Delayed, longer weaning 'could have led to woolly mammoths' extinction'

Washington, Dec 22 (ANI): Researchers believe that the weaning pattern of woolly mammoths could have contributed to the extinction of the giant animals.

University of Western Ontario investigators found that the mammoths began weaning infants up to three years later than modern day African elephants due to prolonged hours of darkness.

Student Jessica Metcalfe and professor Fred Longstaffe determined that woolly mammoths that once inhabited Old Crow, Yukon didn't begin eating plants and other solid foods before the age of two.

"In modern Africa, lions can hunt baby elephants but not adults. They can't kill adults. But they can kill babies and by and large, they tend to be successful when they hunt at night because they have adapted night vision," said Metcalfe.

"In Old Crow, where you have long, long hours of darkness, the infants are going to be more vulnerable, so the mothers nursed longer to keep them close."

This nursing pattern could have contributed to the prehistoric elephant's eventual extinction.

"Today, a leading cause of infant elephant deaths in Myanmar is insufficient maternal milk production. Woolly mammoths may have been more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and human hunting than modern elephants not only because of their harsher environment, but also because of the metabolic demands of lactation and prolonged nursing, especially during the longer winter months," she said.

Metcalfe concluded that further studies could help researchers understand more about the present situation of the animals.

"Understanding their ecology, their adaptations and their behaviour not only gives us insight into why they became extinct but also, potentially, gives us a better understanding of modern day mammals and how they might respond to the current warming of the planet," said Metcalfe.

The findings were published recently in the journal, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. (ANI)

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