x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Elephants in Al Gharbia

We're not sure which is more remarkable: that elephant-like beasts once roamed in Al Gharbia, or that scientists are able to deduce so much about them.

Seven million years ago a herd of 13 elephants, or something like elephants, made its way across what is now Al Gharbia, in Abu Dhabi's Western Region.

Some things have changed since those days. Where a large river sustained different trees and rich diversity of animal life, today the Western Region is mostly arid camel country.

But some things have not changed, say the scientists who've been studying the herd's fossilised footprints along 260 metres of trackway spread across five hectares of ground: as with modern elephants in the wild, these creatures travelled together, led by their adult females, while adult males went solo, at some distance from the herd.

Scholars from the UAE, Germany, France and the US used a kite-mounted camera to photograph the site. They published their findings this week in an academic journal, Biology Letters.

The presence of those animals in that place astonishes, as does the survival of their footprints. But equally astounding is the ability of experts to puzzle out, from this evidence, which now-extinct proto-elephant species this most probably was, and so much about their social organisation. Even today, the world is a treasure-house of subjects to reward our study.