What lies in man’s horizon? What is to become of the most advanced species on earth? Clearly, human beings are amazingly intelligent among animals with their great civilizations and continuously evolving technology. It is odd to think that we may evolve, that maybe we are not the end of the line. Personally, I have a conservative view on the issue, believing that man is a dead-end or at least near the tip of the branch. My opinion is that the human morphology doesn’t allow for much manipulation by normal means and that evolution has little effect on us since we no longer adapt, but make things adapt to us. It would require nuclear war, genetic annihilation, worldwide infertility, a super-plague, or an alien invasion to reduce us back to a species that nature can manage. With nuclear war and plague, I believe that humans would become simpler beings, not the high-tech superbeings often depicted in science fiction. Few would retain language or even tool-use; perhaps the last clasp of humanity will be a simple civilization born of a nuclear holocaust using oral stories to explain the bones of humans they find in the ground, the lost Gods and great creators. To be honest, not a big fan of post-humans as a concept but to illustrate, :).
Boars are opportunistic feeders found across Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. They have been reintroduced into the Britain and have developed feral populations in the Americas, New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand. They are easy to adapt to a variety of habitats and are known to be pests in many regions. But, they have also been domesticated to produce what we know as pigs. Part of their introduction to not-native regions is the ease at which domestic pigs will revert to a feral state.
The simple fact that pigs and boars are so adaptable is proof that with a megafaunal extinction they will succeed greatly. In some cases, they will remain with the simple swine model: an omnivorous artiodactyl with a long snout, tusks, and a relatively short mane of hair down the head and neck. This is the case with the Future is Wild‘s aptly named Scrofa, a long snouted suid adapted for foraging in the flat, bare Mediterranean region.
In many other cases, suids will become larger. A common hypothesis is that they will replace the elephants (the Nozdrokh from the Neocene and the Zarander from After Man), becoming large and bulky with prehensile proboscises and long sharp tusks for display and mating rituals. My own project places their origin in southeast Asia, spreading out to Mongolia, the Arctic, and Europe. Also is the common idea for “tapir” pigs. Instead of becoming huge, they become only slightly larger and develop a semi-prehensile proboscis like the tapirs of modern South America and southeast Asia. Just the same, they could become more like hippos and rhinos. Large semi-aquatic grazing pigs and rhino-like browsing pigs are certainly not strange and over-the-top ideas. Within a few million years of a major extinction, boar size will grow immensely, sometimes exponentially. Stranger ideas include giraffasuids (long-necked pigs that are less likely than other ideas mentioned above) and horned pigs (which actually are not far off from what has happened in history).
Although I believe Dougal Dixon did a relatively good job on the Zarander (Procerosus elephanasus) from his book After Man, I think it may a severe mistake with the “Turmi”. This odd-looking swine has a diet based solely on ants and termites and a snout that totally breaks the conventional pig mold. A) Ants and termites would not provide a good enough food source for a pig-sized animal. These hoofed mammals would have to be continuously eating to maintain a healthy weight. B) Logically, at least I would think, the tusks would face downward or forward to scrape dirt and leaf litter in search of food. Plus, the nostrils would be located at the end of the snout in order to better locate prey (aardvarks, anteaters, and echidnas all follow this model). C) These Turmi have huge “claws” above their hooves, which in my opinion are practically impossible to make. Otherwise, the Turmi are accurate as far as Suidae standards.
Monitor lizards, otherwise known as varanids (genus Varanus) or goannas (in Australia), are carnivorous lizards found in Africa, Asia, Australia, and many archipelagos and island chains. Until recently some species were thought to possess toxic bacteria, but now we know they have amounts of weak venom, used to help down large prey. Monitor lizards have existed for millions of years, closely related to the extinct mosasaurs and the venomous goanna-like Estesia mongoliensis (Norell, McKenna & Novacek, 1992). Their modern-day relatives include the beaded lizard, Gila monster, and earless monitor. The largest species is the “infamous” Komodo dragon (Komodo Island Monitor, Ora), a 6.5 to 10-foot lizard first discovered in 1910 (by Western scientists).
Beginning with African monitors: I could see large wandering land monitors like Megalania or similar to terrestrial crocodiles. They would likely be scavengers or opportunistic feeders, snatching what they can for themselves or from other predators. Specialized forms may develop, like burrowing monitors feeding on insects such as crickets, ants, and termites. Or maybe, instead of a burrower, a semi-aquatic swimmer that hunts fish and insect larva. The burrower would be a descendant of the savannah monitor (Varanus exanthematicus) and the swimmer would be a descendant of the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus). In my opinion, Australasian monitors will be much more diverse.
The “goannas” or Australasian monitors have a much more interesting future ahead of them. I don’t see an ant-monitor, simply because there will be mammalian ant-eater equivalents such as echidnas or numbats, although their numbers have declined quite a bit. I’d like to see large 14-foot terrestrial monitors charging around after flightless birds and kangaroos except they have re-refined their venom glands to be able to kill effectively. In the Australasian forests, arboreal monitors will find haven, perhaps even semi-gliding monitors chasing after birds (bats and other birds will probably prevent this). In mountainous regions, the more derived circulatory system of monitors might allow them to become fishers if mammals do not take advantage of the niche.
My final idea is the development of semi-aquatic marine monitors along the coasts of Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands. They will resemble long-necked monitors will adaptations of crocodiles and the prehistoric nothosaurs. They will not be fully marine, having to return to land to lay eggs. The best prey item will be fish and seabirds and maybe invertebrates.
Proboscideans are an ancient order of mammals that have existed since the Tertiary Period, 50 million years ago. Over the span of this group’s history, they have included moeritheres, deinotheres, gomphotheres, mastodons, mammoths, and elephants. Today, only 3 species of elephants remain: 2 African and 1 Asian species. Elephants are massive beasts; the largest nowadays can be as tall as 11 feet and can weigh 11 tons. Many have tusks, the ivory of which has resulted in the deaths of numerous elephants. In recent times, these amazing animals have been threatened by poaching with conservation be rather limited in some countries. One must wonder if these wonderful giants will survive after our demise?
Being such large animals, I fear that their survival will depend on isolated environments such as forested valleys and islands. Areas that fit into this description include East Africa (after separating from the mainland of course), Indonesia, the Himalayas, north Africa and the Mediterranean (after colliding). If populations from elephant sanctuaries and zoos are able to breed and populate foreign regions than there could even be American elephants (or elephants just about anywhere else where they are kept captive).
The niche that any future elephants would fit into is most likely to be varied browser (grass and foliage). If a North American population develops, I could see Asian elephants becoming hairy American neo-mammoths, sharing the plains with wild donkeys, giant mule deer, wolf-like coyotes or foxes, lion-like cougars, and huge peccaries. Young Asian elephants are already quite hairy, so I don’t see why hairy adults wouldn’t occur. In their native Asia, I could see Stegodon-like elephants in southeast Asia but logging and semi-domestication have done a good deal to their populations. (In an ironic twist, the elephants themselves are used to take down the forest they call home.) Just as well, they could become dwarves but dwarf elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) already exist.
In East Africa, where I predict the line will make its last stand, similar adaptations will be made (as in longer tusks like Stegodon or smaller body size as in many dwarf mammoths and elephants). To be honest though, it is being quite optimistic to say that elephants will come out of the human age clean and free but if they do there will be a period in which their populations will boom as a result of no pressure from humans. After a while though, they would level out in numbers and reach a temporary equilibrium until even more changes effect the world they live in, such as an ice age or some sort of major floral extinction (not quite as likely as an ice age). Later on I will discuss what groups of animals might replace elephants in a series on “new megafauna”.