSDAY, JANUARY 7TH, 2021.-
The wolf's body is practically intact, only his eyes are missing.
🖊📸 EUROPA PRESS
A gold miner from Canada has discovered, while working in the frozen mud, in Yukon, a perfectly preserved wolf cub that has been enclosed in permafrost – a permanently frozen ice sheet – for 57,000 years.
The puppy's remarkable condition, named Zher by local people Tr'ond-k Hw-ch'in, gave researchers a wealth of knowledge about their age, lifestyle and relationship with modern wolves, as published in the journal Current Biology.
"It's the most complete wolf mummy ever found. It's basically 100% intact, all he's missing is his eyes. And the fact that it's so complete allowed us to do so many lines of research on it to basically rebuild her life," said author Julie Meachen, associate professor of anatomy at the University of Des Moines.
One of the most important questions about Zher that the researchers tried to answer was how it ended up preserved in permafrost to begin with, as it takes a unique combination of circumstances to produce a permafrost mummy.
"It is rare to find these mummies in the Yukon. The animal has to die in a place of permafrost, where the soil is frozen all the time, and must be buried very quickly, like any other fossilization process. If he stays in the icy tundra too long, he will break down or be devoured," Meachen said.
Another important factor is how the wolf died. Animals that die slowly or are hunted by predators are less likely to be found in intact. "We believe he was in his lair and died instantly from the collapse of the cave. Our data showed that she didn't go hungry and that she was about 7 weeks old when she died, so we felt a little better knowing that the poor woman didn't suffer for long," said author Julie Meachen.
In addition to knowing how Zher died, the team was also able to analyze his diet, which was strongly influenced by how close he lived to the water. "Normally, when you think of wolves in the Ice Age, you think of them eating bison or musk oxen or other large animals on earth, but one thing that surprised us was that she was eating aquatic resources, particularly salmon," she explains.
The analysis of the genome of Zher also confirmed that it descends from ancient wolves from Russia, Siberia and Alaska, who are also ancestors of modern wolves. Although Zher's analysis gave investigators many answers about the wolves of the past, there are some outstanding questions left about Zher and his family.
"We have been asked why she was the only wolf found in the lair and what happened to her mother or siblings. It could be that she was a single puppy. Or the other wolves weren't in the lair during the collapse. Unfortunately, we'll never know," Julie said.
The specimen has a special meaning for the local village Tr'ond-k Hw-ch'in, which has agreed to place Zher on display at the Yukon Beringia Interpretation Centre in Whitehorse. It is clean and preserved so it will remain intact for the next few years, allowing you to travel to other places in Yukon as well. And the research team predicts that more permafrost mummies may be found in the coming years.
"A small advantage of climate change is that we're going to find more of these mummies as permafrost melts. That's a good way for science to rebuild that time better, but it also shows us how much our planet is warming up. We really have to be careful," Meachen warns.