Meet Advait Jukar, a scientist who studies fossil elephants
Meet Advait Jukar, a scientist who studies fossil elephants Paleontologist Advait Jukar touches a fossil elephant skull while Smithsonian Science How co-host Maggy Benson watches. (Jennifer Renteria/Smithsonian/National Postal Museum)
Meet Advait Jukar, a scientist who studies fossil elephants
Lexile: 1250L

Assign to Google Classroom

As a kid, Advait Jukar loved the extinct monsters of deep time, like dinosaurs and mammoths. This is why he feels so lucky now, getting to study these fossil giants every day as a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History. Advait specializes in the study of fossil elephants and their extinct relatives, including mastodons, mammoths, and gomphotheres. 

"I love elephants not only because they're charismatic and have an incredibly interesting evolutionary history, but also because in many ways, they're like us; they live in complex social groups and exhibit a range of emotions. If we let the remaining species go extinct, that entire branch of the mammal tree of life is gone forever. I hope that never happens."

The earliest elephant relatives originated in Africa about 60 million years ago and dispersed to every continent on earth, except Antarctica and Australia. There are about 165  known elephant species from the fossil record, and scientists estimate that there would have been many more that we haven't found yet in this branch of the evolutionary tree of life. In Earth's more recent history, between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago, there were 16 species of elephants and their relatives living at the same time around the world, including at least seven in the United States. Today, there are only three species of elephants that remain: the African savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana), the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). Populations of all three species are declining, with Asian elephants at a much higher risk of extinction.

Today's elephants are part of the order Proboscidea which consists of modern elephants and their extinct relatives such as mastodons, mammoths, and gomphotheres. All of the animals in this group have a proboscis, or trunk, that they use to eat and drink. While today there are only two surviving elephant genera, the African and Asian elephant, their evolutionary history is much more diverse. 

Paleobiologists like Advait use fossils to better discover new species of fossil elephants, reveal what they may have looked like, what they ate, and how they were related to one another. Watch a brief video to see how he does his work. 

Tune into a live webcast on Thursday, December 12, 2019, to meet Advait, learn how he studies fossil elephants at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and ask him questions. 

Source URL:

Filed Under:  
Assigned 27 times
What do you think the most exciting thing about studying fossils might be? Why?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • Jacoby-pla
    3/09/2021 - 01:39 p.m.

    Advait Jukar is a paleontologist who has always had a deep love for elephants. He favors these mammals because of their great characteristics and their interesting history on our planet. It was once said that there were 16 different types of elephants that thrived over 50,000 years ago. However through the course of time, the number have decreased to only three species: Asian, African savanna, African Forest. This has lead to Jukar to become interested and passionate about protecting our elephants today from going extinct.

    Jukar is a great example of someone who is civically engagement in the community. From his efforts to understand, and learn about elephants of our past, he benefits our planet to learn how our present elephants may connect and be similar to their heritage. From understanding this connection, we are a society can better plan and work out ways to make sure these mammals do not go extinct. In essence, Jukar is a person who is civically engaged from passionate studies of our prehistoric elephants.

Leave a comment
Leave a comment