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A baby mammoth, a 'genius' raven, and a black lynx — meet the North's animal newsmakers of 2022

Some of the northern animals that made news in 2022: Léon, the Iditarod sled dog who disappeared into the wild for 3 months; a raven that joined a road trip down the Dempster Highway; and a young moose that tumbled into an Alaska basement. (CBC - image credit)
Some of the northern animals that made news in 2022: Léon, the Iditarod sled dog who disappeared into the wild for 3 months; a raven that joined a road trip down the Dempster Highway; and a young moose that tumbled into an Alaska basement. (CBC - image credit)

CBC North publishes hundreds of online stories every year and in many of our most-read and best-loved stories, there's a critter involved.

Animal stories — whether funny, heart-warming, or awe-inspiring — can offer a great escape from the grimmer headlines that often dominate the news.

Here are some of our favourite northern animal tales from this past year.

Perfectly-preserved baby mammoth in Yukon

The northern animal that easily grabbed the most worldwide attention this year was also the oldest — in fact, it's been dead for tens of thousands of years.

The baby woolly mammoth — named Nun cho ga — was discovered in June by a miner in the gold fields near Dawson City.

Yukon miners are routinely digging up fossils, bones and mammoth tusks, but this was something else — a rare near-complete specimen, easily identifiable as a mammoth, with a trunk, tail, ears, the works.

Government of Yukon
Government of Yukon

An ecstatic Grant Zazula, a Yukon government paleontologist, called it the "most important discovery in paleontology in North America."

"She's perfect and she's beautiful," he said.

The 'genius' ride-along raven

Northerners know all about ravens and how clever they can be. But that didn't make one couple's experience on the Dempster Highway in December any less awesome.

Alex Lavoie and his girlfriend Jodi Young were heading south on the snowy highway in northern Yukon when they were suddenly joined by a raven. The bird didn't just swoop into view and then disappear again, though — it flew along with the couple's vehicle for about 45 minutes. It even made a pit stop with them along the way.

Alex Lavoie/YouTube
Alex Lavoie/YouTube

Lavoie figures the bird was just catching a ride on the vehicle's draft.

"My girlfriend is seeing it as more of a spiritual event," Lavoie said. "I see it as just a really genius bird."

The moose chilling in an Alaska basement

Honestly, who hasn't at one point or another unwittingly stumbled into a strange situation with no easy exit? That's why the predicament of one Alaska moose last fall resonated with so many readers.

The year-old animal had apparently been munching away on some vegetation near a house in Soldotna in November when it stumbled into a window well then tumbled through the glass and into someone's basement.

Capt. Josh Thompson/Central Emergency Services/AP
Capt. Josh Thompson/Central Emergency Services/AP

Wildlife officials and firefighters were called to tranquilize the hapless animal before carrying it — sedate but still awake and looking around — back outside.

Once the sedative wore off, the moose bolted off into the woods carrying his own unbelievable story to share.

The beaver that disrupted traffic for days

They're celebrated as hard-working and skilled engineers, building and maintaining impressive dams — so maybe it's reasonable that beavers should get a day off now and again. Why not Canada Day?

That's when a beaver dam broke near the Alaska Highway in northern B.C., causing a torrent of water to sweep away a large section of the highway that is the only major overland route into the Yukon.

The washout closed the highway, causing major disruptions for summer travellers and truckers for several days before a three-kilometre detour was opened.

Yukon Highways and Public Works/ Twitter
Yukon Highways and Public Works/ Twitter

"There was, you know, quite a bit of water there," said one official from Public Service and Procurement Canada, the department responsible for that stretch of the highway.

"It was quite a bit of work."

First recorded sighting of a black lynx in Canada 

For many northerners, it's a real treat to spot a lynx. The wild cats are relatively common but often elusive.

One particular lynx sighting near Whitehorse in 2020 made headlines this year when Yukon biologist Tom Jung published a paper about it in October. The cat didn't look like most lynx, which are typically silvery-grey or brownish in colour. This one was jet black.

Submitted by Tom Jung
Submitted by Tom Jung

A Whitehorse resident had managed to get a video of the unusual feline, and when Jung later saw it he decided to investigate. He determined it was a genetic mutation called melanism — not unusual in animals, but rarely seen in lynx.

"Nobody had ever heard or seen of a dark coloured lynx," he said. "So I thought, wow, this is something interesting, and we should share it with the scientific community."

The dogs that came home 

They're not exactly wildlife, but few animals are as woven into the fabric of Northern life as dogs. So there's always an audience for amazing dog stories — especially those with happy endings.

Two such stories came from Alaska this year, both about dogs that had been given up for lost before they were eventually found and reunited with their overjoyed owners.

Rebecca Clark/ Regal Air/The Associated Press
Rebecca Clark/ Regal Air/The Associated Press

The first story involved Léon, an Iditarod sled dog who disappeared from a checkpoint during the race in March. He had apparently slipped out of his collar and skedaddled somewhere.

His owner — musher Sébastien Dos Santos Borges of France — had already continued up the Iditarod trail with the rest of his team. Individual dogs are often left behind with handlers at checkpoints, for extra rest or medical care.

Lots of people searched for Léon but he was gone, seemingly lost to the remote wilds of Alaska.

Then, in late May, word came that a homesteader near McGrath, Alaska — about 195 kilometres south of where Léon went missing  — had been seeing a dog frequently near his cabin. It was Léon.

Soon enough, the adventuresome dog was back with his owner, "bouncing around, really happy to be back."

Then, in July, came the story of Lulu, an older, blind dog that had wandered away from her home in Sitka, Alaska, a few weeks earlier.

Lulu's owners, the Kubacki family, were devastated. Ted Kubacki said his five daughters — aged four to 13 — had spent "every day of their life with that dog."

They searched hard for Lulu with no luck. Eventually, they gave up hope — after all, the blind dog was "just so helpless," Kubacki said.

Then, about three weeks after she wandered off, a construction crew found Lulu lying in the brush alongside a road not far from the Kubacki's home. She was emaciated, dehydrated and dirty — but very much alive.

James Poulson/The Daily Sitka Sentinel/AP
James Poulson/The Daily Sitka Sentinel/AP

"I called my wife from work and it was just screaming ... She just starts yelling, then she yells to the kids. And I just hear them screaming like crazy," Kubacki later recalled.

"We have our family member home"