<p><strong>A lone bull walks away from a <em>Stegotretrabelodon</em> herd in an illustration based on new analyses of seven-million-year-old footprints. </strong></p><p><em>Stegotretabelodon</em> is a primitive elephant that was roughly the same size as a modern-day <a href="http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/african-elephant/">African elephant</a>—although Stegotretabelodon males had two sets of tusks (as seen above).</p><p>Fossil evidence shows that the giant beasts were once widespread in the Arabian Peninsula, including the present-day <a href="http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/united-arab-emirates-guide/">United Arab Emirates</a> (UAE), where the tracks were found. (Also see <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/10/111006-new-dinosaur-tracks-arkansas-paleontology-science/">"Huge New Dinosaur Trackway Found in U.S."</a>)</p><p>Though scientists can't be sure the ancient tracks were left by <em>Stegotretabelodon</em>, it's the most likely scenario, considering the animals' former abundance in the region, said study co-author <a href="http://www.briankraatz.com/bpk/bpk.html">Brian Kraatz</a>, an assistant professor of anatomy at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.</p><p>Scientists had previously discovered the tracks and published a preliminary report, Kraatz said. For the new study, the team deployed a camera-equipped kite that took the first photographs of the footprints from the air. From those images, the researchers stitched together a detailed photomosaic of the trackway—one of the largest known in the world, according to the study, which was published February 22 in the journal <a href="http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/"><em>Biology Letters</em></a>.</p><p>Kraatz recalled seeing an early version of the mosaic after arriving at his hotel in the UAE late one night.</p><p>"As soon as I sat down and looked at [the mosaic], it was instantly obvious it was a herd of elephants walking together," he said. "When you see it from the air, it just crystallizes."</p><p><em>—Christine Dell'Amore</em></p>

Prehistoric Elephant Herd

A lone bull walks away from a Stegotretrabelodon herd in an illustration based on new analyses of seven-million-year-old footprints.

Stegotretabelodon is a primitive elephant that was roughly the same size as a modern-day African elephant—although Stegotretabelodon males had two sets of tusks (as seen above).

Fossil evidence shows that the giant beasts were once widespread in the Arabian Peninsula, including the present-day United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the tracks were found. (Also see "Huge New Dinosaur Trackway Found in U.S.")

Though scientists can't be sure the ancient tracks were left by Stegotretabelodon, it's the most likely scenario, considering the animals' former abundance in the region, said study co-author Brian Kraatz, an assistant professor of anatomy at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California.

Scientists had previously discovered the tracks and published a preliminary report, Kraatz said. For the new study, the team deployed a camera-equipped kite that took the first photographs of the footprints from the air. From those images, the researchers stitched together a detailed photomosaic of the trackway—one of the largest known in the world, according to the study, which was published February 22 in the journal Biology Letters.

Kraatz recalled seeing an early version of the mosaic after arriving at his hotel in the UAE late one night.

"As soon as I sat down and looked at [the mosaic], it was instantly obvious it was a herd of elephants walking together," he said. "When you see it from the air, it just crystallizes."

—Christine Dell'Amore

Illustration courtesy Mauricio Antón

Pictures: Prehistoric Elephant Tracks Reveal Early Behaviors

The ancient creatures traveled in gender-separated herds just like modern-day elephants, new footprint analyses reveal.

Read This Next

What drives elephant poaching? It’s not greed
How old are you, really? The answer is written on your face.
The rise of vegan safaris

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet