From mammoth to elephant

The woolly mammoth is perhaps one of the most iconic animals of the ice age, mainly due to the fact that he is the ancestor of an animal that is popular today, the elephant. It was debated for a while as to which species of elephant the mammoth is closely related to, the Asian elephant or the African elephant. The former species was chosen by science because mammoths were smaller than African elephants and about the same size as Asian elephants. Their trunk patterns are also similar


It happens to be co-incidence that the comparison involved in comparing the mammoth to the elephant does not revolve around that comparison alone but also to the world of the respective animals of that time. I have noticed that the world of the woolly mammoth bears some similarity to the world of the Asian elephant in Kaziranga national park in Assam, Northeast India and this analogy examines the similarities as well as differences between the world of the Asian elephant and the world of the now-extinct mammoth




        Much like elephants, mammoths were social animals and their herds comprised mainly of females and their young with males joining to mate. Also like the Asian elephant, the mammoth had one finger at the end of the trunk for curling, a contradiction to the African elephant which has two fingers at the end of the trunk for gripping.



        Although Asian elephants in Kaziranga are tropical animals, mammoths lived in a cool environment despite evolving from early elephants in Africa. While they sometimes migrated to other areas of their home much like elephants do today, mammoths would migrate to either find fresher food or escape danger while elephants mainly migrate for the latter reason.



        The mammoth was a more popular animal than the woolly rhinoceros although today that is completely reversed in Kaziranga; today the Indian rhinoceros is more popular an animal than the Asian elephant. Perhaps the only modern exception though is Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa where its eponymous star is more famous than the rhinoceros. In Etosha national park in Namibia, rhinos are also famous but are harder to see than elephants which makes it seem that in Etosha too, the elephant is more popular than the rhinoceros It is also known that in Kenya’s Amboseli national park which is very well known for elephants, rhinos once roamed the national park but thanks to poaching finally became extinct there by the late 1980s/early 1990s. However national parks where elephants and rhinos share an equal popularity include the Masai Mara and Meru national park in Kenya and Kruger national park in South Africa as well as Etosha national park in Namibia.



       Much as deer and buffalo share the home of the Asian elephant in Kaziranga, the home of the mammoth was shared by both deer and bison



       Much as Tigers are a threat to young elephants in Kaziranga unless protected by their mother or herd, lions were a threat to young mammoths without the protection of their mothers and herds. Even today in Africa, Lions may still attack young, sick or weak elephants who are unprotected although the targeting of adult elephants by Lions for food has been recorded in Southern Africa. While wolves may have also posed a threat to young mammoths, there are no members of the dog family present in Kaziranga except for the neighbouring Manas national park which flows into Kaziranga. Snakes such as the cobra are also a threat to elephants although evidently snakes could not have survived or lived in a climate that the mammoth had to survive in



        Like today’s elephants, male mammoths lived apart from female herds, either alone or in male groups, only joining female groups to mate. Like modern elephants, mammoths would attempt to mate with as many females as possible.



        Kaziranga has both a warm and cool temperature so it is not surprising that elephants would have to roll in mud or water to cool down given that they have no sweat glands. In the case of mammoths, they never cooled off in water given the freezing temperature but when it was summer, they did coat themselves in mud.



        Contrary to popular belief, elephant herds are not led by a bull elephant but by an elderly cow elephant known as the matriarch. When she dies, it is normally one of her sisters that leads the herd. The same was true of the mammoth.



          Mammoths and many animals who shared their home faced a lot of persecution from early man for food and skin and it is thought that these actions by our ancestors led to the extinction of many ice age animals such as the mammoth although recent research reveals it was climate change that wiped out the mammoth. Today, in Kaziranga, elephants, much like rhinos, buffaloes and tigers are facing extinction at the hands of man. It is important to ensure that the wildlife of Kaziranga is protected for future generations so that it does not undergo what the world of the mammoth went through.


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