Scientist Says Weak Bones Drove Woolly Mammoths to Extinction

Why don’t we have woolly mammoths anymore? Was it climate change? Did early humans eat them to death? Maybe. Or maybe they just fell down. A new paper suggests that bone disease weakened the prehistoric giants until they could no longer support their own body weight.

Theories on the mammoths’ disappearance have long jockeyed for supremacy. Most attention has focused on two likely culprits: global warming and hunting. Each new study refutes the last, leading to headlines like “What Killed Off the Woolly Mammoth? Climate Change,” followed just a few months later with “Humans Definitely Killed Off Woolly Mammoths.”

What if everybody’s right?

Paleontologist Sergei Leshchinskiy of Russia's Tomsk State University believes that a shifting climate led to changes in the landscape, which in turn caused a decline in available minerals. In a recent paper in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, Leshchinskiy argues that these nutrient deficiencies weakened the mammoths’ bones, making them slower and weaker, and therefore easier to hunt. 

Image Credit: ©TSU

Leshchinskiy analyzed more than 23,500 mammoth bones and teeth using a magnifying glass, stereomicroscope, and scanning electron microscope, as well as x-rays and densitometry. The bones had been collected from mineral-rich sites in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Russia. These areas are called the beast solonetz,which Leshchinskiy translates as "a ground surface area characterized by a high content of certain macro- and micro-elements." Like nutrient watering holes, the rocks and soil of the beast solonetz sites provided animals like mammoths with the minerals they needed. 

But something went wrong. Leshchinskiy found signs of osteoporosis and other bone diseases in a full 90 percent of the specimens he examined. Holding up a mammoth is a big job, and these bones were just not strong enough. Even the bones from baby mammoths were brittle and weak, which suggests their mothers weren’t getting the nutrients they needed.

So what changed? The landscape. Over thousands of years, as continents shifted and the planet warmed, some areas were swamped, and others went dry. Floods leached essential nutrients like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and sodium from the soil of the beast solonetz. The supply of dirt-flavored multivitamins dried up, says Leshchinskiy, and the mammoths’ skeletons began to weaken.

Conquering a mammoth in its prime would have been no easy feat for our ancestors. A mammoth with a broken leg, on the other hand, was as good as dinner. Leshchinskiy’s results are specific to Eurasia, but he believes the same scenario may have been true elsewhere in the world, including North America.

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8 Pro Tips for Taking Incredible Pictures of Your Pets

Thanks to the internet, owning a photogenic pet is now a viable career option. Just ask Theron Humphrey, dog-dad to Maddie the coonhound and the photographer behind the Instagram account This Wild Idea. He gained online fame by traveling across the country and sharing photographs of his dog along the way. But Maddie’s impressive modeling skills aren’t the only key to his success; Humphrey has also mastered some essential photography tricks that even the most casual smartphone photographer can use to make their pet look like a social media star.


Based on her Instagram presence, you’d guess Maddie is either in the middle of a road trip or a scenic hike at any given time. That’s no accident: At a pet photography workshop hosted by Adobe, Humphrey said he often goes out of his way to get that perfect shot. “You need to keep situating yourself in circumstances to continue making great work,” he said, “even if that means burning a tank of gas and going someplace you’ve never been.”


Dog and owner on a couch.

That being said, it’s important to know your pet’s limits. Is your dog afraid of flying? Then leave him with a pet sitter when you vacation abroad. Does your cat hate the water? Resist the temptation to bring her into the kayak with you on your next camping trip, even if it would make for an adorable photo opportunity. “One thing I think is important with animals is to operate within the parameters they exist in,” Humphrey said. “Don’t go too far outside their comfort zone.”


Not every winning pet photo is the result of a hefty travel budget. You can take professional-looking pictures of your pet at home, as long as you know how to work with the space you’re in. Humphrey recommends looking at every element of the scene you’re shooting in and asking what can be changed. Don’t be shy about moving furniture, adjusting the blinds to achieve the perfect lighting, or changing into a weird outfit that will make your pup’s eyes pop.


Two dogs in outfits.

Ella and Coconut Bean.

Trying to capture glamorous photos of a moving, barking target is a hard job. It’s much easier when you have a human companion to assist you. Another set of hands can hold the camera when you want to be in the picture with your pet, or hold a toy or treat to get your dog’s attention. At the very least, they can take your pet away for a 10-minute play session when you need a break.


The advent of digital cameras, including the kind in your smartphone, was a game-changer for pet photographers. Gone are the days when you needed to be picky about your shots to conserve film. Just set your shutter to burst mode and let your camera do the work capturing every subtle blep and mlem your pet makes. Chances are you’ll have plenty of standout shots on your camera roll from which to choose. From there, your hardest job will be “culling” them, as Humphrey says. He recommends uploading them to a photo organizing app like Adobe Lightroom and reviewing your work in two rounds: The first is for flagging any photo that catches your eye, and the second is for narrowing down that pool into an even smaller group of photos you want to publish. Even then, deciding between two shots taken a fraction of a second apart can be tricky. “When photos are too similar, check the focus,” he said. “That’s often the deciding factor.”


When it comes to capturing the perfect pet photo, an expensive camera is often less important than your cat’s favorite feather toy. The most memorable images often include pets that are engaging with the camera. In order to get your pet to look where you want it to, make sure you're holding something your pet will find interesting in your free hand. If your pet perks up at anything that makes noise, find a squeaky toy. If they’re motivated by food, use their favorite treat to get their attention. Don’t forget to reward them with the treat or the toy after they sit for the photo—that way they’ll know to repeat the behavior next time.


Person with hat taking photo of dog and dog food.

According to Humphrey, your pet’s eye should be the focus of most shots you take. In some cases, you may need to do more to make your pet the focal point of the image, even if that means removing your face from the frame altogether. “If there’s a human in the photo, you want to make them anonymous,” Humphrey said. That means incorporating your hands, legs, or torso into a shot without making yourself the star.


This is the mantra Theron Humphrey repeated throughout his workshop. You can scout out the perfect location and find the perfect accessories, but when you’re shooting with animals you have no choice but to leave room for flexibility. “You have to learn to roll with the mistakes,” Humphrey said. What feels like a hyperactive dog ruining your shot in the moment might turn out to be social media gold when it ends up online.


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