Wednesday, 16 April 2014
Irish Elk and other megafauna were climate change losers back in the Late Pleistocene. With the retreat of the ice and the warming of the global climate, the elk was too bulky to survive when its habitat changed. Their main predators were ferocious packs of wolves, so they couldn't afford to evolve into smaller animals. Over time their scrubby woodland habitat disappeared and they couldn't find enough to eat to sustain their huge bodies. It is commonly believed that the big males with their investment in those vast antlers were the reason for the decline and eventual extinction, but the latest theory is that it was the problems does had in nourishing big calves that actually caused the extinction. Malnutrition probably caused very high rates of mortality amongst the calves, until the population declined beyond recovery.
Irish Elk is so named because most of the specimens have come from Irish bogs, but it was present all over Eurasia and actually more like an enormous Fallow Deer, not strictly speaking an elk at all. At over 2m at the shoulder, with 4m wide antlers weighing up to 45kg, they must have been a formidable animal.