Chapter

A Continent of Virgins and Recent Ghosts

Joel Berger

in The Better to Eat You With

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780226043630
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226043647 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226043647.003.0010
A Continent of Virgins and Recent Ghosts

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Africa has been called the living Pleistocene. Only there do vast herds of wildebeest and gazelles, zebra and giraffes still sweep across spacious savannas. Only there do large carnivores persist in assemblages as diverse as they had been in the past. Unlike other continents, Africa has retained 85 percent of the large mammals that lived between 11,000 and 50,000 years ago. In contrast, North America's spectacular megafauna collapsed well before the twentieth century. An estimated 73 percent of the species larger than a hundred pounds vanished between nine thousand and thirteen thousand years ago. The extinct were browsers and grazers—a half dozen species of elephants, llamas and camels, two types of peccary, and three kinds of horses. Disappearing also were the predators and scavengers—the dire wolf, the short-faced bear, the atrox lion, the American cheetah.

Keywords: Africa; North America; Pleistocene; large mammals; predators; scavengers; extinction; grazers

Chapter.  3378 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology

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