Fossils unlock secrets of S. Africa

16:52, February 21, 2010      

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Palaeontologists say more than 200 species once lived in the area, but they became extinct due to climate change.

The Langebaan lagoon in the West Coast region of South Africa is famous for it's dazzling blue waters surrounded by a mass of arid land and barren sand dunes. But five million years ago the area was covered in swamps and teaming with wildlife.

Palaeontologists say more than 200 species once lived in the area, but they became extinct due to climate change.

The West Coast region of South Africa today is relatively cool and dry.

But five million years ago the area was warm and wet, and inhabited by animals that are now extinct.

The discovery of fossils of these extinct animals in the 1950s marked the beginning of research into ancient life here.

All of this examination allows scientists to understand how the earth has changed over time.

Frances Forrest, PH.D. student, City University of New York, said, "What we're finding is a lot of bovines which would be things like antelopes, and a lot of horse remains. So as you can see the environment today wouldn't be able to support those types of animals, because there's not the type of food that they would be eating. And so since the environment has changed dramatically? Back then we would have been able to have horses in this area, but today they just wouldn't be able to survive here."

A grassier environment a million years ago would have supported creatures like giant elands and three-toed horses.

Fossils of these and some of the more than 200 extinct animals believed to have existed in the area in the past, have been unearthed.

The Sabre-Toothed Cat and the African Bear were also once found in this region.

Since 1998, visitors to the area have been able to learn about the significance of fossils at the West Coast Fossil Park.

Pippa Haarhof, director of West Coast Fossil Park, said, "It helps us understand origins of life on earth, evolutionary trends, extinction events, all those topics help us understand, basically, how life on earth works, gives us a better understanding of where we are now, and what possibly could happen in the future."

Visitors taking a tour through the West Coast Fossil Park learn that the animals that died in this area five million years ago were quickly covered by sediment in the swamps that existed then.

Because they were rapidly buried, the fossils are very well preserved.

Visitors to the West Coast Fossil Park get a better understanding of the potential devastation that climate change brings.

Source: CCTV. com
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