Pleistocene Extinctions

Mammoth mummy makes HK debut

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2012, 12:00am

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Five men lifted Lyuba from her storage box. Hands sheathed in white gloves, they gingerly raised the 42,000-year-old remains of the woolly mammoth calf at a storage facility in Chai Wan yesterday.

'She feels hard, not soft at all,' said Thomas Yuen, the managing director of Michelle Art Services, who is more used to handling works of art than mummified corpses.

Lyuba's grey hide is wrinkled and bare, stripped of the shaggy fur that characterised the extinct species. The tip of her trunk is forever curled.

This is how she lay for millennia, pickled in silt and water and frozen solid under the permafrost, deep in the Siberian Arctic. Then, in 2007, a reindeer herder from the Nenet indigenous people found her - the best-preserved baby woolly mammoth specimen ever found.

She now finds herself in Hong Kong and, from tomorrow, in IFC Mall in Central.

'We're trying to bring art and culture to the people,' said Peter Cook, director at the Globecreative marketing firm. The company worked with the International Finance Centre to stage the exhibition 'I love Lyuba: Baby Mammoth of the Ice Age'. The exhibition runs from tomorrow to May 10 on IFC's podium level.

'Ever since we read about her in National Geographic, we've been wanting to bring her here,' said Karen Chang, another director at Globecreative. 'It's taken months of negotiations [with the Russian government].'

Lyuba will be joined by a 17-metre-high mammoth skeleton, skulls of other extinct Ice Age mammals and costumes of the Nenet people who found her. Experts estimate woolly mammoths went extinct around 4,000 years ago.

'Woolly mammoths lived all over the world - in Europe, Asia, North America - but only those in Russia were preserved well because we have permafrost,' said Galina Karzanova, research collaborator at Russia's Shemanovsky Museum, which is lending Lyuba to Hong Kong.

Lyuba herself was a healthy, one-month-old calf who probably drowned, sucked in by a muddy bank that ultimately preserved her. Her preservation has helped scientists learn more about her species, and how they lived, by examining her stomach contents and the growth patterns on her tusks.

'She ate her mother's poo to help her digestion, like many modern elephants do,' Karzanova said.

Cook said: 'We encourage people to come and learn about vanishing species, and the importance of conservation. The next to go might be lions, tigers and elephants.'