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New study shows hyenas roamed Yukon

An artists rendering of ancient Arctic hyenas. Credit: Julius T. Csotonyi.

Yukon Palaeontologist Dr. Grant Zazula teamed up with an expert from the University of Buffalo on the study of two fossils found near Old Crow over 40 years ago.

A new study featuring two fossilized teeth found near Old Crow in the 1970s has confirmed ice age hyenas once roamed the Yukon.

The study published Tuesday was done by a hyena expert at the University of Buffalo on the urging of Yukon Palaeontologist Dr. Grant Zazula.

"These fossils remained in obscurity since the 1970s," Zazula said. "When the researchers found them from the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, they had an idea that maybe these were hyenas but there was a big question mark."

Zazula says this also answers the question about how hyenas lived in the southern United States. 

"Until this discovery and this identification of these teeth, there was no way to confirm this was the species that came through the Yukon," Zazula said. "This is the first physical evidence that we know of ancient hyenas crossing the Bering land bridge, and the first physical evidence of hyenas living above the Arctic Circle."

He says the question remains about why they went extinct. He believes the hyenas may have been out-competed by larger carnivores.

(Below: one of the two hyena fossils. Photo: Charlotte Hsu.)

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