ELEPHANT FAMILY TREE ART POSTER
Only three species of the elephant family are alive today; the African Bush Elephant, the African Forest Elephant and the Asian Elephant. It was once a very diverse group that dominated landscapes around the world. It’s estimated that over the course of time there were over 350 different species within the Proboscideans, including mammoths, mastodons, gomphotheres, the bizarre shovel-tuskers, and many more.
Both genetic and fossil evidence points to a link to the small modern-day Hyrax as well as an ancient branch that led to manatees, giant extinct sea cows and dugongs.
In the distant past various members of the Hyrax family grew to large sizes and it’s theorized that they lived an aquatic lifestyle spending most of their time underwater. It’s thought that they used their long trunks much like a snorkel to breathe. Modern day elephants have this ability as well and can snorkel for hours at a time.
As elephants evolved over time, they grew bigger and bigger. Their limbs grew longer and stouter to support their massive weight. Consequently, their mouths were farther from the ground and the once former “snorkel” became a very useful tool in reaching high branches and low grasses. As elephants grew taller through time their trunks grew longer.
In 1986 the Alaska legislature designated the Wooly Mammoth as the official state fossil, and rightfully so since these shaggy grass eating giants of the Ice Age were wildly abundant here. Their tusks are frequently found along the riverbanks of the far north and in remote areas of the tundra. Mammoth tusks are made of highly prized ivory and are actually modified teeth. Mammoth tusks are usually much more curved than their cousins the Mastodon.
The grass grazing Wooly Mammoths far outnumbered the forest-browsing Mastodons in Alaska and eventually replaced them. As human populations expanded in North America and as the grasslands began to disappear in the north Wooly Mammoth numbers dropped precipitously and eventually went extinct.