Fossils of elephant-like creatures have been found
all over the earth, dating back 40 million years. They tell us that
the modern Asian Elephant is descended from an evolutionary history
that is shared with some of the most wonderfully bizarre creatures
that have ever walked the earth.
Scientists refer to these animals as Proboscidae, which
simply means ‘those that feed themselves by extending
their front’. It is a name that comes from a highly
mobile upper lip that all these creatures used to reach
out to gather plants. The modern elephant’s trunk fits
right into this general pattern. In large part, it is
just an extremely elongated upper lip.
photo M. Noonan
Until very recently there were about a dozen
different species of elephant on earth, including the wooly mammoth
and mastodons that lived in cold northern regions, as well as
ancestors of modern elephants that lived in the tropics.