Morphology of Pleistocene Elephant Tracks on South Africa's Cape South Coast and Probable Elephant Trunk-Drag Impressions

University of Cambridge
Publication Date:
30 June 2021
Africa, Science and Biotechnology, Wildlife

Aeolianites and cemented foreshore deposits on South Africa's Cape south coast have the capacity to record and preserve events that transpired on them when they were composed of unconsolidated sand. Thirty-five Pleistocene elephant tracksites have been identified along this coastline. This abundance of sites along what was the margin of the vast Palaeo-Agulhas Plain allows for an appreciation of the forms that elephant tracks and traces can take in the context of the global proboscidean track record. They point to a significant regional elephant presence from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 11 (~400 ka) through MIS 5 (~130-80 ka) to MIS 3 (~35 ka) and also indicate repeated use of certain dune areas. They buttress Holocene and historical evidence that elephants made use of open areas in the region, and that the remaining "Knysna elephants" retreated into dense afrotemperate forest for protection in recent centuries. Analogies can be drawn between Pleistocene elephant tracks and Mesozoic dinosaur tracks, and some of the Cape south coast elephant tracks are among the largest Cenozoic (and hence, Quaternary) tracks ever to be described. A newly identified tracksite in this area may provide the first reported evidence of elephant trunk-drag impressions.

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