Not many people can say they have seen a woolly mammoth. And it is even less likely you will have seen one in Hong Kong. But from now until May 10, everyone has the chance to meet Lyuba, the world's best-preserved mammoth mummy, on display at the IFC Mall in Central.
"I Love Lyuba: Baby Mammoth of the Ice Age" vividly brings the 40,000-year-old creature back to life. Interactive boards and replica statues allow viewers to envisage both the period of the ice age, and the scientific process undertaken by palaeontologists to learn more about the long-extinct species.
Sandie Ho Che-man, of the Stephen Hui Geological Museum at the University of Hong Kong, says Lyuba has been injected with chemicals and has 24-hour temperature control to keep her well preserved.
Lyuba means love in Russian. Scientists found her mother's milk and the remains of her last meal in Lyuba's stomach. "Because Lyuba is almost perfectly preserved, scientists can use her to find important clues about the places where mammoths used to live, and the reason why they disappeared 10,000 years ago," says Sandie Ho, of the Stephen Hui Geological Museum. "Scientists anticipate discovering even more from Lyuba."
Many people ask how Lyuba died. Scientists speculate that she could have drowned or suffocated in river mud.
A spirit omen
In the spring of May 2007, the sons of Nenets reindeer herder Yuri Khudi discovered the frozen body of Lyuba when collecting wood. Nenets believe mammoths are creatures from the underworld, and bring bad luck to anyone who finds them. Yuri faced a difficult situation - what should he do? Could the creature harm him? After consulting the spirits of a local shrine, he told authorities about Lyuba, and that's how we are able to see her today.
You might wonder how Lyuba has been so well preserved. First, she was frozen in a river bank and isolated from oxygen and micro-organisms that could cause her to decay. When she was found, the authorities moved quickly and she was sent to Tokyo for scientific examination. All the scientists wore sterile suits and masks to avoid contaminating Lyuba with modern microbes or DNA. After examining the mammoth, scientists extracted some of her tissue for research, then sucked the moisture from her body and injected her with chemicals. While she is on show, the temperature, humidity and lighting must be strictly controlled to ensure she is kept in an optimal environment. But something could have been done better - Lyuba's tail was chewed by dogs before she could be preserved.