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Profile: What Caused Mammoths to Go Extinct?

A wooly mammoth, as seen at the Royal BC Museum, Victoria, British Columbia.

A wooly mammoth, as seen at the Royal BC Museum, Victoria, British Columbia. Photo by Tracy O (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wooly mammoths once roamed across Europe, Northern Asia, across the Bering Strait and throughout Alaska and Canada. But they mostly disappeared from North America around ten thousand years ago—and around four thousand years ago, they had vanished entirely.

Scientists have long debated what ultimately caused the extinction of this unique arctic mammal. Dr. Glen MacDonald, a professor of geography and ecology at UCLA, recently published a new paper with colleagues in Russia and the US in the journal Nature Communications that says mammoths disappeared gradually, over tens of thousands of years. And he says several factors came together to push mammoths over the edge.