The Pleistocene epoch spanned from 1.8 million years ago to 10,000 years ago . Many genera and even species such as conifers, mosses, flowering plants, insects, mollusks, birds, and mammals from that era still survive today . Others, such as the long-horned bison, saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, and the mammoth did not survive .
The woolly mammoth was commonly found during the last ice age . These animals were similar in size to today’s elephants but were adapted for living in the extremely cold conditions typical of an ice age . Mammoths had narrower skulls, shorter tails, and smaller ears than elephants do, and they were protected by a full coat of coarse hair that secreted oils and insulated them from the cold . The mammoths also had tusks that they used to clear away snow in their search for food .
Mammoths went extinct approximately 4,000 years ago after their numbers began to diminish about 10,000 years ago . Mammoth fossils have been uncovered on every continent except for South America and Australia . It is not entirely clear what led to the extinction of the mammoth . Some of the current theories for their extinction include climate change, meteorites or comets, and predation by humans .
The most recognized reason for the mammoth’s disappearance is that as the Earth warmed, the climate became too much for the mammoths to handle since they had evolved in a cold environment . It is also possible that the global climate change led to the extinction of some of the mammoth’s vital mineral-supplying plants which in turn led to the extinction of the mammoth .
Researchers have also found some evidence of an asteroid hitting the Earth which may have resulted in a massive climate change . They argue that a large asteroid or comet could have hit North America and melted the ice sheets causing extreme wildfires and hurricane force winds leading to a big freeze . These uninhabitable conditions may have killed off mammoths living at that time .
While sudden changes in the Earth’s climate are a likely cause of the mammoth’s extinction, most of the evidence is pointing to another factor: human influence . After the ice age, vast areas became more habitable for humans who advanced northward . As they travelled, they encountered mammoths which they hunted for meat, bones, and skin . Although mammoth populations were already in decline, it is very possible that humans were the ultimate factor of their extinction . Due to the role that human ancestors likely played in the extinction of the mammoth, researchers today believe that it is humanity’s responsibility to bring back species that were hunted to extinction . This obligation has been stressed since recent advances in cloning technology have made it possible to clone whole animals . In 2009, cloning was even used on an extinct species known as the Pyrenean ibex, and resulted in a live offspring .
A female Pyrenean ibex...