Where Have All the Pachyderms Gone?

Fair enough question: wild elephant populations in Africa and Asia have been under serious threat from poachers for many decades. But are elephants actually pachyderms? The answer is yes, and no.

African elephants

Photo by Kevin Walsh

Pachydermata is a scientific classification of hoofed mammals; the word ‘pachyderm’ comes from the Greek for thick skin. Elephants are the example which most readily comes to mind but the order also included rhinos, hippos, warthogs, aardvarks and even pigs.

But this classification is now considered obsolete, because the most recent common ancestor of all pachyderms is extinct. Hence, elephants are no longer pachyderms, but members of the Proboscidae order (a word which refers to their trunks).

The word pachyderm has persisted in language and is still an accepted way to refer to an elephant. But it’s no longer scientific.

Archived under Science & Nature.

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