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Mammoth may find a home in Santa Barbara

If Moorpark approves, the fossilized remains would go to the Museum of Natural History.

July 14, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Moorpark officials may have found a final resting place for the skeleton of a fossilized mammoth that roamed the area up to 1 million years ago.

If the City Council approves the plan next week, the skeletal pieces will be donated to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Hugh Riley, assistant city manager, said the museum beat out the larger Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County because of its enthusiasm for creating a public exhibit.

"They were so excited and enthusiastic about it," Riley said. "We didn't get that same enthusiasm from L.A. County ... I guess you could say we wanted to be a big mammoth in a smaller museum, rather than a small mammoth in a much bigger museum."

A bulldozer operator grading a construction site north of downtown first spotted the fossilized bones in March 2005.

Trevor J. Lindsey, the paleontologist who discovered the mammoth at the housing site, said this is probably the first time such fossils have been discovered in Moorpark.

"It's a very early species of mammoth for North America," said Lindsey of Santa Paula-based Ecological Sciences Inc. "It was a full-grown adult female; she's 13 feet [high] at the shoulder."

Experts believe this fossilized animal entered the southern part of the United States more than 1 million years ago, and it is considered quite rare. Only five other fossil sites with this type of mammoth have been reported in Southern California, and this is the first one so close to the coastline.

Karl L. Hutterer, executive director of the Santa Barbara museum, said his facility must first build storage space to accommodate the Moorpark mammoth. More than 70% of its skeleton was uncovered. Hutterer hopes to have the fossils in place by year's end, and said it would take two to three years -- and generous donations from patrons -- to ensure that the display can reach its full potential.

"We have a geology fossil exhibit, which is slated for redesign and expansion, and the Moorpark mammoth will fit in perfectly," said Hutterer, adding that the southern mammoth skeleton will dwarf the museum's pygmy mammoth on display, which is closer to the size of a bull.

The director said plans call for expanding the museum to include a space where museum visitors could watch mammoth bones and other fossils being prepared for display.

"We'll also work with the Moorpark schools, so students can learn about the geologic history of the area when mammoths roamed," Hutterer said.

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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