Thai hairy mammoths

On December 6, 2000 came one of the more incredible media stories of the year. Australian news sources stated that Thai scientists were going into Thailand's northern jungles to investigate sightings of large hairy elephants resembling the long-extinct woolly mammoth. The search was triggered by the release of aerial photographs of the mysterious beasts taken by Princess Rangsrinopadorn Yukol, who has a keen interest in forest and wildlife conservation. The blurry images sparked excitement among those who believe the animals may be a new elephant species, or even long-lost descendents of the Pleistocene mammoth.

"I'm not absolutely convinced that the pachyderms are the same species as the mammoths, but I think the possibility is high," elephant specialist and veterinarian Prasit Molichart told The Nation newspaper. "This is a great discovery."

But other elephant experts dismissed the idea of a new species of pachyderm. "It's just not possible. There's no way that it's a new species," said Richard Lair from the Elephant Conversation Center in the northern town of Lampang. He noted that the supposed "mammoths" may be really just young elephants that have not completely shed their baby hair.

"When they're born, elephants almost always have a lot of hair. Some elephants keep the hair longer than others, and from what I saw in the photos, it looks like that was the case here," he said.