Mammoth project to be a hit at EXPO 2005

Every toy, including impressive technological masterpieces, will eventually become unpopular. Visitors to EXPO 2005, the first global cultural event in the 21st century, will be able to see a robot jazz orchestra, the first thermonuclear reactor, an interactive Alpine mountain and the human genome, the ultimate secret. However, all the exhibits will pale in comparison to the head of the Yukagir wooly mammoth, which will apparently be the hit of Expo 2005 and become its symbol. The wooly mammoth was found in Yakutia (northeastern Russia). Yakutia's authorities hope that the international community will now become interested in the potential paleontological discoveries in the area.

This unique discovery was named after Yukagir, a village near the Muksunuokha River in Yakutia's Ust-Yansky district. Two school students found the wooly mammoth by chance in November 2002. The layer of permafrost on the coast of the Arctic Ocean completely preserved the 40-year-old wooly mammoth, who roamed the region several million years ago. The mammoth's tusks, skin, wool and eyes are all completely intact. Wooly mammoths, the ancestors of modern elephants, witnessed the pristine beauty of our planet and coexisted with prehistoric man during the Stone Age.

The Japanese initiated this project. Professor Akio Etori of Edogawa University helped enthusiasts to attract the Expo 2005 organizing committee's attention. The members of the committee were eventually convinced that the wooly mammoth was totally in keeping with the exhibition's main theme: "Nature's Wisdom." Initially, the entire mammoth was going to be shipped to the exhibition. However, this idea was abandoned because of transportation problems and exorbitant exploration and work costs. Consequently, only the wooly mammoth's two-meter head will be brought to the exhibition.

On January 16, 2004, Alexander Akimov, the vice president of the Sakha-Yakutia republic, and Toshio Nakamura, the secretary-general of the Japanese association that is organizing EXPO 2005, signed a cooperation memorandum that stipulates joint efforts to translate the "mammoth project" into reality. A contract on the Yakut discovery's joint scientific and commercial use was concluded on the basis of existing accords and signed by President Vyacheslav Shtyrov of the Sakha-Yakutia Republic, Arthur Chilingarov, a deputy speaker of the Russian State Duma, Frederick Paulson, a representative of Siri-SV. The Russian side demanded that the unique exhibit be placed near the pavilion to attract visitors. Apart from the mammoth's head, visitors will be able to view a mammoth skeleton that the Paleontology Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences assembled especially for EXPO-2005.

Several other "mammoth project" documents have been signed since then. According to one such document, the Japanese pledged to preserve the Yukagir mammoth and to return it after the exhibition.

Japan is also prepared to finance the project and make a film about the excavation of the carcass from the permafrost layer. However, the specifics of the distribution of the movie have not been clarified yet. The Yukagir mammoth has been declared Yakut's historical and cultural asset. Yakutia owns all the rights, including the film distribution rights, to the mammoth.

A special working group is attempting to implement this program. Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences, experts from Yakutia's Mammoth Museum, staff members of the Institute of Applied Arctic Environmental Problems (Yakut Academy of Sciences), as well as Japanese researchers, are already working on excavations near Yukagir. Booklets and prospectuses listing scientific information about the exhibit are currently being printed. Work is on schedule to build a special refrigerator to store the wooly mammoth's head. A large amount of effort and time is needed to deliver the head to the exhibition. However, there is no doubt that the Yukagir mammoth head will be displayed at EXPO 2005. A Tupolev Tu-154 airplane of the Yakutian airlines will deliver this unique exhibit to Japan.

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