How would the world look if humans had never spread out across the Earth? For a start, we’d have a lot more forest, much less pollution, and the stars would look unbelievably bright. But, as a new map shows, the planet would also be absolutely teeming with large mammals, from the Serengeti to Northern Europe and all the way across the Americas. Researchers at Denmark’s Aarhus University have created a global map which shows the distribution of large mammals as it may have been if humans had never left Africa.
The Americas used to be home to 105 large mammal species, including sabre-toothed cats, mastodons, giant sloths and giant armadillos, which all disappeared in the last 100,000 years or so. A previous study by the Aarhus University research team showed that human activity was responsible for this mass extinction.
“The reason that many safaris target Africa is… that it’s one of the only places where human activities have not yet wiped out most of the large animals,” said Postdoctoral Fellow Søren Faurby, lead author on the study.
The map shown below is a visualization of the distribution of large mammal species as it is today. The yellow areas indicate high diversity and are limited to certain parts of Africa and mountainous regions worldwide. The map above shows the estimated diversity if humans hadn’t colonized the planet. The highest levels of diversity would be in central regions of north and south America, especially parts of Texas, the U.S. Great plains and regions of Brazil and Argentina.
The study is not intended as a misanthropic look at human activity, the research team emphasizes, but rather it is intended as an aid to future nature restoration and conservation.