Prehistoric Animals


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Wooly Mammoth

Wooly Mammoth

The Wooly Mammoth is a huge, long-haired mammal that roamed the vast northern lands during the last ice age. This animal was very popular with Neolithic artists who commemorated its existence on the walls of many caves in Western Europe. These primitive paintings might have been conceived as totems by the first Homo sapiens; they believed that capturing woolly mammoths in ink helped capture them in real life. It was a coveted creature because its thick fur kept heat on a cold night and its tasty pulpit could feed a whole family for a while. Hunting the Mammoth was an activity that required a lot of patience, planning and cooperation which greatly contributed to the development of human civilization. These huge hairy beasts quickly disappeared 10,000 years ago at the same time as the mastodons.

Ancestor of modern elephants

African elephant
African elephant

The Mammoth is the ancestor of modern elephants and has its origins in Africa. It is easily distinguished from elephants by its very thick coat, which took on hues ranging from blond to dark brown and was adapted to extreme weather conditions, as well as its long curved tusks that could reach 15 feet long in larger males. These enormous appendages played many roles in the life of these animals. It was first and foremost a characteristic of sexual selection; males with longer, curved tusks had the opportunity to mate with more females during the mating season. But the defenses were also used to repel the attacks of predators of the time such as saber-toothed tigers and to dig to find food in snowy areas.

Like the African and Asian elephants that still inhabit the planet today, the mammoth was herbivorous. Its diet consisted mainly of leaves, fruits, hazelnuts, twigs and berries which it found foraging the Arctic tundra. The Mammoth frequently gathered in large herds to warm up and provide protection. It was also split into two distinct groups that could very well be two different subspecies. One group was dispersed everywhere while the second was mainly in the equatorial areas of the High Arctic.

Although little is known of the Wooly Mammoth reproduction habits, it can be assumed that it was very similar to modern elephants. The female gave birth to a single calf after a gestation period of almost a year. The life expectancy of this animal was comparable to that of humans in contemporary countries (70 years).

Mammoth inhabited arctic areas

The Mammoth inhabited the northern plains of Canada and Siberia where the weather was very cold (regularly reaching -50 degrees Celsius) and winter storms were common. In such circumstances, even the thickest of fur coats is not enough to retain body heat. That's why the Mammoth also had 4 inches of solid fat directly under the skin that added an insulating layer and kept it warm.

An absolutely massive animal

Wooly mammoth vs human

This massive animal was 13 feet tall (5 meters) and weighed about 6 tons. At the time it lived and with such dimensions, it very rarely felt threatened. In fact, the only predators known to the Mammoth in its natural environment are the saber-toothed cats that often attacked juveniles. Although the size of the Woolly Mammoth was impressive, other mammoth species have an even more intimidating stature. These include the American Mammoth (also known as the Imperial Mammoth or the Columbian Mammoth), which weighed more than 10 tons, and the Songhua River Mammoth in northern China, which weighed in at 15 tons. Compared to these behemoths, the Wooly Mammoth was an insignificant runt! There were also a dozen other less common species in North America and Eurasia during the Pleistocene era.

Mammoth lived with the Wooly Rhinoceros

Wooly Rhinoceros

Although less popular than the mammoth, the Wooly Rhinoceros also lapped the plains of Eurasia at the same time and was also the target of humans who coveted it for the same reasons: fur and pulpit.

Causes of Wooly Mammoth Disappearance

Wooly Mammoth hunting

Human hunting has greatly contributed to the disappearance of this animal in addition to global warming that has melted huge amounts of ice causing a marked decrease in food reserves. Scientists generally assume that the Wooly Mammoth was completely extinct from the fauna of Europe and southern Siberia by the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago although some small isolated populations managed to survive on the Wrangel Islands in the Arctic Ocean. The latter recalcitrant subsisted on very limited resources and were of smaller size compared to other mammoths. These are generally referred to as dwarf mammoths. The last survivors went extinct around 1700 BC. It was the end of the era associated with this big mammal.

Resuscitation from mummified mammoths

Mommified mammoth - Yuka
Yuka - 39 000 years old mommified mammoth

Since the temperatures in northern Canada and Siberia are absolutely freezing, there are now an incredible number of mummified mammals almost intact in permafrost cubes. This has led scientists to give themselves the mission of bringing this beast back to life. The basic idea is to harvest the DNA from a refrigerated specimen and incubate a fetus in a live pachyderm. However, these are futuristic fantasies since current biology does not allow such feats. However, the complete genome of two 40,000-year-old woolly mammoth specimens have been successfully sequenced. Sooner than later people will be able to pay to observe this creature in captivity in zoo parks. Unfortunately, it is impossible to do the same for dinosaurs since DNA doesn’t preserve as well over periods of several tens of millions of years. We will have to wait for a new revolution in genetics before the next John Hammond can recreate the virtual environment of Jurassic Park in the real world.

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