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Saigas, Mammoths, and Pleistocene Parks

Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 28th, 2008

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Travel with me today, from the concept of prehistoric trunked animals to the future establishment of Pleistocene Parks in Siberia and America.

Regarding artist William Munns’ reconstruction theories about trunked dinosaurs, he observes, “In the matter of comparative anatomy with existent species, no existent skulls are identical, but two types do have nares at the top of the skull. One group are the cetaceans (porpoise and whales). The other are the Proboscidians (elephants).”

brachiosaurus trunk

As Munns points out, interestingly, “in mammals, the presumption of a trunk is freely given to any skull with high nares.”

Darren's Toys

The macraucheniid litoptern is assumed to have a trunk, as produced and shown here from the German company Schleich, as pictured by Darren Naish from his private collection, and, of course, found also in my International Cryptozoology Museum too.

Today, I wanted to point out two unusual but known mammals that have trunks.

First up, of course, are the tapirs.

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There are four tapir species: three found in Central and South America, Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus bairdii), Brazilian Tapir, also called Lowland Tapir, (Tapirus terrestris), and Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque), and one found in Asia, Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus). The Mountain Tapir are the rarest, and have longer, woolly fur.

277px-malayan_tapir.JPG

Tapirus indicus, the Malayan, white-backed, or Indian tapir is famous within cryptozoology as the first animal to be described as a “new species” after Baron Georges Cuvier’s infamous 1812 “rash dictum” that “there is little hope of discovering new large quadrupeds.”

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Although it was ethnoknown to the Chinese and Japanese “since time immemorial,” Cuvier distrusted such traveler’s tales. Therefore, the white-backed tapir was not known in the West until it was collected and formally described to the Asiatic Society in 1819.

The other trunked animals we visit today are the lesser known saiga (Saiga tatarica) antelope.

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During the Pleistocene, the saiga existed from the British Isles through Central Asia and the Bering Strait into Alaska and the Yukon. At the beginning of the 18th century, it was still distributed from the shores of the Black Sea, the Carpathian foothills and the northern edge of the Caucasus into Dzungaria and Mongolia. Today, they are found only in a few areas in Kalmykia (Russia), Kazakhstan, and western Mongolia.

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Two subspecies exist. The Mongolian Saiga (Saiga tatarica mongolica), with only 750 individuals surviving. All other populations, belong to the nominal subspecies Saiga tatarica tatarica, listed as endangered at 50,000 animals remaining.

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Currently only the Moscow and Cologne zoos keep saigas. San Diego Zoo has had them in the past. Pleistocene Park in northern Siberia plans to introduce the species.

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Pleistocene Park (official logo directly above) in the Sakha Republic in northern Siberia is an attempt by Russian researcher Sergey Zimov to reproduce the ecosystem that flourished during the last ice age, with hopes to back his theory that hunting, and not climate change, destroyed the wildlife.

Animals to be introduced to the park include:

Carnivores ~
Lynx, Amur Leopard, Siberian Tiger, Asian Lion, Grey Wolf, Asiatic Black Bear, Eurasian Brown Bear, and Wolverine.

Herbivores ~
Reindeer, Saiga Antelope, Amur Deer, Elk, American Bison, Moose, Yak, Bactrian Camel, Llama, Przewalski’s Horse, Icelandic Pony and Heck Horse/Konik for the extinct Tarpan.

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One of the first formal proposals regarding Zimov’s idea went in 1998, to the Wood Bison recovery team.

If the wooly mammoth (a decidedly trunked animal) and the wooly rhinoceros are successfully cloned, this is the location where they would probably be reintroduced to the world.

Two overall similar projects to Pleistocene Park are in the implementation and planning stages in the United Kingdom and the USA.

There are “Bronze Age Parks” in Britain. In these sites, people can see reproductions of proto-historic tools, fields and houses. Farms are inhabited by “Bronze Age pigs” (offspring of wild boars and domestic pigs), and there are feral cattle and Przewalski’s horses grazing in the nearby fields.

In 2005, ecologist Josh Donlan, from Cornell University, proposed a Pleistocene Park (image at top of this posting) on the North American great plains in 50 years. Proposed species include the feral horse (Equus caballus), feral ass (Equus asinus), Equus przewalskii (Equus przewalskii), Asian ass (Equus hemionus), Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) for American camel, African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) for Miracinonyx, Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and African elephant (Loxodonta africana) for Columbian Mammoth, and African lion (Panthera leo) for American lion (Panthera atrox).

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


11 Responses to “Saigas, Mammoths, and Pleistocene Parks”

  1. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Wow, that mongolian saiga looks really weird! I had never seen a photo of this animal, and if I had found it somewhere else, I might have concluded it to be a hoax. Thanks Loren :-)

  2. aspenparkland responds:

    There’s also a project in France:
    Palaeolithic Park comes to France

    The website, is here

    Also, Elk Island National Park sent Wood Bison to Pleistocene Park

  3. sschaper responds:

    I don’t know about using the American bison to replace the European wisent, when the wisent still exist and need all the help that they can get. Interbreeding would be inevitable, I would think.

    Likewise with the African elephant in North America: The Asian elephants are the closest to the mammoth by a good deal. the North American camelids – if I recall from my boyhood visits to museums in Nebraska, correctly, were much more like the guanaco of the southern Argentine pampas than the Bactrian camel.

  4. Munnin responds:

    Excellent post, as usual. Thanks! I first learned about the Saiga antelope when I happened to be visiting family in Ireland back in the mid-1980s. RTE (Irish Television and Radio) were showing older, Russian nature films on television, and I found them to be very entertaining, despite their spotty production values (compared to their US analogues). This is also how I learned about the endlessly fascinating Lake Baikal.

  5. Rogutaan responds:

    Although the name Saiga sounds familiar, I’ve never actually seen a picture of them. That certainly is a very interesting animal.

  6. dogu4 responds:

    Great post. I suspect that you and Darren will still be discussing the fine points of mammalian nostril configuration when some cleaver genetic engineer figures out how to reprogram that which was previously knowns as “junk DNA’s” instructions which we are beginning to recognize controls the morphology of the beasts in question more than just mutations to the 20,000 genes we all seem to be using in such mysterious ways.
    I’ve been following Josh Donlon’s proposals for some time and find a lot of merit in them, and an almost insurmountable wall of resistance even from the conservation wilderness and environmental community, but it’s slowly eroding as reason and natural history become more and more critical to our better understanding of the past and presumably our future.
    I do differ in my reasoning from a number of those who are proposing the restoration of these landscapes using surrogates or even genetically engineered verersions. Whether they are exact or not is of some interest, but the function that these significant players had in these ancient ecosystems is of even greater interest to me and others, since the functional relevance of these now extinct forms is not altogether gone, but rather waiting dormant for the return of animals to fill those niches which had existed for so long. There are still communities of animals and plants which are still there which would become revitalized, synergized, and the fuller potential of the sytem could once again be realized, no matter if the camelid that orignally inhabited North Dakota was a guanaco or a bactrian (I suspect there were both and others all doing their distinctively cameloid thing in the arid open counties now occupied by cattle and horse (a great example of a specie’s regained vitality when re-introduced after thousands of years back into the habitat for which it had been adapted).
    I have to admit, however, that I’m not all that sold on one of the primary reasons for reconstruction; to replace what humans had allegedly overhunted. I’m sure some populations have been exteripated by primitive human practices harvesting the megafauna but the likelihood of cosmic impact looks more and more like the smoking gun, even if they haven’t located the bullet hole yet.
    The best reason to attempt to reconstruct the pleistocene in a limited fashion is the same as with all science; to better understand the world in which we live. I don’t think a guilt trip from 12.9 thousand years ago is all that defensible and will be shown to be less relevant as the evidence continues to mount for the cause to have been the impact of a cometary bolide. Better it should serve as an example of why it’s a good thing to create widespread habitat for megafauna so it can survive the next one. We should be so lucky ourselves.

  7. pgb7112000 responds:

    This will only end in tragedy for these ‘reintroduced’ animals. While pictured on TV as flourishing in colder climates, Woolly mammoths and rhinos need tremendous amounts of vegetation in order to survive. Something they will not find in northern Siberia. The climate was much different during the Pleistocene than it is now in that area, and it changed quickly when it was over. That’s why we find mammoths frozen in the tundra. They can’t live in colder climates. The caging or whatever you want to call it of these animals in that part of Russia, is the equivalent of sentencing Russian political prisoners to the Gulag. They won’t come back alive.

  8. Lightning Orb responds:

    Wow. I’ve never seen a saiga either; looks like something I’d expect to find in Star Wars. Interesting article – hope the park succeeds

  9. Ann Unknown responds:

    Better late than never -

    Very good point, pgb7112000.
    They would be more at home in a temperate zone – if there was still one left with adequate vegetation, and not urbanized.

    And, I still think that the little known Portuguese Sorraia Horse would be a far better choice, than the proposed species, Equus przewalskii, or the Heck brother’s “Tarpan”(only a mixed pony breed, modern analog for the original), or the Polish Konik (also, mostly, a modern recreation) for the extinct Tarpan of Europe. The Sorraia is also in more desperate need of preservation than the two recreated forms.

  10. Quinkan responds:

    During the pleistocene, large ice sheets would have covered the continents of Europe, and North America. The worlds temperature was 10*f warmer than it is now. Also during inter glaciel periods, sometimes it would have reached temperatures that were marginally warmer than they are today. The ice sheets trapped up large amounts of the world’s water. this lowered the oceans water level. It also dramatically decreased the amount of precipitation that happened. This made it so there were large amounts land in the north that were covered by neither snow nor ice. Grasses were some of the only plants that could survive here, as shrubs and saplings would be trampled by large herbivores, such as mammoths. This large grassland ecosystem was suitably name the Mammoth Steppe. When man entered the enviroment, the ecosystem couldn’t stand the stress of a new predator. Humans hunted game, and took local predator’s prey. What Pleistocene Park is trying to do is recreate the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem, and therefore prove that animals, not the temperature maintained the environment. In short, yes, mammoths could survive the climate of Pleistocene Park.

  11. Quinkan responds:

    Sorry, what i meant to say in the second paragraph was that it was 10 degrees COOLER, not warmer….



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