Moroccan elephant ancestor discovered

Elephant ancestorsBy Jeanna Bryner, of LiveScience, in the USA:

Fossils of oldest elephant relative found

60-million-year-old remains show much smaller tusks than current animals’

June 22, 2009

Scientists have discovered fossilized remains of the oldest known elephant relative, dating back 60 million years.

The fossils were found in Morocco. Called Eritherium azzouzorum, the animal would not have looked much like an elephant. It was just 1.6 to 2 feet (50 to 60 cm) long and weighed 9 to 11 pounds (4 to 5 kg).

The animal’s relation to elephants was determined via analysis of the specimen’s teeth and skull. While it lacked a trunk, the animal had an enlarged first incisor, which researcher Emmanuel Gheerbrant of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris says represents a primitive tusk. It was much smaller than the tusks of today’s elephants.

“The trunk evolved with the modern elephant group, called elephantiform, at the beginning of the Oligocene,” which extends from 33.7 million to 23.8 million years ago, Gheerbrant told LiveScience.

The fossil mammal was found in the same area that yielded the then-oldest elephant relative called Phosphatherium escuilliei, which dated back 55 million years.

The newly identified species extends the record of the Proboscidea order (whose sole survivors today are modern elephants) back to the Late Paleocene.

The research was published in the June 22 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Jon Smith, a scientist at the Kansas Geological Survey, and Stephen Hasiotis, a geologist at the University of Kansas, have demonstrated that soil-inhabiting creatures contracted in size by 30-46 percent during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The PETM was a short interval 55 million years ago marked by a spike in the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures, conditions being repeated on Earth now: here.

Impact debris and evidence of widespread wildfires around eastern North America suggest that a large space rock whacked Earth around 56 million years ago at the beginning of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, also known as the PETM, a period of rapid warming and huge increases in carbon dioxide. The event is one of the closest historic analogs to modern global warming and is used to improve predictions of how Earth’s climate and ecosystems will fare in the coming decades: here.

Seventeen species from the Palaeocene and Early Eocene of northern Europe, of which 12 are new, are described belonging to the extinct macroscelidean family Louisinidae, raised here from subfamily rank. These species belong to nine genera, of which five are new. The new genera are Walbeckodon, Berrulestes, Gigarton, Thryptodon, and Prolouisina. The new species are Walbeckodon krumbiegeli, Walbeckodon girardi, Paschatherium levei, Berrulestes phelizoni, Berrulestes pellouini, Berrulestes poirieri, Gigarton meyeri, Gigarton sigogneauae, Gigarton louisi, Thryptodon brailloni, Louisina marci, and Teilhardimys brisswalteri. Prolouisina is erected for ‘Louisina’ atavella Russell, 1964. Cladistic analysis was undertaken to understand the relationships within the Louisinidae and between them and the North American family Apheliscidae, in which they had earlier been included as a subfamily. Louisinidae are shown to be sister group to a clade consisting of Apheliscidae plus Amphilemuridae and part of a paraphyletic and polyphyletic Adapisoricidae, all of which are tentatively considered to be stem members of the order Macroscelidea. The most primitive macroscelidid, Chambius, from the Early Eocene of northern Africa is nested within Apheliscidae when postcranial characters were included, but in a majority of cases within the Louisinidae when postcranial characters were excluded. Most species from northern Europe became extinct at the end of the Palaeocene, although the genus Paschatherium survived for much of the Early Eocene and Teilhardimys survived into the earliest Eocene: here.

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11 thoughts on “Moroccan elephant ancestor discovered

  1. November 26, 2009

    By Earth’s Newsdesk, a project of Ecological Internet (EI)
    CONTACT: Dr. Glen Barry,

    After prolonged protest by Ecological Internet, Rainforest Rescue and other partners, the Indian government has decided against locating a Neutrino Observatory (INO), an underground experimental physics project, in prime Indian elephant and other endangered animal and plant habitat. Indian officials in a new report have decided the Neutrino Observatory would gravely impact the Mudumulai Tiger Reserve, an important corridor for Indian elephants and other wildlife, and will be moved to a more suitable site. Priya Davidar of Pondicherry University in Pondicherry, India, noted “This is a rare victory for conservation (in India).”

    Ecological Internet spearheaded and provided the Internet protest platform for a loose coalition of environmentalists and conservation biologists working to block the project. Some 9,000 global Ecological Internet action network participants from 96 countries sent nearly 100,000 protest emails over the past 9 months [1]. This international action supported on-the-ground organizing by others including the Rainforest Information Centre and noted environmentalists including John Seed, Priya Davida and Ingmar Lee of Canada (who initially proposed the campaign).

    The area contains one of the largest contiguous forests in Asia and sustains India’s largest wild populations of Asian Elephants and Bengal Tigers. The government’s report confirmed our allegations that the site “is in close proximity to the core/critical tiger habitats of Bandipur and Mudumalai Tiger reserves. It is also an elephant corridor, facilitating elephant movement from the Western Ghats to the Eastern Ghats and vice-versa.” Nilgiri contains over a fifth of the India’s vertebrates and flowering plants, 15% of its butterflies, and numerous endangered species.

    “Ecological Internet has again demonstrated the importance of ecologically aware global citizens joining together to protest on the Internet in support of local conservation protests. We are very pleased to have been filling this role in the global movement for ecological sustainability for ten years, and hope to continue doing so should our current end-of-year fund-raiser be successful”, notes Dr. Glen Barry, Ecological Internet’s President. “With continued support through alert participation at — and tax-deductible donations at — we envision even more ecologically sufficient policy success in the future.”


    [1] The long-running alert entitled “Critical Elephant Corridor in India to be Severed” can be found at:


  2. “Causes, regulations, solutions, conditions… prosecutions, penalties, and all types of prisons…rifles, guns and bombs small and large…sawed trees and stolen lumber stacked on a barge…donations, by corporations and leveraged banking, come on board…losing focus, go to church and seeking the ‘Lord…It is all just now happening and as we cycle the sun…no one said it was going to be easy, no one said it would be fun…we all think about this and make no distinction…it does not matter, really, in the face of extinction.” written by William Sidmore


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