If humans had never set foot on Earth there might be saber-toothed tigers and mastodons in Texas, rhinos and elephants in Europe, and lions and camels in North America.
That’s according to a new study from researchers at Aarhus University, which estimates what global wildlife diversity would be today, given the absence of human beings.
The research team at Aarhus had previously concluded that most of the large mammals that died out during the last Ice Age perished as a result of human activity, not climate change. That study led to them to investigate how animals would’ve fared had people never been in the picture to begin with.
Pretty well, it turns out.
Extinct North American species like short-faced bears, American lions, dire wolfs, mastodons, and giant beavers would likely still be alive today. And Northern Europe could be home to millions of wolves, moose, bears, and elephants.
The team came to their results by examing both current trends of mammal diversity and historical records. They researched animals that Europeans recorded when they first found the New World and investigated the ranges of animals that extinct species coexisted with to predict where the wildlife might still be today.
The scientists say sub-Saharan Africa provides a glimpse into what the global wildlife diversity would look like without people, since the area had a low extinction in the last Ice Age.
Researchers say this could be due to animals having more time to adapt to human hunters, environmental isolation, or prehistoric humans finding the area uninhabitable due to parasites.
The team concludes that with the absence of just one species, Homo Sapiens, the rest of the Earth’s mammals would’ve spread far and wide, with each continent boasting a diversity rivaling that of the modern Serengeti.
Researchers say the study is a disheartening look at humans’ long and devastating affect on the planet, but the results can also serve as a wake-up call, providing an inspiration to work towards restoring global wildlife populations closer to what they might have been.