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Michigan Father and Daughter Discover Skeleton of Rare, Extinct Elk

A father and daughter discovered the skeleton of an extinct elk species while canoeing on a small lake in northern Michigan.

10-year-old Sonja Mohele and her father were out for a quick paddle in late april when they found something strange sticking out of the mud on the lake bottom. Mohele’s father used a fishing pole to retrieve the strange item.

“So he shoved it down there and he grabbed it and he pulled it up. And it was this giant vertebra and we were like, ‘What? Crazy!’” Mohele told Interlochen Public Radio.

The skeleton was so big that it nearly tipped over their canoe. Here’s the rack in all its glory:

Credit: Mohele Family
Credit: Mohele Family

In later spring, the Moheles took the skeleton to paleontologists at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to help them identify the animal. The scientists figured it was likely an Eastern elk – a species that went extinct in 1880 – but they were unable to determine its age.

So the Mohele family launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for carbon dating tests. The results came back this week. Here’s the verdict:

“There’s a 97.5 percent chance that it’s 1850 or older, which would put firmly into the range of the extinct Eastern elk,” said Lou Bender, a researcher at New Mexico State University.

Eastern elk were bigger than modern day elk. The last one was shot in 1877, and the species was declared extinct by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1880.

The Moheles want to do some more testing to see if the bones contain any DNA to be certain that it is an Eastern elk. They’ve launched another kickstarter campaign to raise more funds for additional tests. Click here to view their page.

What do you think about this discovery? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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Michigan Father and Daughter Discover Skeleton of Rare, Extinct Elk