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14,000-Year-Old Dog Ate Woolly Rhino as its Last Meal

A 14,000-year-old mummified canine found in Tumat, Siberia, in 2011 has aided scientific research once again. This time around, scientists have discovered that the contents of the canine’s stomach include a piece of woolly rhinoceros tissue. Thanks, in part, to this finding, the scientists have been able to sequence the woolly rhino’s complete genome.

Inverse reported on the discovery, which helped scientists, including Edana Lord, a Ph.D. student at the Center for Paleogenetics, to sequence the woolly rhino’s genome. Lord, along with co-first-author, Nicolas Dussex, also at the Center, recently published their findings in Current Biology.

“As far as we know, it is very unusual to find tissue from another animal preserved in the stomach,” Lord told Inverse. “Although some studies have been done on plant remains from stomach contents,” she added.

According to Lord, the frozen Siberian soil preserves animals by acting like “a giant freezer” that keeps things cold for thousands of years. Dogor, a canine that roamed Earth around 18,000 years ago, also turned up in the Siberian permafrost.

DNA sequencing suggests the canine, who’s named Tumat after his place of discovery, ate bits of the woolly rhino shortly before he died. Previously, scientists thought that the tissue had belonged to a cave lion.

“Working on these sorts of specimens gives us a better understanding of what the ice age animals looked like,” Lord told Inverse. She added that well-preserved specimens that retain their tissue and fur have a relatively large amount of DNA. This DNA, in turn, provides insights into the genetic history of the super-old, and cold, creatures.

In regards to the woolly rhino genome, Lord et al. used it to determine what effects the arrival of humans, and climate change, had on the ancient beast’s population. And, shockingly enough—as of right now—it seems humans are not to blame for the woolly rhino’s extinction. The scientists have determined this based on the fact that there was no increase in interbreeding amongst the woolly rhinos after they encountered humans 30,000 years ago.

Rapid warming during the final stages of the last glacial period, on the other hand, likely did help lead to the woolly rhino’s demise.

Scientists found woolly rhino remains in a 14,000-year-old dog's stomach.

Public Library of Science

What do you think about this ancient canine with its belly full of woolly rhino remains? And what other ancient animals do you think are going to turn up in the Siberian tundra? Defrost your thoughts in the comments, people!

Feature image: Janet McKnight