Last Stand of an Ice Age Species
by Gabriella Shell, age 14
Woolly mammoths are an extinct branch of the elephant family that once roamed the Ice Age landscape from from Spain to Canada. In prehistoric times, Asia was connected to North America by a natural landbridge running from what is now Russia to Alaska. And glaciers covered most of modern-day Eurasia and Canada.
Most scientists say mammoths became extinct 10,000 years ago. Nevertheless, some still believe that mammoths roam the Earth to this day, tucked away in the dense taiga, a coniferous forest, in Yakutia, Russia.
There are a few stories of these ancient beasts roaming in small groups deep in the heart of the Siberian taiga. There have even been some documentaries dedicated to finding out if the woolly mammoths really are extinct.
Most experts, of course, don’t give credence to this theory because there so far is no documented proof. Nobody has seen a living mammoth for thousands of years. At this point, all of the Siberian taiga has been explored hundreds of times over and it seems improbable that these huge creatures would have been able to consistently hide from human eyes.
Nikita Zimov, a Russian ecologist, is in charge of the Pleistocene Park in Yakutia, Russia. Zimov wants to recreate the environment in which ancient woolly mammoths lived. His eventual goal is to see woolly mammoths once again roaming the Planet Earth, just like they did thousands of years ago. Zimov regards the belief that mammoths are still alive in Russia as unsupported fiction, and instead turns to genetic science to try to bring them back to life.
Although there are quite a few Russian scientists interested in the possibility of bringing back extinct animals, such as the mammoth, there aren’t many who practice genetic science. Luckily for them, three teams around the world are busy trying to make this happen, one each in America, Japan, and South Korea. Zimov has partnered with these teams to provide them with mammoth fossils that still contain bone marrow. This is possible because most fossils in Russia are covered in a layer of permafrost that has preserved them perfectly, almost as if no time had passed.
While there is a lot of excitement surrounding the idea of bringing extinct creatures back to life, at this point it’s more a dream than a distinct possibility. Science has come nowhere near such a miraculous achievement to date.
But it is possible that one day humans might be able to see woolly mammoths roaming around Siberia again. If so, it will probably be the result of scientific advances, not because these animals were able to hide out in remote forests for 10,000 years. So, until science can bring mammoths back to life, these giant Ice Age creatures will have to live on in the stories we tell about them.
[Sources: Russia Beyond; LiveScience.com; National Geographic]