The Fishhook mammoth, fur and sediments included, was saved just in time/at the last minute by the Mammuthus team in 2001, as it lay in a flood liable area after the passage of a team of Japanese reporters who had partly cut it into pieces.
Fishhook saved from the waters
Discovered for the first time in 1990 by a local inhabitant of Khatanga in the Taimyr Peninsula, this specimen only became known to the public ten years later, with a great part of his skeleton gone missing… A paleontological odyssey.
When a team of Japanese reporters came near it in 1992 near the river where it lay, Fishhook’s tusks had already gone missing: their precious ivory had been sold by the first discoverer. The reporters then proceeded to extract the easily accessible parts of its anatomy – bones and tissues – from the mud, in order to take them to Japan. According to the Russian scientific community, that excavation was a complete massacre. A year later, back on the excavation site, the same team would discover its mammoth submerged by the river; as the waters had gone up, the mammoth seemed lost for all and forever.
… and a fishing trip
In August 2000, years after the scandal, Taymir National Park director Sergei Pankevitch spotted the mammoth again while conducting an inspection of the flooded area with his fishing equipment. Attached to his fishhook were mammoth hairs! The Taimyr mammoth was thus baptized after this anecdote.
In the following month of May the water had turned to ice, which permitted an easier access to the area. The Mammuthus team then set about collecting what could be salvaged of the remains, despite tough weather conditions and a two-meter-thick layer of snow.
Last minute rescue
What was left of the remains was located thanks to a geophysical surface radar, under the control of a BRGM specialist from Orleans. After several weeks of tricky excavation, a block of soil weighing more than a ton could be transported by helicopter to Khatanga in order to be studied and conserved in the Mammuthus storage facility.
This bloc, constituted of permafrost and compacted mammoth bones, turned out to contain most of the vertebrae, which were in anatomical order with connected ribs, a part of the intestine, muscular tissues, and some of the animal’s fur.
A venerable male
Although being in poor condition, the scientists studying Fishhook could establish him as a venerable male specimen measuring 2,60 meters from shoulder to foot, deceased at the age of 55. But Fishhook’s intestine concealed a greater surprise: the presence of larch needles inside it indicated that twenty thousand years ago, the northern limit of the forest was 200km further to the North than it is today.