Woolly Mammoth

The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) was a mammoth species that existed from the Pleistocene epoch until the Holocene epoch, when it became extinct. It was the last of a line of mammoth species that began in the early Pliocene with Mammuthus subplanifrons. Around 800,000 years ago, the woolly mammoth split from the steppe mammoth in East Asia. The Asian elephant is its nearest living relative. The Columbian mammoth was a hybrid of woolly mammoths and another family evolved from steppe mammoths, according to DNA tests. Due to the discoveries of frozen carcasses in Siberia and Alaska, as well as skeletons, teeth, stomach contents, dung, and depictions from life in prehistoric cave paintings, this species’ look and behavior are one of the finest researched of any prehistoric animal. Prior to the Europeans discovery of mammoth remains in the 17th century, they were well-known in Asia. The origins of these remnants have long been a point of contention, with legends claiming that they are the remnants of legendary beasts. In 1796, Georges Cuvier discovered that the mammoth was an extinct elephant species.

Royal Victoria Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 2018

Woolly mammoths were around the size of modern African elephants. Males stood between 2.7 and 3.4 meters (8.9 and 11.2 feet) tall and weighed up to 6 metric tons . Females had shoulder heights of 2.6–2.9 m (8.5–9.5 ft) and weighed up to 4 metric tons. The weight of a newborn calf was around 90 kg (200 lb). In the last ice age, the woolly mammoth was well acclimated to the cold. It had a fur coat with a lengthy guard hair outer layer and a shorter undercoat. The coat’s color ranged from dark to light. To avoid frostbite and heat loss, the ears and tail were kept short. It featured long, curved tusks and four molars that were replaced six times throughout the course of its lifespan. It behaved similarly to modern elephants, using its tusks and trunk for item manipulation, fighting, and foraging. The woolly mammoth’s diet consisted primarily of grasses and sedges. Individuals may live to be 60 years old. The mammoth steppe, which spanned throughout northern Eurasia and North America, was its natural habitat.

Hans Sloane inspected the first woolly mammoth remnants analyzed by European scientists in 1728, which comprised of fossilized teeth and tusks from Siberia. He was the first person to notice that the remains were elephant remains. Sloane moved on to another biblical explanation for elephants in the Arctic, claiming that they were buried during the Great Flood and that Siberia had once been tropical prior to a dramatic climate change. Others disagreed with Sloane’s thesis, claiming that elephants were transported from the tropics to the Arctic by the flood. Sloane’s report was based on descriptions from travelers and a few dispersed bones discovered in Siberia and the United Kingdom. Johann Philipp Breyne, a German zoologist, proposed in 1738 that mammoth relics belonged to something like an elephant. He couldn’t understand why a tropical animal would be present in Siberia and speculated that they may have been brought there by the Great Flood.

Georges Cuvier who was a French biologist was the first to recognize the woolly mammoth remains as an altogether different species, rather than modern elephants brought to the Arctic in 1796.  He claimed that this species had become extinct and was no longer alive, a theory that was controversial at the time.