Giant of the Past - The Irish Elk

Just like a scene out of the movie Ice Age; looking out over the treeless plains of Siberia herds of fascinating animals await you. Wooly mammoths, wooly rhinos, and even a herd of a peculiar looking animal called Saiga antelope graze peacefully when something gets their attention. Coming over the hill emerges an enormous rack of antlers followed by the bugling of the Irish Elk (Megaloceros). This magnificent creature towers over the plains as it scans the plains for a mate instead it spots another male also in search of a mate. The thunderous clap of their antlers crashing together sends shock waves over the plains. Several females look on waiting to see which male will be victorious and win their approval.

Irish Elk went extinct between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Even though it is called the Irish Elk it is not exclusively Irish but lived throughout Eurasia, from Ireland to China even Siberia during the last Ice Age. The name Irish Elk came from it being first discovered in the bogs of Ireland and the name stuck. Also, well-preserved fossils are most commonly found in the peat bogs and lake sediments of Ireland. Old UC Museum of Paleontology has a skull on display that came from just north of Dublin; such skulls, with their enormous racks of antlers, grace the walls of hunting lodges and castles all over Ireland.

It would have weighed around 1,500 pounds emulating a large moose in size. It is closely related to the fallow deer rather than elk. They were an impressively large creature that stood almost 7 feet at the withers with disproportionately huge antlers, which could be 13 feet from end to end. The striking appearance of these beautiful antlers would be ideal in displaying them to either win over the females or demonstrate dominance over the males.

Another important use for these unique antlers would be as a protection from the many predators that existed during this time. Sabretoothed tiger, cave lions, and Siberian wolf to name a few predatory animals that would have been looking for a chance to take down a great meal of an Irish Elk.

There are many theories on what caused the extinction of the Irish Elk. Some feel the antlers grew to be too much for the elk's body to handle, others feel they might have been hunted to extinction. One study even shows climate change would have played a large roll in the extinction of many of the ice age animals noted above. No matter what the reason these were magnificent creatures that would have been an amazing sight to see in person today.





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