A 60m-year-lineage comes to an end

A trip to Crete, Cyprus or Malta 800 years ago would have been a great chance to meet pygmy elephants. Pygmy elephants of the Mediterranean islands may appear as fantastical as the woolly mammoths which still ambled across one Alaskan island just 5,600 years ago. In the interview to theguardian.com Prof Adrian Lister, a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum, warns that the fate of the African and Asian elephants is analogous to the lost elephants’ ones. According to Lister, the problem is not only that they decrease in number, but also their populations are very fragmented.

When human beings inhabited Africa, they shared the land with 42 species of terrestrial mammal weighing more than a tone. Now only elephants, hippos and rhinos survive. The last representatives of the megafauna are the two contemporary elephant species. Today’s elephants belong to a lineage stretching back 60 million years, members of the order of Proboscidea.

The curator and professor at the American Museum of Natural History, Ross MacPhee says that most people think that all these losses are due to human’s extensive hunting. However, most pygmy elephants disappeared from Mediterranean islands before any evidence of human occupation. A new research ensures that the disappearance of woolly mammoths 5,600 years ago from St Paul’s Island, Alaska, was because of thirst. Humans didn’t reach St Paul’s until 1787. Other people think that it was climate change that resulted in the extinction of these species. MacPhee personally does not believe that either human beings or the climate change were responsible at all times.

Adrian Lister detects many parallels between the period of natural warming and the anthropogenic climate change causing the disappearance of pygmy elephants and other animals of the modern age. “What is really punishing these animals – global warming, pollution, habitat destruction – is a terrible synergy of different drivers which is threatening biodiversity today”, says Lister.

4494Conservation scientists have identified 101 “corridors” in India along which elephants move between core habitat, where they can feed and breed. Elephants have tramped these routes for generations but as they are blocked – by houses, roads, railways and other linear developments – so human-elephant conflict arises. “We need to secure the 101 corridors from developmental activities,” says Menon.

We do not exactly know how our ancestors contributed to the extinction of elephants. But regarding ourselves civilized superiors we continue demonstrating indifference. Will the last members of the great elephant family survive? If they don’t, we only have ourselves to blame.

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