What led to the disappearance of these large herbivores from the planet?
Woolly mammoth’s roamed the Earth tens of thousands of years ago, leading lives similar – but colder – to modern-day elephants, of whom the Asian Elephant is the closest living descendant.
The woolly mammoth was a commonly found animal during the last ice age, if the fossil record is to be believed. Mammoth fossils have been discovered on every continent except Australia and South America.
Mammoths were similar in size to elephants, but had adapted individual characteristics to live in the extreme cold weather of the ice age.
Mammoths had narrower skulls, smaller ears and shorter tails and perhaps the most obvious difference between them and elephants was that woolly mammoths were covered in a full coat of hair.
Surviving in the cold, dry tundra of the ice age, woolly mammoths were well adapted to their environment, using their large tusks to brush away snow as they looked for food and secreting oil that covered their fur, insulating them further from the cold.
But then, 10,000 years or so ago their numbers began to dwindle before eventually becoming extinct 4,000 years ago. But what really led to the disappearance of these large herbivores from the planet? We take a look at the evidence and try to decipher what was the real cause of their demise.
Reason Number One: Climate Change
Scientists have always been intrigued about what caused the extinction of the large mammals, or megafauna, which lived in the late Pleistocene Period. The Pleistocene Period started about 1.8 million years ago, but ended just 10,000 years ago with the last ice age.
It was around that time that mammoths, the sabre-toothed cat, ground sloths and Native American horses and camels all became less populous and eventually became extinct.
The popular reason often given for the demise of the Woolly Mammoth is that as the Earth began to heat up, the world’s climate became too much for the mammoths to handle, who had evolved to live in conditions of a colder globe.
Climate change has been held widely responsible for this loss, as these large mammals struggled to adapt to changing conditions and environments. Mammoths were herbivores so were very dependent on gaining all the nutrients they needed to survive from the plants that they ate – if climate change led to the dying out of some vital mineral-supplying plants, mammoths would suffer considerably.