Editor’s note: The Associated Press reported Des Moines University said journalists and other readers should disregard the news release about the wolf pup. The following is based on reports on the original release.
In 2016, Neil Loveless, a gold miner, stumbled upon a complete wolf mummy while blasting a wall of permafrost with a water cannon in search for riches in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
Immediately after its discovery, Loveless placed the mammal in a freezer until paleontologists could look it over, National Geographic reports.
In a study recently published by Des Moines University, paleontologists revealed the well-preserved animal was a juvenile female and a member of a vanished ecosystem from the Pleistocene epoch, a time when northwestern Canada’s wildlife featured mastodons and other megafauna.
(Editor’s note: The Associated Press later reported that Des Moines University said journalists and other readers should disregard the news release — titled “Ancient wolf pup mummy uncovered in Yukon permafrost” — issued earlier today Dec. 18, 2020, over GlobeNewswire. It’s unclear why the press release was disregarded.)
The pup was reportedly named Zhùr, meaning ‘wolf’ in the Hän language, by the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people, USA Today reports.
“The specimen holds special significance for the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people, who have agreed to place Zhùr on display at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse,” a news release stated, according to USA Today.
“(Zhùr) is the most complete and the oldest mummy of a wolf that has ever been found,” Julie Meachen, an associate professor of anatomy at Des Moines University, said. “It’s really rare, actually, to have these kind of mummies in North America. They’re much more common from Siberia.”
According to National Geographic, Zhùr seems to have died during a den collapse, and the rapid burial facilitated the exceptional preservation of her body. Other mammals from this epoch, like Arctic ground squirrels and black-footed ferrets, have also been discovered preserved in the same manner. Meachen states this process essentially “freeze-dried” the pup’s body.
An analysis of the pup’s genome revealed she’s a descendant “from ancient wolves from Russia, Siberia and Alaska, who are the ancestors of modern wolves as well,” the release states, according to USA Today. Studies also revealed that, before her untimely death, the pup had recently transitioned from weening to eating more solid foods like fish, according to National Geographic.
Animal behavior during the Pleistocene period is still largely a mystery for paleontologists, but discoveries like Zhùr offer important clues and provide researchers with renewed energy.
“I mean, upon seeing her, I was so floored by how beautifully preserved she is,” Meachen said (via USA Today)