As fans of the Ice Age franchise can tell you, there are few things more endearing than a woolly mammoth. Champions of the prehistoric proto-elephants have a new mascot this month, as a miner in the Klondike gold fields unearthed the remarkably preserved remains of a baby woolly mammoth from the permafrost. Located in the ancestral land of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin in Canada’s Yukon territory, the mammoth calf has been named Nun cho ga, meaning “big baby animal” in the Hän language, and represents a rallying point for many who are thrilled by the discovery.
“The Yukon has a world-renowned fossil record of ice age animals, but mummified remains with skin and hair are rarely unearthed,” said a press release. “Nun cho ga is the most complete mummified mammoth found in North America.”
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph was likewise affirmative about the event. “This is as a remarkable recovery for our First Nation, and we look forward to collaborating with the Yukon government on the next steps in the process for moving forward with these remains in a way that honours our traditions, culture, and laws,” she said.
“We are thankful for the Elders who have been guiding us so far and the name they provided,” Joseph continued. “We are committed to respectfully handling Nun cho ga as she has chosen now to reveal herself to all of us.”
Initial examination of the mammoth suggests she is female and similar in size to a 42,000-year-old infant mummy woolly mammoth, “Lyuba,” discovered in Siberia in 2007. Based on markers from the recovery site, geologists from the Yukon Geological Survey and University of Calgary believe that the calf died and was frozen in permafrost during the Ice Age, and is thus more than 30,000 years old. The outstanding preservation of the specimen includes much of her skin and hair intact, as well as pieces of grass in her stomach. This last finding could mean that the infant was grazing, and perhaps became trapped in mud, accounting for the completeness of her preservation.
“She has a trunk. She has a tail. She has tiny little ears. She has the little prehensile end of the trunk where she could use it to grab grass,” researcher Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for the Yukon territory, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“As an ice age paleontologist, it has been one of my life long dreams to come face to face with a real woolly mammoth,” Zazula remarked in a press statement. “That dream came true today. Nun cho ga is beautiful and one of the most incredible mummified ice age animals ever discovered in the world. I am excited to get to know her more.”
Nun cho ga is the best-preserved mummified woolly mammoth found in North America — and it seems as though everyone who has encountered her has been awestruck by the creature.
“It’s amazing,” said Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Peggy Kormendy. “It took my breath away when they removed the tarp. We must all treat it with respect. When that happens, it is going to be powerful and we will heal.”