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Do Mammoths Still Roam?

Creatures of the Frozen North

By Nick Redfern     October 04, 2008


Do Woolly Mammoths still roam?
© N/A
The Mammoth: a mighty creature that roamed the lonely wilds of North America, the expanses of Western Europe, and the harsh lands of northern Russia during the Pleistocene era, and which is generally accepted as having become extinct somewhere around the end of the last Ice Age.
 
Today, all we have left of this huge, majestic creature are a few well-preserved carcasses found embedded in icy tombs, and the various bone and tusk fragments that still continue to surface from time to time.
 
Could there, however, still possibly be more – maybe, much more - just waiting to be uncovered?
 
For years, intriguing and sensational rumors have surfaced to the effect that in some of the more remote parts of our world the Mammoth just might still exist, blissfully unaware of what such a shocking and jaw-dropping revelation would mean to the world’s zoological community.
 
And while such a scenario is certainly controversial, and completely derided by mainstream science, perhaps it is not entirely out of the question.
 
For example, the related Dwarf Mammoth of Wrangel Island – located in the Arctic Ocean - is known to have lived until approximately 1700 to 1500 BC, which is itself startling and highly illuminating.
 
But far more controversial are those claims suggesting that the Mammoth still walks the frozen tundra and forests of the north to this very day.
 
“Absolute nonsense!” some might say. Others, however, just might be inclined to argue with that assertion.
 
In the late 19th Century, for example, researcher Bengt Sjorgen learned that tales were both wildly and widely circulating in remote parts of Alaska about giant, hairy tusked creatures that lived deep under cover of the huge, ancient forests. Such reports of the “hairy elephants” in question extended to equally wild parts of both Canada and Siberia.
 
Similarly, in February 1888, the New Zealand-based Argus newspaper reported on the apparent discovery in Alaska of strange tracks that had been found by the Stick Indians in the vicinity of the White River.
 
The newspaper stated: “One of the Indians said that while hunting, he came across an immense track sunk several inches in the moss and larger around than a barrel. The Indian followed up the curious trail, and at last came in full view of his game.
 
“These Indians as a class are the bravest of hunters, but the immense proportions of this new kind of game filled the hunter with fear, and he took to swift and immediate flight. He described it as being larger than the post trader’s store, with great shining, yellowish tusks, and a mouth large enough to swallow him at a single gulp.”
 
Then, during October 1899, the story of one Henry Tukeman surfaced – a man who claimed to have killed a Mammoth that was subsequently donated to the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.
 
The tale was denounced as nothing more than a sensationalized hoax; however, some researchers still believe that it just might have a grain of truth to it, and that the hoax angle was possibly introduced to try and lay the controversy firmly to rest.
 
And also in the late 1800s, several reports of “large, shaggy beasts” were passed on to Russian authorities by Siberian tribesman, but no proof was ever forthcoming – some might say inevitably and conveniently.
 
The stories don’t end there, however.
 
French charge d’affaire, M. Gallon, was working in Vladivostok in 1946 and revealed that in 1920 he had met with a Russian fur-trapper who claimed to have seen living, “giant, furry elephants” deep in the taiga. Gallon added that the trapper appeared to have no previous knowledge of mammoths and seemingly had no reason to fake such a wild story.
 
A further sighting reportedly occurred during the Second World War when a Soviet Air Force pilot reported seeing a small herd of such creatures while he was flying over the frozen wastelands of Siberia.
 
So, does the legendary Mammoth of times past still exist? Or are all of the tales merely friend-of-a-friend accounts, myths, hoaxes, and misidentifications?
 
Personally, I have been fascinated – and perhaps, I’ll be the first to admit, slightly obsessed - by these stories for years. And, just like The X-Files said: I want to believe. I really do.
 
Of course, the skeptical part of my brain tells me that the Mammoth is an utterly dead creature; one whose existence came to a tragic and definitive end thousands of years ago – aside from in Sci-Fi Pictures’ Mammoth movie of 2006, and in this year’s production 10,000 BC, it could be argued.
 
But who can deny the appeal that stories like those I have cited above create in the minds of thrill-seekers everywhere? Certainly not me.
 
If there was one expedition I could go on, and if both funding and time were unlimited, it would be to the old stomping grounds of the Mammoth.
 
Okay, I know full well that the chances of actually finding a living, breathing Mammoth are beyond miniscule. But, as long as there is even the remotest of possibilities, I know I’ll never be truly satisfied until I go and seek out the creature for myself.
 
Until that day hopefully comes, like everyone else I can only continue to hope that, far from prying eyes, the Mammoth continues to walk the earth; utterly oblivious to the controversy it’s may be creating at Mania.com.
 
 
Nick Redfern is a full-time monster-hunter and the author of four books on the subject: Three Men Seeking Monsters; Memoirs of a Monster Hunter; Man-Monkey; and his new book: There’s something in the Woods.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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LittleNell1824 10/4/2008 8:11:07 AM
If there were living mammoths, they could only be found in the Russian Taiga, right? In the Canadian Taiga, there's so much logging that they would have discovered a herd of elephants by now. But in the stories above, they say that a living mammoth was found in Alaska, which granted isn't Canada, but don't we have a lot of logging in Alaska as well? I always assumed that these tales of living mammoths came from finding thawed remains. Like Oetzi, some of these remains are in pretty pristine condition for being a few thousand years old. I just can't imagine herds of giant plant eaters surviving in an area where the growing season is so short. Elk and Moose have the freedom of moving down into the steppes looking for food sources because they're not hiding from the crypto paparazzi.
NickRedfern 10/4/2008 10:17:31 AM
LittleNell: Yeah, if any of these things are still living now, there's no way they could be living in Alaska. You'll see from the article that the Alaskan stories date from - the latest - in the 1800s. So, if they weren't hoaxes, I'd have to say maybe they were there once, but no more. Russia, I think, would be the only possibility left now, and even that's a remote one. But I do find the 1800s and WW2 stories interesting. Maybe they were the final ones.
Raven1 10/4/2008 12:13:54 PM
I wish we could see the official reports of that Soviet pilot. It would be interesting to see if they had followed up on it in any way. Ive also heard rumors here and there that a frozen mammoth carcass was found sometime in the late 80's or early 90's,and was so well preserved that it's meat was actually prepared for a gathering of wealthy people willing to pay a hefty sum of money for the dish. Do you know of any truth to that? Great post Nick! -Raven
LittleNell1824 10/4/2008 2:44:00 PM
I agree with Raven that it would be interesting to read the original interview with the Russian pilot. I know things weren't great there after WWII. It wasn't exactly kind of place open to friendly expeditions of happy mammoth hunters. Another interest thing about this is that anytime someone comes across a dead mammoth they're just going to assume it's from the last ice age. They wouldn't immediately start looking for a nearby herd. It's only because Oetzi was human that people assumed he was recently dead. The Russian Taiga is enormous, so who knows. Maybe there would be enough food. Temperatures have been getting gradually warmer, so if a herd survived until WWII, wouldn't it be possible for it to still survive? Or did Russian hunters quietly hunt them down for fun, and the stories were simply lost to us.
snallygaster 10/5/2008 12:17:01 PM
I'd really like to see this happen... but I sincerely doubt that we'll ever see a live mammoth. They were creatures of the plains and tundra (as opposed to their smaller cousins the Mastodons, which were forest creatures), so most of the time they would be wandering in the open and visible to aircraft. Even remote areas of the north have a good deal of small aircraft traffic (since roads are not viable in much of those regions), and if there were any mammoth populations still around. I would think there would have been other sightings from aircraft since the WWII-era sighting. I remember when the news broke a few years ago about the Wrangal island Dwarf Mammoths (an apparent contradiction). As with most island animals, natural selection tends to decrease their size over the generations, leaving the mammoths stranded on the island about the size of hippos. Given that mammoth populations were thought to be extinct (at best) 8000 years ago, it was pretty exciting to realize that there were some mammoths roaming the planet at the dawn of man's earliest civilizations. And as somebody who has always had an interest in crypto-critters, it's always fascinating to hear about pockets of populations which survived long after their brethren have long since vanished. I'd love to see science uncover a similar pocket of surviving mammoths, but I really don't think it will happen. I wouldn't be surprised however, if we do see science manage to clone a mammoth, or perhaps a mammoth-elephant hybrid in our lifetimes, given the rapid advances in genetics. I think that's the most likely means by which we'll get to see these magnificent creatures first-hand.
almostunbiased 10/5/2008 2:23:31 PM
No mammoths, no way.
irascible 10/5/2008 8:47:56 PM
Come on almost: Bigfoot has to ride around on SOMETHING when he's not hanging out with the Loch Ness Monster.
almostunbiased 10/6/2008 1:50:18 PM
I never thought about it that way.
hikerfiend 10/9/2008 7:05:23 AM
In 1964, I talked to a 80 year old Ponca Indian in Nebraska. He claimed his grandfather was just a boy when the Ponca Indians killed a "pazzoo tonka" (big nose) in the Niobrara river bottoms. The author Louis L'amour had also heard these rumors and based his book "Jubal Sackett" on these Ponca claims. Were there mammoths surviving that late in history? I don't know but I don't think science has all the answers either. In this day and age with airplanes carrying heat seeking equipment that can tell a deer signature from a dog, I would think we would have discovered anything alive that big.
NickCryptidLover 11/17/2008 8:06:15 AM

Great article, Nick Redfern; makes me wish I'd written it myself.  I quite agree that mammoths might just possibly still exist, though it's only the tiniest chance - and that it would have to be in Asia,not America.  Here's my reasoning:

The sheer area of wilderness remaining in Siberia: 5570000 square km of taiga and 1338000 sqare km of tundra, totalling about 4 times the size of Alaska; and the fact that Siberia has a mean population density of only 3 people per square km, 70% of which are in fact concentrated in cities - does still leave room for a few mysteries.

I know that the periglacial steppe habitat which supported the vast mammoth herds of the Pleistocene no longer exists, as such; but mammoths survived previous interglacial periods, some of which were warmer than modern times. They must have been able to adapt - or at least persist in small numbers in the far north, where certains pockets of tundra and/or open taiga woodland might approximate their ice age vegetation. This could also be the case today. Although rapid climate change at the end of the last glaciation certainly decimated mammoth populations, I find it hard to believe that such a widespread and successful species would be completely wiped out - especially in a region where human hunting was, at worst, a sporadic threat.

The giant elephants of Bardia National Park in Nepal have a curiously mammoth-like appearance, considerably different from other Indian elephants; they were only recognised in the 1990s. Even if they are simply a deformed, inbred group, they prove that large, distinctive animals can still hide in the modern World.

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