A well-preserved wolf pup has been recovered from permafrost in the Yukon Territory of northern Canada, revealing new details about how ancient wolves spread across North America and Eurasia.
In the summer of 2016, a gold miner in Canada’s Yukon Territory found an unexpected treasure. While blasting a wall of permafrost with a water cannon to release whatever riches might be found inside, Neil Loveless saw something melting out of the ice. It wasn’t a precious mineral, but the oldest and most complete wolf mummy ever discovered.
Loveless quickly placed the frozen pup in a freezer until paleontologists could have a look. They found that the well-preserved animal was a juvenile female, part of a vanished ecosystem dating to a time when northwestern Canada was home to American mastodons and other Pleistocene megafauna. The local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people named the 57,000-year-old pup Zhur, meaning “wolf” in the language of their community.
Exceptional mammals have been recovered from the Siberian tundra that also date back to the Pleistocene epoch, a period from about 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago also sometimes called the Ice Age, because the ice caps at the poles were much larger than today. However, finding such an intact wolf in the Yukon is unprecedented.