PUY-EN VELAY, FRANCE – A baby woolly mammoth, one of the oldest intact mammoths every found, is now on display in a French museum.
Baby Khroma, as the mammoth has been named, had spent tens of thousands of years under the Siberian frost and now is taking a summer break in the southeast of France. Baby Khroma is 80-centimeter-high, 1.6-meter-long (1-foot-high, 5-foot-long) prehistoric mammal may be the oldest baby mammoth ever discovered. Carbon dating methods failed to determine its age, suggesting it is more than 50,000 years old, said French researchers and Sergei Gorbunov, project coordinator for the Geneva-based International Mammoth Committee. Russian news reports have said it is 32,000 years old.
The mammoth is Khroma is on display at the Musee Crozatier in Puy-en-Velay in a special cryogenic chamber kept at -18 degrees C (-0.40 Fahrenheit).
Such mammoths offer scientists the opportunity to do analysis that they cannot carry out on skeletons, such as studying stomach contents and fur. Putting them on display gives a broader public a tangible link to the prehistoric past. Baby Khroma was dug out last year from the Yakutia region in Siberia and was brought to France as part of a Franco-Russian cross-cultural event.
The mammoth was delayed by three weeks after concerns surfaced about the transfer of an animal that might contain lethal bacteria. Russia’s chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, said the mammoth died of anthrax, according to Russian news reports. Russian scientists carried out further study of the risks involved, and the trip was given the go-ahead, Gorbunov said.
After arriving in France, Khroma went to a special conservation facility in Grenoble, where it underwent gamma ray treatment for eliminating any potentially lethal bacteria. The presence of anthrax could not be confirmed from the first studies, but the treatment was used as a precaution, said the museum’s paleontologist, Frederic Lacombat. “It will undergo further isotope analysis in France to try to pin down its age – and its gender, up to now unclear.”
“It’s a unique discovery,” Gorbunov told The Associated Press by telephone. “Any discovery of a new mammoth gives us new scientific information about prehistory.”
Similar enthusiasm was felt six months ago in the United States when a 42,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth named Lyuba arrived at the Field Museum in Chicago, where it is still on display. The practically intact specimen, discovered in 2007 in Siberia as well, is the best-preserved of her kind, according to researchers.