Megafauna R Delicious
Where are all the big animals? Oh, we killed them.
A recent construction project in Seattle (a few blocks from Woot HQ) uncovered an enormous woolly mammoth tusk. Initial estimates place the age at 16,000 to 60,000 years old, reminding us that it was not so long ago (in geological terms) that these giant beasts roamed our backyards.
But what happened to them and countless other species of giant animals (or "megafauna" in the scientific parlance) that were common throughout the world not very long ago? Well, not to put too fine of a point on it: Humans probably killed them all.
Beginning in the late Pleistocene and moving into the Holocene, almost all the giant critters outside of Africa were driven extinct. There are several theories to explain this extinction event, including the rapid climate change that was taking place at the time, but there is considerable evidence that the arrival of homo sapiens in every corner of the globe coincided directly with these enormous die-offs.
Why, then, did so many megafaunal species survive in Africa? Think of the giraffe, rhino, elephant, and countless others -- far larger than the remaining animals on other continents. One theory posits that these species co-evolved with humans, allowing them to adapt to our hunting techniques enough to maintain healthy populations, whereas large animals that had never encountered humans were relatively helpless.
In this view, early human settlers were one of the most virulent invasive species in the history of life on Earth.