National Geographic : 2009 May
In life Lyuba was covered with hair, but only traces of her undercoat remained (top). Layers of coarse hairs would have protected this woolly insulation, forming a dense coat that could combat minus 20°F temperatures. As she aged she would have developed cracks in her soles (above) to provide traction in snow, while eshy pads behind her toes would have cush- ioned her steps---a vital trait had she reached an adult weight of six tons. found her there in May 2007, before the spring ice-out. Unless she had risen from the under- world and walked up onto the bar on her own, the only explanation was that she had broken out of the permafrost and come to rest there nearly a year before she was discovered, during the ice- out of June 2006. To Fisher, standing on the spot two years later, it just didn t make sense. "She d have been lying on this riverside all that time," he said to Buigues, "including an entire summer exposed to the sun. So why hasn t she decomposed or been scavenged?" Fisher and Buigues had done what they could to understand the circumstances of the calf s death and mysterious preservation. Further answers would have to come from Lyuba herself. On June 4, 2008, in a genetics laboratory in St. Petersburg, Russia, Fisher, Buigues, Suzuki, Alexei Tikhonov, and other colleagues, dressed in white Tyvek suits and surgical masks, began a marathon, three-day series of tests and surgical procedures on Lyuba. As she lay on a Plexiglas light table in the middle of the room, Suzuki inserted an endoscope into her abdominal cav- ity, to explore an open space he d seen during the CT scan. Other scientists used an electric drill to take a core sample of the hump of fat on the back of her neck, searched for mites in her ears and hair, cut into her abdomen, and removed sections of her intestine to study what she had been eating. Finally, on the third day, Fisher cut into Lyuba s face and extracted a milk tusk, as well as four premolars. Initially the researchers kept her frozen by surrounding her with plastic tubs of dry ice. Later, to facilitate the more invasive procedures, they allowed her to slowly thaw out, carefully monitoring her for signs of putrefaction. As her esh warmed, Fisher noticed an odd, slightly sour smell, which he found familiar but couldn t quite place. "Like everybody else, I was su er- ing from sensory overload," he remembers. "We ■ Society Grant This project was funded in part by your National Geographic Society membership.