Putting the “Odyssey” in Elephant Odyssey

Columbian mammothImagine walking through Southern California 12,000 years ago. Believe it or not, the surrounding plants and landscape wouldn’t be much different than the natural surroundings you see today. However, the diversity of animals would rival that of modern-day African savannas. It might be difficult to visualize a family of Columbian mammoths traversing across the local terrain or a teratorn (relative of the modern-day condor) gliding along the air currents of the foothills with its 12-foot wingspan.

Giant ground slothElephant Odyssey is named so because it will literally be an odyssey through time as you enjoy the bioclimatic zone of Southern California, 12,000 year ago. During the Pleistocene epoch, North America was alive with a vast wealth of animals that is unmatched on this continent today. Herbivores like the large-headed llama, dwarf pronghorn, ground sloth, and Columbian mammoth, once roamed with many other grazers and browsers of the time. Saber-toothed cats and American lions were both carnivores that dominated their territories as they raised their young and hunted their prey. Daggett’s eagles and Merriam’s teratorns were giant birds that soared, scavenged, and hunted throughout the area.

Elephant Odyssey brings you back to this time of mammoths by exploring what has been discovered through fossil finds across Southern California. You will first experience an active mock tar pit and fossil dig that will be staffed with interpretive volunteers. This will bring forward the concept of what once lived here and will also establish their extinction and what may have happened to these animals.

As you move from the fossils toward the animals of today, you will get to come into contact with life-size replicas of some of the species that lived during the Pleistocene. Life-size statues of a mammoth family, a ground sloth, and many more will be situated to allow your natural line of sight to pick up the living counterpart in the distance, visually bridging time.

Merriam's teratornWandering through Elephant Odyssey, you will experience today’s living counterparts with the animals of 12,000 years ago. The diversity of species will span the globe and also bring to the forefront what is happening to these animals in their current environments. Some may be in danger of going the way of their Pleistocene ancestors while others might have stable populations at this time. Still others, like the California condor, may even have been on the brink of extinction recently but are making a comeback.

Of course, there are other elements and aspects to Elephant Odyssey, but hopefully this will give you an idea of what to expect as we start our odyssey on May 23.

Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey Ambassador.

Read Rick’s previous blog, Elephant Odyssey Opens In Two Months.