Oxford Today . Hilary Issue
In Roman times, elephants roamed widely over most of Africa and Asia, probably linking up somewhere around Mesopotamia. Indeed, not very much earlier, the elephant tribe consisted of hundreds of species ranging even further afield, covering most of Europe and America as well – with mammoths of up to five metres in the icy north and one-metre dwarf forms on Mediterranean (and Californian) islands. Everywhere, the large beasts shaped their environment by pushing over trees and denuding forests, thus creating open grasslands. Those halcyon days are long past, and all but two species are now extinct. Times have become rough for the survivors: over the past 100 years, the Asian Elephas maximus and the African Loxodonta africana have had to yield to human expansion and retreat into a few small pocket-size remnants of their natural ranges.