The genus mammoths, in latin ‘Mammuthus’, was a group of species, belonging to the family of elephants, entirely separated in taxonomy from the Mastodons and the genus family ‘Mammutidae’, although they sometimes shared the same environment. (For scientific reasons, the mastodons was renamed to family ‘Mammutidae’, which became a source for future confusion and misunderstandings).
The Mammoth probably has origin from ‘Stegodon’ and started to develop during upper Pliocene, (some 4 million years ago) in Africa. Mammoths spread to Europe and Asia, and Mammuthus meridionalis went over the Bering Strait to North America about 1.8 million years ago, (the woolly Mammoth went over much later) and became extinct during lower Holocene, probably exterminated by prehistoric humans who hunted them.
The modern-day African and Asian elephants belong to the order ‘Proboscidea’. In the past there were some 350 members in this order, however, over time the majority of the members succumbed to extinction. Today, there are only two final survivors to this order, Elephas maximus (Asian elephant) and Loxodonta africana (African elephant).
Much like their predecessors, these two species are facing a grim future that is heading very near to another man-propelled extinction.
- Mammoths had bumps on their head.
- Both male and female mammoth had tusks.
- Some of the Mammoths tusks were straight, some were curved.
- The longest Mammoth tusks were up to 13 feet (4 metres) long. Mammoths had longer tusks than Mastodons, a wider head, a sloping back and flat chewing teeth.
- The Mammoths trunk had two finger-like projections like African elephants. Mammoths teeth were flat like asian elephants.
- Most species of Mammoth were not larger than recent elephants.
More Elephant History: The Jarkov Mammoth
There is probably no animal more widely acknowledged as symbolizing the prehistoric North than the woolly mammoth. Although the remains of many mammoths have been discovered, none have excited the publics imagination like Siberias Jarkov Mammoth. The distinct possibility that with the current state of cloning technology, a new mammoth can be created has fired many peoples imagination.
Woolly mammoths roamed the northern plains for most of the last 2 million years or so, until just 10,000 years ago. A subject of controversy for many years, it is generally agreed now that mammoths died out from a combination of changing climate, hunting pressure from humans and probably disease. Most of the 100 or so mammoths found to date appear to have gotten trapped and died in swamps or soft soil, or to have been buried by avalanches.
The Jarkov Mammoth seems to have become stuck in mud in the bottom of a creek. Found on Siberia’s Taimyr Peninsula in 1997 by a 9 year old boy, this mammoth was about 47 years old when he died just over 20,000 years ago. Finding mammoth bones is not at all unusual for the native people of the region, the Dolgan. Roaming the land with their herds of reindeer, they often come across partial skeletons as they melt out of the permafrost. The apparent condition of the Jarkov Mammoth, however, makes it a unique find.
A French mammoth-hunter, Bernard Buigues spearheaded the successful project to recover the Jarkov Mammoth. Encased in a 23 tonne block of ice and mud, the remains were flown 200 miles to Khatanga, hoisted under the worlds largest helicopter. The contents of the block of ice and mud are still not known in detail, however, hair sticks out at many points, indicating that the body may be virtually complete. It is being thawed out by a team of 25 scientists in an ice cave at Khatanga. Although the mammoth was found by a Dolgan boy, interest in his people seems to have faded quite quickly.
Todays Elephant Status:
Elephants once were common throughout Africa, even in northern Africa as late as Roman times. They have since disappeared from that area due to over hunting and the spread of the desert. Even though they are remarkably adaptable creatures, living in habitats ranging from lush rain forest to semi desert, there has been much speculation about their future. Surviving populations are pressured by poachers who slaughter elephants for their tusks and by rapidly increasing human settlements, which restrict elephants movements and reduce the size of their habitat.
Today it would be difficult for elephants to survive for long periods of time outside protected parks and reserves. However, confining them also causes problems without access any longer to other areas, they may harm their own habitat by overfeeding and overuse. Sometimes they go out of protected areas and raid nearby farms.
Today, both the African elephant and the Asian elephant are in danger. Under the Endangered Species Act, the African elephant is listed as a threatened species and the Asian elephant is listed as an endangered species. Endangered means a species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and threatened means a species is considered in danger of becoming endangered.
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