A 10-second video has surfaced recently of a supposed woolly mammoth crossing a stream in Siberia. In this day of cell phone cameras and computer generated images, cryptozoological videos of various cryptids are a weekly phenomenon. Most are obvious hoaxes or/and not distinct enough to make any kind of identification possible; and most are forgotten quickly. This video showing a large blurry animal with what may or not be tusks has gone mainstream in a big way. I myself saw it referenced on Moviefone while I was looking at show-times for Underworld Awakening (don’t judge me it has Kate Bekinsale in it).
There is perhaps no more romantic idea in Cryptozoology than the survival of woolly mammoths into modern times. Personally I do not believe the video to be authentic. It looks to me like a bear with something in its mouth, possibly a fish. All that being said, the extension of the mammoth lineage past the end of the ice age is not as crazy as it sounds. There has indeed been sightings in Siberia well into the 20th century, and actually a few from Alaska in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Let’s be clear I am not stating that mammoths are living in Alaska today, I do not believe that they are. However, the survival in Siberia is not an impossibility, and perhaps a small population could have survived in Alaska as recently as the early 1900’s. When the two areas were connected via the Bering land bridge at the end of the last ice age, this was part of the same ecological niche. As we know Alaska and Siberia are not very far apart, since some people in Alaska can see Siberia from their back yard.
The fossil record will tell you that mammoths went extinct with the rest of the megafauna at the end of the last ice age, 12000 years ago. That date as been somewhat adjusted for mammoths when fossils were found on the Siberian island of Wrangel dating to around 2,500 BC, and on St. Paul Island, Alaska dating to 3,750 BC. These animal were reduced in size due to island dwarfism. Island dwarfism, also called insular dwarfism, is when in a finite environment such as an island, large animals become smaller due to limited resources. Now, back to Siberia; could a population of woolly mammoths have survive into modern times?
The Siberian Taiga is the largest forest in the world at almost 3 million square miles. It is scarcely populated and very remote, and video aside, reports of large “hairy elephants” emanate out of Siberia from time to time. One of the more credible stories dates to 1918 when a Russian hunter came upon huge tracks that he could not identify. Intrigued, he decided to follow them, and deeper in the forest he went. For days he followed these large unusual tracks and a considerable amount of dung, until he arrived at a clearing where he could finally observe the animals responsible for the tracks. There were two of them. He had seen elephants in photographs and that is what they looked like to him; even though he had not imagined them so big, he would later admit. He described two big white curved tusks and a dark body with long chestnut color covered hair. The hunter told his story in 1920 to M.L Gallon, in charge of the French Consulate in Vladivostok. Gallon when he later recounted the tale found it amusing that the hunter did not know what a mammoth was, and simply stated that he saw two hairy elephants. Local tradition dating back to the 1500’s call the animal “the mountain of meat”.
As far as Alaska is concerned, there is an interesting story from 1896 written up in the Portland Press. It concerns a Col.
C.F Fowler and then Governor Swineford of Alaska. Fowler worked for the Alaskan Fur and Commercial Company and mention that he was given tusks by natives that appeared to be from a recent kill. Surprised, he inquired about what sort of animal had been killed. He was given the description of what he called a mastodon. The article also goes to quote Governor Swineford where he says, “There are mastodons on several high plateaus of the Alaskan interior”
I cannot comment on the veracity of the Alaskan reports. There are other reports beside the one I just mentioned, usually dealing with descriptions of a mammoth like animal by native Americans or/and hunters. Siberia on the other hand is a much more appealing option in terms of modern day survival; especially in light of more recent sightings. From a biological standpoint, there is ample room and enough resources for a breeding population to survive into the 20th and perhaps even the 21st century.