Paleontologist Advait Jukar Studies Ancient Elephant Species

Advait Jukar is a paleontologist from the National Museum of Natural History. Jukar studies and specializes in the study of elephant fossils and their ancestors. As a child, he was interested in many types of extinct elephant ancestors, such as mammoths, mastodons, and gomphotheres. His interest in these ancient animals led to his career in paleontology and his work today to study elephants and their ancestors.

Relatives of modern elephant species date back to around 60 million years ago. Out of the 16 species that roamed the Earth 40-50 thousand years ago, seven of them lived in what is now the United States. The ancestors of elephants traveled to every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. Fossil records identify around 165 elephant species in total, but more fossils have yet to be found to discover other branches for the species. These mammals evolved into what elephants look like today.

Elephants are a part of the Proboscidea order, along with many of their extinct relatives, including mammoths. About 40-50 thousand years ago, the number of elephant species reached an all time high at 16, but from that point onward, that number only declined. Today, there are only three species of elephants left --the African Forest Elephant, African Savanna Elephant, and Asian Elephant-- all of which are endangered. If we don’t act quickly to save the few species left we will lose elephants all together.

Jukar’s work with fossils is used to better understand new species in the fossil record. His work discovers what these creatures looked like and how they were related to each other through different features. Through studying modern day elephants and their fossils, it is possible to save the endangered populations and understand practices that will allow for future species to develop as well.

[Source: Smithsonian Tween Tribune]