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.  

Shovel Tusker

Hoe Tusker

Spiral Tusker

Wooly Mammoth


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.  


ConserveNature.org is a program of Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.                                                  Web Design by Ivan Andrijevic