Mammoth footprints from 43,000 years ago suggest that the huge beasts took care of their elderly

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The 117 tracks, found in Lake County, Oregon, belong to a Colombian mammoth family that roamed the area during the Ice Age.

The Colombian mammoths remain more mysterious than their cousins the Woolly mammoths and less is known about them. Woolly mammoths lived further north, in a colder climate which better preserved many specimens

The researchers’ findings suggest that Columbian mammoths were among the few animal species, aside from humans, to assist the elderly and/or injured.

New research suggests that Ice Age mammoths knew how to take care of the older and weaker of the species, much like we, as humans, take especially good care of our elderly parents and grandparents when they need our assistance.

As explained in a report from the Daily Mail, a team of researchers from the University of Oregon examined a total of 117 mammoth prints dating back to approximately 43,000 years ago, with these fossilized footprints first spotted in 2014, and excavated some time later. In 2017, the Oregon Bureau of Land Management gave study lead author and University of Oregon professor Greg Retallack and his colleagues permission to return to the area. This was when the researchers’ interest was piqued by a collection of about 20 Ice Age mammoth footprints that hinted at some interesting behavior from the prehistoric elephants.

After analyzing the footprints, the researchers concluded that they might have belonged to Columbian mammoths that were, during those times, quite plentiful in certain parts of the present-day United States. A look at the 20 recently spotted footprints suggested that some of the prints came from a wounded, possibly elderly mammoth, with the other prints coming from younger mammoths.

“These prints were especially close together, and those on the right were more deeply impressed than those on the left, as if an adult mammoth had been limping,” explained Retallack.

A news release from the University of Oregon further elaborated on the discovery, noting that the younger, smaller mammoths’ footprints appeared next to the older creature’s prints, looking as if they were “approaching and retreating” from the track created by the limping mammoth. According to Retallack, the juvenile mammoths were likely helping out an adult female of the species, constantly returning to her as they seemed to show “concern for her slow progress.” He added that this behavior isn’t unusual in modern African elephant herds, where younger, healthier elephants help injured adults in the same way.

A common sight in various parts of North America during the Ice Age, woolly mammoths are closely related to modern elephants, despite the fact that both species evolved in separate paths starting 6 million years ago. These ancient creatures reached adult heights of up to 12 feet tall, sported curved tusks that reached maximum lengths of 16 feet, and were notable for their ability to retain body heat through their small ears and short tails, the Daily Mail wrote. Most woolly mammoth species disappeared about 11,500 years ago, but there were some populations that were able to survive in isolated locations until about 4,000 years ago.

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