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Desert Diary


We may have to know about the past so we won't repeat it, but we also need this knowledge to broaden our viewpoint. The perspective of today gives only a keyhole glimpse of reality. We take it for granted, for example, that elephants and lions and tapirs and all sorts of other creatures are limited to tropical climes. Yet, the past tells us that the elephants that we call mammoths roamed throughout the arctic and temperate zones, lions occurred in the New World from northern North American to South America and tapirs ranged well into the United States.

This was not in some distant geological age, millions of years ago, but practically yesterday. What is now Chihuahuan Desert supported mammoths to about 11,000 years ago, overlapping the presence of man. Sharing that landscape were lions--lions that today we call African, but once roamed through much of the Old and the New worlds. Tapirs, perhaps in our desert limited to waterways, vanished only late in the last ice age. A knowledge of the past can open that key-holed door.
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

African lioness

An African lioness, presumably similar to the American Lion except for somewhat smaller size.



The American Lion was long recognized as Panthera atrox and is still so-labeled by some. The general consensus, however, is that this large cat belongs to the same species as the modern "African" Lion, Panthera leo.


Kurtén, B., and E. Anderson. 1980. Pleistocene mammals of North America. Columbia University Press, New York. 442 pp.

Web Resources

Desert Diary Lion page.