Though Lyuba was only one-month old when she died, her perfectly preserved body has provided paleontologists with more insight into the lives of woolly mammoths than any other remains found-to-date.
The baby mammoth's body was discovered in 2007, by reindeer herder Yuri Khud on the Yamal Peninsula in Northwestern Siberia. Realizing that he had found something important he contacted the authorities and they rushed to look for the baby, only to find it had been stolen!
Yuri's suspicion fell on his cousin, who had been seen riding his reindeer sled to the nearby town of Novvy Port. His hunch was right - the poor mammoth had been yanked from his frozen grave and now lay propped against a store wall to attract tourists. Yuri's cousin had apparently traded in little Lyuba (named after Yuri's wife), in exchange for two snowmobiles and a year's worth of food.
With the help of some local policemen, the museum director managed to rescue Lyuba and transport her to the safety of the Shemanovsky Museum in Salekhard, the regional capital.
Leading paleontologists from all over the world flew to Siberia to examine the remains of the baby mammoth, which lay in a refrigerated display case for the world to see. In December 2008, she was moved to Japan's, Jikei University School of Medicine, for further tests, that included a full body x-ray.
Among other things, the results reveled that Lyuba had most probably died by suffocating from some clay and mud that had entered her windpipes. Lyuba's entire journey has been captured by National Geographic in fascinating documentary entitled, 'Waking the Baby Mammoth'. The next airing is scheduled for May 3rd at 2.00pm - Be sure to watch it! To read more about Lyuba check out: Waking-the-Baby-Mammoth.
Woolly mammoths, whose closest current day relative is the Asian Elephant, were believed to have inhabited the Earth up to about 5,000 years ago. They were divided into two groups - one like Lyuba that lived in the Arctic and the other that were found in various other parts of the world, including California. The ones that lived in the Arctic had developed several adaptations to combat the cold, the most famous of which was the thick layer of shaggy hair, earning them the name 'woolly'. The mammoths also had extremely long tusks which could extend up to 16ft in length and were markedly more curved, than those of the modern elephant. Their eventual extinction is blamed on climate change, as well as, loss of habitat.