The end of the Pleistocene also saw the end of the woolly mammoth, American camels, dire wolves, short-faced bears, saber-toothed cats, stag-moose, woolly rhinos and giant ground sloths.
The story of the North American extinction of the horse would have been cut and dried had it not been for one major and complicating factor: the arrival of humans.
In fact, the genus Equus could have been wiped out entirely had it not crossed the Bering Stait land bridge into Eurasia. The last North American extinction occurred between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago.¹ Had it not been for previous westward migration, over the land bridge, into northwestern Russia (Siberia) and Asia, the horse would have faced complete extinction.
The genus Equus, which includes modern horses, zebras, and asses, is the only surviving genus in a once diverse family of horses that included 27 genera.
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caballus, were brought back to North America, first in the Virgin Islands, and, in 1519, they were reintroduced on the continent, in modern-day Mexico, from where they radiated throughout the American Great Plains, after escape from their owners.² Critics of the idea that the North American wild horse is a native animal, using only paleontological data, assert that the species, E. lambei, but no evidence exists for the origin of E.
caballus (or the caballoid horse), which was introduced in 1519, was a different species from that which disappeared 13,000 to 11,000 years before. However, the relatively new (27-year-old) field of molecular biology, using mitochondrial-DNA analysis, has recently found that the modern or caballine horse, E. lambei, a horse, according to fossil records, that represented the most recent Equus species in North America prior to extinction. caballus anywhere except North America.³ According to the work of Uppsala University researcher Ann Forsten, of the Department of Evolutionary Biology, the date of origin, based on mutation rates for mitochondrial-DNA, for E.
The end of the Pleistocene epoch – the geological period roughly spanning 12,000 to 2.5 million years ago, coincided with a global cooling event and the extinction of many large mammals.
Evidence suggests North America was hardest hit by extinctions.
Horses have been invaluable partners as our species spread around the globe.