Humans And Fauna In Australia

In 1830 Mr. Rankin tied a rope around a projection out of a rock face in order
to lower himself into Wellington Cave (Horton, 1980). The projection turned out
to be the bone of a giant extinct marsupial. It was to be the first discovery of
a great range of giant marsupials. Were these animals extinct?? Horton (1980),
describes how Leichhart believed that on his journeys to northern Australia he
would find Diprotodon still roaming over the land. We now know that he was
probably only about 20,000 years to late (Flood, 1995). In general, all the
animals greater than 40 kg in body weight became extinct at the end of the last

Ice Age. By the mid 19th century scientists had already begun to postulate about
the disappearance of these animals, and today it remains one of the most
controversial subjects presented to man, (Horton, 1980). Australia was not the
only country to experience extinctions of large animals, (Martin, 1984). At the
end of the last glacial period nearly every continent experienced extinctions of
large animals. Animals like the Mammoth, giant ground sloths, and mastodons were
roaming the Americas. Northern Eurasia featured woolly mammoths, giant deer,
hippopotamus and straight tusked elephants. Of all the continents, it could be
argued that Australia lost some of the most distinctly unique fauna in the
world. The popular opinion for the cause of extinction is the \'blitzkrieg\'
hypothesis, which is held by such researches as Paul Martin in his controversial
article "Prehistoric Overkill: The Global Model". This states that
humans are directly responsible for these extinctions world wide. The Problem
with this model for Australia is that humans may have arrived on this continent
well before the extinctions took place (Flood, 1995). On other continents the
extinctions coincided almost exactly with the arrival of man (Martin, 1984).

European man was not the first member of the genus Homo to set foot on the

Australian continent. There is evidence to suggest that Aboriginal people have
been walking on Australian soil for many tens of thousands of years (Flood,

1995). Whether or not Aboriginal people interacted with the large now extinct
beasts is hard to determine. Did an overlap in time exist between humans and
these large beasts? Is there any evidence that humans actively hunted them, and
if they did, is it possible that they drove them to extinction? Land of the

Giants During the late Pleistocene, the last glacial period spanning roughly

100,000 years, the faunas were completely different to those that are
represented today. The most pronounced difference is body size. The term \'megafauna\',
meaning \'large animals\' has been used to describe late Pleistocene animals
throughout the world. We know that most species of mammals greater than 60 kg in
bodyweight became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene. \'Megafauna\' is not a
taxonomic group nor is there a standard definition. Generally, the term
megafauna describes an animal that weighs 40 kg or more, but in Australia that
would result in including four species of living kangaroos (the grey, red,
antilopine and wallaroo) and probably excluding the extinct carnivore Thylacoleo
and the smaller Sthenurus (short faced kangaroo) (Murray, 1991 in Vickers-Rich
et al., 1991). Horton, (1984) came up with a tedious but more precise definition
for the Australian megafauna: \'Animals that became extinct before the Holocene
and are large, either in an absolute sense or relative to other members of some
taxonomic rank, or are part of a taxonomic category all of whose members became
extinct and some of whose members are large.\' Fifteen genera and roughly
forty-one species of mammalian megafauna became extinct in Australia at the end
of the Pleistocene (Flannery, 1990). It should be noted that this essay is not
going to consider the many large birds (e.g. Genyornis) and reptiles (e.g.

Megalania prisca) which also became extinct during the Late Pleistocene. If
these non-mammals are added to the tally of extinctions, the number of
megafaunal genera extinct goes up to nineteen (Flood, 1990). A typical mammalian
megafaunal community consisted of a variety of forms, such as: Zaglossus;

Marsupial Lion Thylacoleo; giant wombats Phascolonus; long-beaked echidnas; the

Marsupial Tapir (Palorchestidae); Diprotodon (Diprotodontidae); and some
especially large morphs of the living Macropus (Macropodidae), (Murray, 1991 in

Vickers-Rich et al., 1991). The most deserving of the term \'megafauna\', was

Diprotodon, which probably looked like a wombat \'gone wrong\'. Weighing in at

2000 kg, Diprotodon was a browser which preferred the drier open expanses of the
interior of Australia. The majority of the megafauna was herbivorous, such as
the cow sized Zygomaturus trilobus, the stumpy giant wombat Phascolonus gigas,
and the large macropods