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Looking pretty good at the age of 34,0004 min read

January 4, 2021 4 min read

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Looking pretty good at the age of 34,0004 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Look at this animal right here. What do you think it is?

Rhino | Species | WWF
Image: WWF


A rhinoceros? You are absolutely right.
Now, put this image together.

That’s a rhinoceros of the past, wooly and tens of thousands of years old. Scientists estimate that this recently discovered carcass is likely between 20000 and 50000 years old.

An exciting discovery

So why is this relic of a creature in the news today? Well, the reason is both exciting and absolutely terrifying. On the one hand, researchers in Russia have made the most amazing discovery. In the melted permafrost of a northern Russian River, fossil scientist Valery Plotnikov has found a young extinct rhino with most of its organs intact! Although the rhino is most certainly not alive, its intact condition will open up ginormous discoveries about the planet’s past.

Scientists say these woolly rhino remains will be taken to a laboratory for radiocarbon investigation next year
The wooly rhino embedded in the river beneath the melted permafrost. Image: The Guardian

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: Scientists previously found a wooly rhino,Sasha, near the very same River Tirekhtyakh in 2014. Sasha, the scientists estimated, was 34,000 years old.

Just by looking at it, Plotnikov was able to gauge that the rhino was 3-4 years old and most likely died by drowning. Moreover, the rhino is between 10,000 and 50,000 years old.

The woolly rhino, from Siberia’s Yakutia region
The discovered wooly rhino, photographed soon after it was found. Image: The Guardian

The rhino’s cells will be perfect for researchers to study as soon as the roads are cleared of ice, and it can be transported to a lab. Scientists can understand evolution better, reimagine history, and may even be able to clone the creature’s cells. Perhaps one day, they will clone the creature itself. Although I must admit, the idea is a bit too Victor Frankenstein-like for me.

Owliver’s Obscure Observation: Scientists recently found that rapid climate change and the hunting of larger animals were the primary reasons for the extinction of the wooly mammoth. Learn all about the history of extinction here.

A terrifying angle

A woolly Rhinoceros’ skeleton. Image: Smithsonian Magazine

On the other hand-yes that fated climate change hand is back- the melting of the permafrost indicates extreme climate change. The permafrost in the arctic holds several times more carbon than the entire planet! Fortunately, due to the permanently frozen state of the land this carbon has remained trapped and hasn’t heated up the atmosphere. But as the ice melts, its trapped greenhouse gases will gradually enter the atmosphere, heat it up further and cause even more ice to melt.

Strange lake belches flammable gas in the high Arctic | Science News for  Students
Scientists light a match over a spot in the ice where methane is being released. The air catches fire as the methane gas present in that region is highly flammable.

Furthermore, the carcasses that are trapped in the ice host dormant viruses that could spread to humans. Some of these viruses could even be deadly. In fact, recently, an extinct animal found in the permafrost had traces of the smallpox virus in its cells. This lethal virus has previously been eradicated through vaccines and a sustained global effort. No one would like to fathom the devastation that could be caused by a renewed onslaught of the disease.

Click on this image to learn about how you can reduce the carbon you send into this world.

Let’s make Permafrost permanent again

So, all things considered, we found a wooly rhinoceros, but we were also reminded of a pressing issue. While all this may get you feeling sick and nervous, do not worry, a lot is being done to remedy the planet, and there is even more that you can do. So, remember, while innovation and human action have brought some wooly rhinos to our attention, we can also keep the rest of these furry giants hidden away. In permafrost, for the ages to come.

With Excerpts From: Smithsonian Magazine, The Guardian, The Hindu, National Geographic

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