A joint team of forest officials and wildlife organisation World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has claimed to have discovered fossil of a stegodon — a now-extinct elephant species known as Proboscideans — believed to be 5 to 8 million years old from Badshahi Bagh area of Shivalik range in Saharanpur district.
The team, led by chief conservator of Saharanpur division VK Jain, was busy doing a trap camera survey for the counting of animals in the region recently when it came across the fossil. The team consisted of Jain, landscape coordinator, WWF, Dr IP Bopanna and senior programme officer Devvrat Panwar.
Jain said after discovering a ‘strange object’ that looked like fossil, the team brought it to the forest office and decided to seek help of fossil experts.
Dr RK Sehgal, a scientist at Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun, and its retired scientist Dr AC Nanda, both fossil experts, first examined it and then compared it with the specimens of stegodon displayed at the museum of the institute. They declared that the fossil could be 5 to 8 million years old.
The presence of stegodons shows the existence of dense forests and lots of river channels in the area during that time. Other fossils which existed with stegodons’ were of those of giraffe, horses and hippopotamus.
The discovered fossil was a moderately preserved third lower molar with nine well-developed ridges on its surface. The length of the molar is nearly 24 centimetre and the enamel of the molar is very thick. The sandstone embedded on the fossil is medium grained, salt and pepper in nature. This type of lithology is the characteristic of Middle Shivalik.
Describing it as a great discovery, divisional commissioner, Saharanpur, Sanjay Kumar said, “It would pave the way for further study of fossils in the country, especially in Shivalik range because for the first time such an old fossil has been found here.”
It the past, fossils of Stegodon had also been discovered from other locations of Shivalik groups like Kala Amb, Saketi, in Himachal Pradesh; Jammu foothills and Chandigarh. The existence of stegodons was also found in the foothills of Nepal and Pakistan.
Stegodons existed 11.6 million years ago. There are unconfirmed records of their regional survival until 4,100 years ago. Fossils are found in Asian and African strata dating from the late Miocene. During the Pleistocene, they lived across large parts of Asia and Central Africa.