Scientists analyzing the remains of a well-preserved Ice Age puppy uncovered an unexpected find inside its stomach: a bit of what may be one of the last woolly rhinos.
In 2011, Russian researchers discovered the preserved, hairy carcass of the canine — which might be a dog or a wolf — at a location in Tumat,
Siberia. A hairy bit of tissue was found inside the 14,000-year-old puppy’s stomach. Because of its beautiful yellow fur, experts initially concluded the piece belonged to a cave lion.
However, examinations conducted by scientists at Stockholm’s Natural History Museum revealed a different story. “When they received the DNA back, it didn’t seem like a cave lion,” Love Dalen, a professor of evolutionary genetics at Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History, told CNN.
“We have a reference database and mitochondrial DNA from all mammals, so we checked the sequence data against that and the results that came back — it was an almost perfect match for woolly rhinoceros,” Dalen said.
“It’s completely unheard of. I’m not aware of any frozen Ice Age carnivore where they have found pieces of tissue inside,” he said. Experts estimated that the rhino skin was around 14,400 years old after radiocarbon dating the sample.
“This puppy, we know already, has been dated to roughly 14,000 years ago. We also know that the woolly rhinoceros goes extinct 14,000 years ago. So, potentially, this puppy has eaten one of the last remaining woolly rhinos,” he said.
Scientists are baffled as to how the puppy ended up with a rhino horn in its stomach. According to Edana Lord, a Ph.D. student at the Centre for Palaeogenetics who co-authored a paper on the extinction of the woolly rhino, the animals would have been around the same size as the modern-day white rhino, making it improbable that the puppy killed the beast.
The researchers were especially intrigued by the fact that the puppy perished quickly after eating the rhino. “This puppy must have died very shortly after eating the rhino because it’s not very digested,” Dalen told CNN.
“We don’t know if it was a wolf, but if it was a wolf cub, maybe it came across a baby rhino that was dead, or the (adult) wolf ate the baby rhino,” he speculated. “Maybe as they were eating it, the mother rhino had her revenge.”