On your next visit to the Zoo imagine a lost world: the Pleistocene

Fossilized remains of a Stockoceros.

Not far from El Paso scientists have found the fossilized remains of Stockoceros, an extinct species of antelope related to the pronghorn living at the Zoo today.  They have also found fossils of a predator called Miracinonyx, the American cheetah.  More than likely pronghorn developed the ability to run up to 40-60 mph to avoid the Miracinonyx

Glacier boulder.

I was born on the shores of Lake Erie in Western, New York, right on the edge of where the most recent glacial advance in North America reached its maximum extent 25,000 – 18,000 years ago.  When I was growing up it was not unusual to go walking in the forest and suddenly come across huge boulders.  I wondered how they got there.  Later I realized I was looking at glacier boulders that had been dragged across the landscape during the last ice age.  Scientists estimate that the Pleistocene Epoch began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago.

Glaciers covering North America and Asia during the Ice Age.

Like many of you I have seen the movie Jurassic Park where we could imagine the age of the dinosaurs.   Wouldn’t be great if we could imagine the Pleistocene the same way?   Did you know that in Russia there is a Pleistocene Park run by the Pleistocene Park Association? The park is a nature reserve in northeastern Siberia that hopes to recreate the northern subarctic steppe grassland from the last glacial period.   Scientists in Asia, North America and Europe who support the project hope to bring back an Ice Age biome complete with lab-grown woolly mammoths and other ice age animals!  

Peninsular pronghorn at the El Paso Zoo, Chihuahuan Desert Exhibit

While we wait for Hollywood to make a Pleistocene movie like Jurassic Park, let your imagination soar as you imagine this period of history on your next visit to the Zoo.  It’s amazing when you think about how most of the animals living in our new Chihuahuan Desert exhibit were probably living here in North America during at least part of the Pleistocene. In other words, our Mexican wolves, pronghorn, javelina, jaguars, mountain lions and other species on exhibit probably lived in the same ecoregion and habitats with woolly mammoths, American cheetahs, giant sloths and many other animals that are now extinct.   To help make your experience even more interesting find a good book like Moctu and the Mammoth People: An Ice Age Story of Love, Life and Survival, to help you imagine this incredible period in world history and read it before and after your visit. If you have the time, try bringing your book to the Zoo and find a place to sit and read part of then.   


The El Paso Zoo is more than a place to discover wildlife and their habitats around the world and be motivated to get involved with creating a sustainable future.   The Zoo is a place to let your imagination soar, a place where you can dream about life and allow your mind to think about the incredible history of North America and our planet. Let’s all look forward to the day when the Zoo can re-open to the public by supporting our health professionals and our community by staying safe.

Rick LoBello, Education Curator

An extinct American cheetah chasing an extinct Stockoceros.


Cover and bottom, Maurico Anton, National Geographic
Top, James St. John  Nebraska State Museum of Natural History, Lincoln, Nebraska
Second, Linda DiDomizio, Wikimedia Creative Commons
All others, Rick LoBello

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