What prehistoric elephants ate


This video from the USA says about itself:

8 September 2015

Gomphotherium” is an extinct genus of proboscid that evolved in the Early Miocene of North America and lived about from 13.650—3.6 Ma.

The genus emigrated into Asia, Europe and Africa after a drop in sea level allowed them to cross over. It survived into the Pliocene, and its remains have been found in France, Germany, Austria, Kansas, Tennessee, Pakistan, Kenya and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

G. productum” is known from a 35-year-old male 251 cm tall weighing 4.6 t. Even larger is “G. steinheimense“, known from a complete 37-year-old male found in Mühldorf, Germany, it is 317 cm tall weighing 6.7 t. However, it had four tusks; two on the upper jaw and two on the elongated lower jaw. The lower tusks are parallel and shaped like a shovel and were probably used for digging up food from mud.

Unlike modern elephants, the upper tusks were covered by a layer of enamel. Compared to elephants, the skull was more elongated and low, indicating that the animal had a short trunk, rather like a tapir‘s. These animals probably lived in swamps or near lakes, using their tusks to dig or scrape up aquatic vegetation. In comparison to earlier proboscids, “Gomphotherium” had far fewer molars; the remaining ones had high ridges to expand their grinding surface.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Feeding habits of ancient elephants uncovered from grass fragments stuck in their teeth

May 17, 2018

A new study, led by scientists at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, China, including University of Bristol PhD student Zhang Hanwen, examined the feeding habits of ancient elephant relatives that inhabited Central Asia some 17 million years ago.

Professor Wang Shiqi from IVPP, the study’s senior author, said: “We found ancient elephant teeth in the Junggar Basin, in China’s far North West and they belong to two species, Gomphotherium connexum, and the larger G. steinheimense.”

Zhang Hanwen, from Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, added: “Gomphotherium was most obviously different from modern elephants by its very long lower jaw that still had lower tusks.

“It also had a shorter, more elongate, barrel-like body shape compared to modern elephants. In essence, a small elephant with short legs.”

Professor Wang explained: “Our study of their evolution shows that Gomphotherium connexum became extinct, but G. steinheimense was part of the line that eventually gave rise to the modern elephants.”

To understand if feeding preference was playing a role in survival and extinction of these elephants, Dr Wu Yan of IVPP, the study’s lead author, analysed tiny remnants of plant matter found stuck to the fossil teeth, called phytoliths.

About 30 percent of the phytoliths extracted from the teeth of G. connexum are from soft foliage, whereas another 50 percent or so comes from grasses.

Dr Wu said: “Given that foliage naturally produces far less phytoliths than grasses, this indicates that G. connexum was mainly feeding on foliage, maybe a generalist feeder of all kinds of plant matter.

“When I examined the phytoliths extracted from the cheek teeth of G. steinheimense, I saw a very different pattern — grass phytoliths comprise roughly 85 percent of the total, suggesting this species was perhaps primarily a grazer 17 million years ago.”

To confirm these results, the team also examined tiny wear patterns on the fossil tooth surfaces called microwear.

Zhang Hanwen added: “Now things start to get interesting. When our team analysed fossil pollen samples associated with the sediments where the Gomphotherium teeth were found, we realised that woodlands were rapidly transforming into semi-arid savannahs when the two species lived together.

“By adopting a much more grass-based diet, G. steinheimense was apparently responding better to this habitat change than G. connexum.

“Gomphotherium had primitive dentition consisting of low molar crowns, and numerous conical cusps arranged in few transverse enamel ridges on the chewing surface of the teeth.

“This was adapted for feeding on leaves, the primitive diet. But later on, the lineage leading to modern elephants and the extinct mammoths evolved an increased number of enamel ridges, and these eventually became densely packed tooth plates for shearing tough vegetation.

“Our new evidence shows that the diet switch from leaves to grass happened long before the anatomical switch in tooth shape.”

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Saving forest elephants saves forests


This 2013 video says about itself:

The Dzanga Bai, a small clearing in the Central African Republic, is a unique haven for endangered forest elephants. As many as 200 at a time will gather in this open area to eat minerals found in the soil. The Bai is part of the protected Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, but poachers recently entered the park killing more than two dozen elephants. This video shows elephants enjoying the Bai and reveals efforts to again make it a safe haven for the African forest elephant, a species whose numbers have been reduced by more than 60% in the past decade.

From the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

Protect forest elephants to conserve ecosystems, not DNA

April 25, 2018

Although it is erroneously treated as a subspecies, the dwindling African forest elephant is a genetically distinct species. New University of Illinois research has found that forest elephant populations across Central Africa are genetically quite similar to one another. Conserving this critically endangered species across its range is crucial to preserving local plant diversity in Central and West African Afrotropical forests — meaning conservationists could save many species by protecting one.

“Forest elephants are the heart of these ecosystems — without them, the system falls apart, and many other species are jeopardized”, said the principal investigator of this research, Alfred Roca, a professor of animal sciences at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are morphologically and genetically distinct from their iconic larger cousins, the African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) that populate the grasslands of Eastern and Southern Africa. Forest elephants are smaller with straighter tusks and live in the rainforests of Central and West Africa where they maintain tropical ecosystems through seed dispersal and germination, as well as nutrient recycling and herbivory.

Published in Ecology and Evolution, this recent study analyzed the nuclear DNA of 94 forest elephants from six locations. Forest elephant nuclear DNA is genetically diverse, yet this diversity is consistent across populations throughout Central Africa — any differences are too small to warrant treating them as distinct subspecies.

This nuclear DNA lacks the geographic patterns preserved in forest elephants’ mitochondrial DNA, the small proportion of the genome that is passed down only from mothers to their offspring. The mitochondrial DNA suggests that five genetically distinct populations existed in the past, most likely due to the Ice Age when their habitat was greatly restricted.

“Forest elephant’s seemingly discordant DNA can be easily explained by their behavior”, said lead author Yasuko Ishida, a research scientist in ACES. “Their mitochondrial DNA is a relic preserved by their matriarchal society.”

Females live together in matrilineal family groups, a herd is made up of related females who share the same mitochondrial DNA. Nuclear DNA diversity is controlled by the largest, mature males who travel long distances and promote gene flow by mating with distant females. Thus, females ensure mitochondrial DNA persists in local populations, while males ensure that the nuclear DNA is shared across populations.

“However, all of this precious DNA may soon be eradicated as forest elephants face extinction due to poaching and habitat loss”, Roca said. “Between 2002 and 2011, poachers wiped out more than half of their population. Fewer than 100,000 forest elephants are estimated to remain today — we must act swiftly to preserve them, and by extension, their habitats.”

African tortoise survives elephants


This video from South Africa says about itself:

World’s Luckiest Tortoise Survives Elephant Stampede!

6 March 2018

Saved by the bell, or in the animal kingdom, it is more like saved by your shell.

Watch the dramatic moment a tortoise finds himself between the feet of a thirsty herd of elephants that is on its way down to the waterhole.

The sighting starts off with a lone tortoise down by the water, quenching his thirst. Suddenly, viewers could start hearing a bit of a rumble coming from the area and the tortoise immediately went into his shell before the rowdy crowd came along.

A thirsty herd of elephants in the Pilanesberg strolled down to the watering hole for a drink from the Kwa Maritane lodge. Interestingly enough, the elephants seemed to be aware of the tortoise’s presence and were very careful to step over the tortoise or only bump him gently with their giant feet. Everyone watching was just waiting for the unfortunate moment that one elephant didn’t see this unusual “rock” and steps right onto it. But it miraculously didn’t happen! For a minute or so, the herd was standing over the tortoise, having a good time in the water! But luckily, the elephants soon moved a bit upstream and the tortoise immediately saw an escape path, letting him flee for his life back to the safety of the surrounding bush.

Trump helps elephant trophy hunting


This video is called Africa’s Elephant Kingdom.

From the Washington Post in the USA:

Trump administration quietly makes it legal to bring elephant parts to the U.S. as trophies

by Eli Rosenberg

March 6 at 9:50 PM

The Trump administration will allow Americans to bring tusks and other elephant body parts back to this country as trophies, in a pivot away from the support President Trump voiced last year for an Obama-era trophy ban.

The decision, announced quietly in a March 1 memorandum from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, withdrew previous rulings on trophy hunting and said the agency would allow sport hunters to receive permits for the trophy items on a “case-by-case basis.”

The move contrasts sharply with the position taken by Trump in November.

After the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a repeal of the ban on the importation of elephant-hunt trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, wide public outcry prompted Trump and Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, which houses the wildlife agency, to put the repeal on hold until further review. …

African elephants have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1979.

Proponents of big-game hunting and the current Interior Department leadership believe that money from permits to hunt elephants would aid in their conservation by putting more revenue in the system. The agency’s memo cites a long-running lawsuit against the ban filed by Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm.

“The Trump administration is trying to keep these crucial trophy import decisions behind closed doors, and that’s totally unacceptable”, Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press. “Elephants aren’t meant to be trophies, they’re meant to roam free.”

The president’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid game hunters. A photograph of Trump Jr. holding a knife and a dead elephant’s tail after a hunt in Zimbabwe in 2011 has drawn wide attention in the past.

Under Zinke, who is also a hunter, the Interior Department’s policies have become noticeably more pro-hunting. According to the AP, the department took a step in June to potentially allow grizzly bears near Yellowstone National Park to be hunted. And the Fish and Wildlife Service has begun allowing African lions killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be imported, the AP reported.

The population of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000, a drop precipitated in part by poaching and the demand for elephant ivory and by the loss of habitat, the AP reported.

Elephant hunting is not a sport that is widely accessible to American citizens. The safaris in Africa can cost more than $50,000 per person, the AP reported.

Reality Stars, Trophy Hunters, and Gun Boosters: Meet the Trump Administration’s Wildlife Conservation Council. “It’s really embarrassing. I just question the qualifications of each and every one of these people”: here.

Elephant evolution, new study


This 2017 video is called Evolution of Elephants (Prehistoric to Today).

From McMaster University in Canada:

Complete genomes of extinct and living elephants sequenced

Findings point to highly complex relationships

February 26, 2018

An international team of researchers has produced one of the most comprehensive evolutionary pictures to date by looking at one of the world’s most iconic animal families — namely elephants, and their relatives mammoths and mastodons-spanning millions of years.

The team of scientists-which included researchers from McMaster, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Harvard Medical School, Uppsala University, and the University of Potsdam-meticulously sequenced 14 genomes from several species: both living and extinct species from Asia and Africa, two American mastodons, a 120,000-year-old straight-tusked elephant, and a Columbian mammoth.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, sheds light on what scientists call a very complicated history, characterized by widespread interbreeding. They caution, however, the behaviour has virtually stopped among living elephants, adding to growing fears about the future of the few species that remain on earth.

“Interbreeding may help explain why mammoths were so successful over such diverse environments and for such a long time, importantly this genomic data also tells us that biology is messy and that evolution doesn’t happen in an organized, linear fashion”, says evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar, one of the senior authors on the paper and Director of the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre and principal investigator at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Research.

“The combined analysis of genome-wide data from all these ancient elephants and mastodons has raised the curtain on elephant population history, revealing complexity that we were simply not aware of before”, he says.

A detailed DNA analysis of the ancient straight-tusked elephant, for example, showed that it was a hybrid with portions of its genetic makeup stemming from an ancient African elephant, the woolly mammoth and present-day forest elephants.

“This is one of the oldest high-quality genomes that currently exists for any species”, said Michael Hofreiter at the University of Potsdam in Germany, a co-senior author who led the work on the straight-tusked elephant.

Researchers also found further evidence of interbreeding among the Columbian and woolly mammoths, which was first reported by Poinar and his team in 2011. Despite their vastly different habitats and sizes, researchers believe the woolly mammoths encountered Columbians mammoths at the boundary of glacial and in the more temperate ecotones of North America.

Strikingly, scientists found no genetic evidence of interbreeding among two of the world’s three remaining species, the forest and savanna elephants, suggesting they have lived in near-complete isolation for the past 500,000 years, despite living in neighbouring habitats.

“There’s been a simmering debate in the conservation communities about whether African savannah and forest elephants are two different species”, said David Reich, another co-senior author at the Broad Institute who is also a professor at the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “Our data show that these two species have been isolated for long periods of time — making each worthy of independent conservation status.”

Interbreeding among closely related mammals is fairly common, say researchers, who point to examples of brown and polar bears, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, and the Eurasian gold jackal and grey wolves. A species can be defined as a group of similar animals that can successfully breed and produce fertile offspring.

“This paper, the product of a grand initiative we started more than a decade ago, is far more than just the formal report of the elephant genome. It will be a reference point for understanding how diverse elephants are related to each other and it will be a model for how similar studies can be done in other species groups,” said co-senior author Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, a senior associate member of the Broad Institute and Director of the Science for Life Laboratory at Uppsala University in Sweden.

“The findings were extremely surprising to us”, says Eleftheria Palkopoulou, a post-doctoral scientist in at HMS. “The elephant population relationships could not be explained by simple splits, providing clues for understanding the evolution of these iconic species.”

Researchers suggest that future work should explore whether the introduction of new genetic lineages into elephant populations-both living and ancient-played an important role in their evolution, allowing them to adapt to new habitats and fluctuating climates.

Adult elephants thank people for saving baby elephant


This video says about itself:

Wild elephants salute the men who rescued their baby elephant from a ditch

28 November 2017

Wildlife officials rescue baby elephant from a ditch. Elephant herd salutes the men before leaving

In Kerala, India, a baby elephant falls into a ditch (or an abandoned well) and gets trapped there. As the family of wild elephants watches and waits on the other side of the river, local people and forest officials use an earthmover to help the baby get out.

Watch when they come running and welcoming the baby, checking whether it is fine. The incredible moment then occurs when the elephant family head turns and salutes the humans, thanking them for saving their little one.

Columbian mammoth footprints discovery in Oregon, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

9 February 2018

A video produced by Dean Walton, science and technology outreach librarian in the Allan Price Science Commons & Research Library, takes us on a journey above and along a mammoth trackway at a remote site in Lake County, Oregon. The site was discovered in 2014 by the UO’s Greg Retallack and excavated by a research team in 2017. The ancient path contains multiple footprints of Columbian mammoths that once roamed the region.

From the University of Oregon in the USA:

Ancient trail of Columbian mammoths uncovered in south-central Oregon

University of Oregon-led research team uncovers numerous footprints of adult, juvenile and infant elephants in a remote dry lake basin

February 12, 2018

A fossilized trackway on public lands in Lake County, Oregon, may reveal clues about the ancient family dynamics of Columbian mammoths.

Recently excavated by a team from the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the Bureau of Land Management and the University of Louisiana, the trackway includes 117 footprints thought to represent a number of adults as well as juvenile and infant mammoths.

Discovered by Museum of Natural and Cultural History paleontologist Greg Retallack during a 2014 class field trip on fossils at the UO, the Ice Age trackway is the focus of a new study appearing online ahead of print in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Retallack returned to the site with the study’s coauthors, including UO science librarian Dean Walton, in 2017. The team zeroed in on a 20-footprint track, dating to roughly 43,000 years ago, that exhibited some intriguing features.

“These prints were especially close together, and those on the right were more deeply impressed than those on the left-as if an adult mammoth had been limping,” said Retallack, also a professor in the UO Department of Earth Sciences and the study’s lead author.

But, as the study reveals, the limping animal wasn’t alone: Two sets of smaller footprints appeared to be approaching and retreating from the limper’s trackway.

“These juveniles may have been interacting with an injured adult female, returning to her repeatedly throughout the journey, possibly out of concern for her slow progress”, Retallack said. “Such behavior has been observed with wounded adults in modern, matriarchal herds of African elephants.”

The tracks were made in a layer of volcanic soil at Fossil Lake, a site first excavated by UO science professor Thomas Condon in 1876 and today administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

“America’s public lands are some of the world’s greatest outdoor laboratories. Localities such as this mammoth tracksite are unique parts of America’s heritage and indicate that there are many special sites still to be discovered,” said study co-author Brent Breithaupt, a paleontologist in the Wyoming State Office of the Bureau of Land Management.

Specimens from the 1876 Fossil Lake excavation-along with the rest of Condon’s extensive assemblage of fossils and geologic specimens-were donated to UO in the early 1900s and form the core of the museum’s Condon Fossil Collection, now under Retallack’s direction and boasting upwards of 50,000 fossil specimens.

Last month a new state law went into effect, making the UO museum Oregon’s default repository for fossils found on state lands. The museum is also a designated repository for artifacts and paleontological specimens collected from BLM-administered lands in Oregon, ensuring they are available to future generations for education and research.

As part of the 2017 study, Neffra Matthews of the BLM’s National Operations Center in Denver, helped survey, map and document the trackway using photogrammetry, which helps scientists perform accurate measurements based on land-based or aerial photographs.

“There is a vast storehouse of natural history found on BLM-managed land, and it’s exciting to work with researchers like Professor Retallack in capturing 3D data on fragile paleontological resources,” she said.

Retallack said that trace fossils such as trackways can provide unique insights into natural history.

“Tracks sometimes tell more about ancient creatures than their bones, particularly when it comes to their behavior,” he said. “It’s amazing to see this kind of interaction preserved in the fossil record.”

Elephants once roamed across much of North America. Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were common in Canada and Alaska. Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) occupied the region that became Washington state to South Dakota and south into Mexico. Most mammoths went extinct about 11,500 years ago, but some isolated Arctic island populations of woolly mammoth persisted until 4,000 years ago.