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Welcome to the Holocene - How Palaeontologists Define an Epoch

April 14, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 160

Sabre Tooth Cats and Big Cat Extinctions

Palaeontologists are aware of a number of extinction events recorded in the fossil record.A number of online articles have been published recently which highlight bizarre facts about the animal kingdom and extinction events.One particular article that attracted attention concerned the demise of the Sabre Tooth Tigers.The author had stated that the Sabre Tooth Tiger was the last tiger species to go extinct.

Sabre Tooth Cats are not Tigers

Was the Sabre Tooth Tiger the last tiger to go extinct.The first thing to comment upon is to point out that the name "Sabre Tooth Tiger" was misleading.This phrase is commonplace, but Sabre Tooths are not closely related to tigers.Scientists not sure how this misnomer arose, or who was responsible for first coining the phrase "Sabre Tooth Tiger" but this term is now synonymous with the Smilodon genus.

Sabre Tooth Cats belong to a sub-family of the cat family (Felidae) called Machairodonts.The Machairodonts seem to have first evolved around 12-15 million years ago and although their ancestry is uncertain, they seem to have quickly spread all over the northern hemisphere, before moving into the New World an estimated 5 million years ago.

Smilodon Extinct after the Last Ice Age

The next comment would be to point out that animals like Smilodon fatalis went extinct about 10,000 years ago (the last Sabre Tooths survived in the Americas until the end of the last Ice Age).

However, many more big cats have gone extinct far more recently.Palaeontologists and scientists know of at least three sub-species of tigers that may have died out in the last sixty years.The Caspian tiger (tigris virgata) which once roamed Afghanistan, Iran and parts of Russia has not been seen since the 1950s.The Javan tiger (tigris sondaica) was last sighted in 1972 and the Bali tiger (tigris balica) has not been seen on the island since 1947.

Extinctions of Large Mammals are Happening Today

The Yangtze River dolphin or Baiji (Latin name Lipotes vexillifer) may have died out as well.This mammal, that could reach lengths of over 2.5 metres was last seen in 2002 and a recent survey conducted in the animals habitat failed to record a single dolphin.It would be no surprise if this cetacean (whale family member) had become extinct.The Yangtze river is one of the world's busiest waterways, it has been extensively over fished and is heavily polluted as China's economy continues to grow.

Recording an Animal Extinction

Officially, the Worldwide Fund for Nature only recognises that a species is extinct if it is not seen for 50 years.The Yangtze River dolphin remains on the Critically Endangered classification but if any are surviving, they are so few in number not to make the species viable.It is not just the dinosaurs that have gone extinct, animals are dying out all the time, in fact the rate of extinction of large animals (mega fauna) is rapidly rising.

How Geological Time is Managed

The article on Sabre Tooths also provided information on how time is divided up into geological periodsit mentioned that scientists classify the time since the last Ice Age as the Holocene (recent time).When clarifying the points raised about the demise of large cats, questions were asked as to what the Holocene stands for and how it came to be an epoch.A number of very important events have taken place in the last 10,000 years, with a global impact worthy of being defined as a separate geological epoch.This being an interglacial period, the ascent of man moving to a sedentary lifestyle with domesticated animals, the rise of civilisations and so on.The Holocene was being marked by the dominance of just one species - us. In just 10,000 years the population of Homo sapiens has exploded and our impact on this planet is being felt everywhere and by every other creature.The Holocene epoch could be defined by extinctions caused by the activities of mankind.

The passing of the Yangtze River dolphin is lamented, sadly just as with the extinction of the dinosaurs, much more is yet to come.

Everything Dinosaur is run by parents, teachers and real dinosaur experts. Visit our website http://www.everythingdinosaur.com/models-and-inflatables.html to view the very latest dinosaur and prehistoric animal models.

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