Few people alive today know what is a stegodon. But it’s highly likely that the first generations of humans who arrived in East and Southeast Asia were quite familiar with these elephant-like creatures with bizarre tusks that ran parallel closely together towards the ground before curving upwards like a pair of long horns. On the continent, these pachyderms ranged from India to China. But when northern glaciers locked up enough seawater to turn Sundaland into a shallow shelf of immense river valleys and lowland rainforests, stegodons and other large land animals were able to walk or wade all the way to Luzon in the Philippines and Sulawesi in Indonesia. The returning seas trapped these footloose wanderers on islands such as Flores and Timor, where giants shrank over time to become jumbos the size of cows.
Between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, modern hominids made their appearance in this region. The arrival of Homo in tropical East Asia coincided with a massive decline of large terrestrial mammals and the eventual disappearance of several species and even entire groups with no living remnants. Gigantopithecus was a massive ape that roamed East Asian forests in the same period as Homo erectus and now survives primarily in the imaginations of cryptozoologists and dreams of hopeful abominable snowmonsters. The stegodons survived for much longer, with the last known specimens dating from just 4,100 years before present from Yunnan in China, while dwarf species are known from Flores as recently as 12,000 years ago.
Elephants proper (Elephas sp.) coped better with the ascent of man, but with the rise of the Middle Kingdom, their habitats were cleared and hides so hunted (roasted trunk was a popular treat in ancient China) that a creature that once roamed as far north as Beijing now clings to a tenuous existence in the forests that border Myanmar. Elsewhere, Asian elephants rule over a fraction of their former range as expanding agri-industry and settlements force herds to find new homes in the hills or go head-on with humans to deadly effect.
Rhinos fared far worse, as East Asia’s two forest-dependent species teeter at the brink of extinction. Southern China had such high densities of Javan rhinos a few thousand years ago that their armour shielded the infantry of Chinese armies. Even in colonial times, casual big game hunters in the East Indies were able to boast of shooting six in a day. Today, no rhinos survive in China, whose medicinemen now cast their nets in Africa and other parts of Asia to satisfy their hunger for horny therapies. Just 300 or so Sumatran rhinos remain while Javan rhinos number in the mere dozens.
(click here to read full article)
P.S. Apologies for the radio silence. Good news to be updated with details are that Freddy and Mio have settled into new homes.