Elephants, Gods, and People
of Culture and Ecology
By the end of the Pleistocene or last glaciation, about 10,000 years ago, the end was inevitable for a host of the larger mammal species, including the mammoths and the mastodons. Climate change and associated environmental change and “overkill” by humans are the most likely explanations for this extinction spasm toward the end of the last Ice Age. The Holocene thus dawned on prehistoric man with a highly impoverished megafauna over a substantial land area of the Northern Hemisphere as well as in the southern continents of Australia and South America. Exceptions to this extinction spasm were Africa and southern Asia.
The tropical and subtropical belts were possibly better buffered against the vicissitudes of a rapidly changing global climate. Here, in the African and Asian continents, in the relatively more benign climate, two proboscidean genera survived, their survival aided perhaps by a longer history of evolved coexistence or by the absence of humans with advanced technologies for indulging in overkill of the megafauna. Perhaps the Homo sapiens here relied on a variety of mammal species, which would have been more diverse toward the tropics, for their protein and thus were not near-obligate carnivores on proboscideans. In tropical forests or woodlands, the hunting of an elephant involves considerable costs in pursuit and harassment, unlike the containment and mass killing of mammoths, already weakened through environmental stress, at waterholes in the temperate grasslands. The foraging decisions of Paleolithic humans would