Hippos prove animals migrated from East Africa to Arabian Peninsula

A French researcher said the story of the migration of the hippopotamus is connected to the story of human migration from Africa.
Ancient footprints hint at animal lives from thousands of years ago. Courtesy Mark Beech
Ancient footprints hint at animal lives from thousands of years ago. Courtesy Mark Beech

ABU DHABI // The hippopotamuses that roamed the Western Region during the Miocene era are proof that animals, and possibly even humans, migrated from East Africa to the Arabian Peninsula said Dr Jean-Renaud Boisserie.

“The world looked very different in that time, Arabia was forming a bridge with Africa,” he said. “It is very clear that the history of this place is tightly linked to that of Africa.”

Speaking about the Arabo-African continent, he said that the story of the migration of the hippopotamus is connected to the story of human migration from Africa.

“The migration is linked to the deeper story of humanity,” said Dr Boisserie, who is leading a multidisciplinary research group in southwest Ethiopia. “As we have many different humans so do we hippopotami.”

The hippopotamus is closely related to a group of extinct ungulates that appeared in Asia more than 40 million years ago.

The species found in the Arabian Gulf, he said, underwent a long evolution and existed in small numbers. But around 8 million years ago, the hippopotamid population became widespread and abundant likely due to grass expansion in the region.

“Another importance is the distribution of this animal as there was a strong relation between Eastern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula,” Dr Boisserie said. Pointing to a map of Africa, he added: “We know that there was human ancestors here, we could imagine easily that the human ancestors were also living in the Arabian Peninsula.

“So maybe it is a matter of time, and hopefully someday, that the team will find discovery of these human ancestors.”

Dr Boisserie studies the hippopotamuses that roamed the Western Region and their similarities with the African species.

He said studying the fossilised hippopotamus is another way in which scientists can study the past distribution of water bodies.

“They can even have some impact on the wild landscape because they create pathways in the water that they follow.”

These large animals, some weighing as much as 1,500 kilograms, create river trenches so deep that water further extends into the desert allowing for vegetation to grow.

He said that the hippo that existed in the Arabian Gulf was the bridge that explains why certain species, such as elephants, exist both in Africa and India.

nalwasmi@thenational.ae

Published: December 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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