Legendary EiepHANT-like animal of Siberia and East Asia.
Etymology: Wor d common t o Yakut (Tur kic), Khanty (Ob-Ugric), and Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan) peoples, meaning "underground animal."
Variant names: Fén-shu (Chinese/Sino-Tibetan, "underground rat"), Jukhensinggher i (in Mongolia, "rat beneath the ice"), Kilu kpuk (Yupik/Eskimo-Aleut, "Kilu whale"), Shu-mu (Chinese/Sino-Tibetan, "rat mother"), Tai-shu, Tuilu (Itelmen/Chukotko-Kamchatkan), Xol-hut (Yukagir/Paleosiberian), Yen-shu (Chinese/Sino-Tibetan, "self-concealing rat ").
Physical description: Large as an elephant. Grayish-red hair. Tiny eyes. Tusks. Short tail.
Behavior: Lives underground. Digs t unnels in t he snow. It s wander ings ar e said t o cause ear t h-quakes.
Tracks: Oval. Width, 2 feet. Length, 18 inches. Spaced 12 feet apart.
Habitat: Pine and birch forests, tundra.
Distribution: Siberia; Mongolia; China.
Significant sightings: In 1581, the Cossack leader Yermak Timofeyevich reported meeting up wit h a hairy elephant east of t he Ural Mountains
A Russian hunter came across enormous tracks in a forested region near the Obskaya Gulf, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Province, Siberia, in 1918. The prints were 24 inches long and 18 inches wide, with a stride of 12 feet. He found large droppings consisting of vegetable matter and noticed tree branches at a height of 9-10 feet that were apparently damaged by the animal's passing. After several days of tracking, he sight ed t wo huge elephant s wit h whit e, curved t usks and dark-chest nut hair t hat was longer on t he flanks and shor t er in fr ont.
Possible explanation: A myth based on the subfossil remains of the Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), an elephant that lived in Eur ope, Asia, and Nor t h Amer ica at t he end of the last Ice Age. It was covered with thick, spiral locks of black or dark-brown guard hairs above shorter, silkier under wool. With a shoulder height of 9-12 feet, it s weight has been estimated at 4-7 tons. Both males and females had t usks.
Rumors of mammoth survival seem primarily to be based upon subfossil specimens 40,000-10,000 years old found frozen in the permafrost, with muscles, skin, and hair intact. Carcasses found in defrosting peat by Siberian nomads may have been interpreted as contemporaneous fauna that lived underground. The observations of 1581 and 1918 are isolated and not strong evidence of the animal's persistence int o hist or ical t imes.
The most famous finds of frozen mammoths in the Siberian permafrost are: the Adams or Lena mammot h, discover ed in 1799 in t he Lena River delta, Sakha Republic (35,000 years old); the Berezovka mammoth, found in 1900 along the Berezovka River, Sakha Republic (40,000-30,000 years old); the Taymyr mammoth, recovered in 1949 (13,000 years old); the Dima mammot h, a complet e car cass of a 6- to 12-mo nth-old baby discovered in 1979 on the mamantu 311
Kirgilyakh River, Magadan Region (40,00026,000 years old); a mummified baby mammoth, less than three months old, found in 1988; and the Jarkov mammoth, discovered in 1997 near the Bolchaya Balakhnya River, Taymyr Autonomous Province, and excavated nearly intact in 1999 by Bernard Buigues (20,000 years old). The Heilongjiang Province of China contains dozens of mammoth finds.
In the Crimea and the Caucasus, mammoths became extinct about 30,000-20,000 years ago; on the Russian plain, they were still present about 13,000 years ago. Based on radiocarbon dating, the latest mammoth remains found in Western Europe (northern France, Switzerland, and Great Britain) also date to 13,000-12,000 years ago.
Radiocarbon dating of teeth, tusks, and bones of dwarf mammoths found on Wrangel Island, Chukot Autonomous Province, between 1989 and 1991 proved that some mammoths survived into historical times, until about 2,000 b.c With a shoulder height of only 6 feet and weighing only 4,400 pounds, these isolated animals constitute a distinct subspecies (M. p. vrangeliensis).
Sources: "Observations de physique et histoire naturelle de l'Empereur Kang-hi," in Mémoires concernant l'histoire, les sciences, les arts, les moeurs, les usages, &c, des Chinois: Par les missionnaires de Pékin (Paris: Nyon, 1776-1791), vol. 4, p. 481; Mikhail Adams, "Relation d'un voyage à la mer glaciale et découverte des restes d'un mammouth," Journal du Nord32, suppl. (1807): 633-640, 621-628 (pages misnumbered); Edward Newman, "The Mammoth Still in the Land of the Living," Zoologist, ser. 2, 8 (1873): 3731-3733; "Chinese Accounts of the Mammoth," American Naturalist 24 (1890): 847-850; Waldemar Jochelson, "Some Notes on the Traditions of the Natives of North-Eastern Siberia about the Mammoth," American Naturalist 43 (1909): 48-50; I. P. Tolmachoff, "The Carcasses of the Mammoth and Rhinoceros Found in the Frozen Ground in Siberia," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new ser. 23, pt. 1 (1929): 1-74; Eugen W. Pfizenmayer, Siberian Man and Mammoth (London: Blackie and Sons, 1939); Marcel Marmet, "A la recherche des traces des derniers mammouths," Science et Vie 77 (January
1950): 10-12; Bernard Heuvelmans, On the Track of Unknown Animals (New York: Hill and Wang, 1958), pp. 330-353; Nikolai K. Vereshchagin and V. M. Mikhel'son, Magadanskii mamontenok: Mammuthus primigenius (Blumenbach) (Leningrad: Nauka, 1981); N. K. Vereshchagin and G. F. Baryshnikov, "Quaternary Mammalian Extinctions in Northern Eurasia," in Paul S. Martin and Richard G. Klein, eds., (Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1984), pp. 483-516; Gary Haynes, Mammoths, Mastodonts, and Elephants: Biology, Behavior, and the Fossil Record (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991); S. L. Vartanyan, Kh. A. Arslanov, T. V. Tertychnaya, and S. B. Chernov, "Radiocarbon Dating Evidence for Mammoths on Wrangel Island, Arctic Ocean, until 2000 B.c," Radiocarbon 37 (1995): 1-6; Raising the Mammoth (video) (Discovery Channel, 2000); Land of the Mammoth (video) (Discovery Channel, 2001); Richard Stone, Mammoth: The Resurrection ofan Ice Age Giant (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus, 2001).
Mamba Mutu Merbeing of Central Africa.
Etymology: From the Swahili (Bantu) mamba mtu ("crocodile man").
Variant name: Mamba muntu. Physical description: Half human, half fish. Behavior: Sucks human blood and eats brains. Distribution: Lake Tanganyika and Lukuga River, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Possible explanations:
(1) Isolated population of the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis), though these animals are herbivorous.
(2) An unknown species of giant otter with a flat skull, suggested by zoologist Carlos Bonet.
Sources: Carlos Bonet, "Le mamba mutu: Un carnivore aquatique dans le lac Tanganyika?" Cryptozoologia, no. 10 (January 1995): 1-5; Karl Shuker, "Bloodsucking Mermaids and Vampire Fishes," Strange Magazine, no. 15 (Spring 1995): 32-33.
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