… And not just the Smilodon and the Woolly Mammoth.
What is the Cenozoic Era, you ask? Without going into too much scientific detail, it’s the era following the Mesozoic (Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous) that lasted 66 million years ago. It’s divided into three periods: the Paleogene, the Neogene and the Quarternary (popularly known as the “Ice Age”). The dinosaurs are gone and the mammals and birds have taken over. But these aren’t the mammals and birds we’re familiar with today. It’s the time of giants. A time when sloths ate from the trees instead of climbing them (Megatherium). When camels had necks as long as giraffes (Aepycamelus). When rhinos were woolly. When whales looked like reptiles (Zeuglodon/Basilosaurus). When birds were as tall as trees (Gastornis). When horses had three toes (Mesohippus). And when the largest animal ever to walk the earth was a hornless rhinoceros (Paraceratherium).
I’ve been a dinosaur lover since that time in my childhood when my father came home with dinosaur toys for me to play with. I even owned a red dress with dinosaurs all over it. But when I was in the fifth grade, I came across a book written by Tom McGowen, with spectacular illustrations by Rod Ruth, called Album of Prehistoric Animals – which became my first exposure to Cenozoic Mammals (for more details on that book – read this post at my Tumblr blog). I’ve been loving these animals as much as dinosaurs ever since and have championed them to anyone who’ll listen. So you can guess how frustrated I feel when I can’t find that much merchandise featuring these amazing animals.
There’ve been more diverse depictions of prehistoric reptile life in toys thanks to media like the Jurassic Park franchise and the Walking With Dinosaurs tv series and exhibit. You can find toys of Carnotaurus, Spinosaurus, Nigersaurus and Therizinosaurus alongside the usual suspects (T.rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, etc.). Thanks to companies like Safari Ltd. you can even find non-dinosaur prehistoric creatures like Postosuchus, Dunkleosteus, and Megalodon. And since we’re on the subject of Safari Ltd., the education-based company, bless their hearts, has made some Cenozoic mammal toys besides the two usual suspects (Smilodon, Woolly Mammoth). They’ve added Doedicurus, Megatherium and Ambelodon. But these toys are sold only through Michaels or Joann’s and are rare finds (at least where I live). Your only other option is to buy them online. Another company that makes superb, detailed dino toys is a German-based company named Schleich. You’ll find most of their products at Toys R Us, but if you were to look at their official website, you’ll see anything but Cenozoic mammals. And when it comes to stuffed animals – forget it. I’d love to have me a stuffed Indricotherium but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I do own a stuffed Smilodon (saber-toothed cat, for those of you still wondering) and recently bought a woolly mammoth from the Children’s Natural History Museum in Fremont, CA. Both were made by Wild Republic – a company that specializes in educational stuffed animals – but, predictably, those are your only two options. So if I were to contact these companies about making more Cenozoic toys (both plush and plastic) here are my seven choices:
Once known as Baluchitherium and also called Paraceratherium, this creature lived during the Oligocene period in what is now Mongolia, China and the Balkans. It was estimated to be 16 ft high and 24 ft long, making it, as I said before, the largest land animal to walk the earth at the time.
Commonly known as the giant ground sloth, this animal was the size of an elephant and lived in South America (where else?) during the Neogene period. Whether it was as slow as its modern-day relatives is up for debate but you sure didn’t want to get swiped by its claws.
Another member of the rhino family, famous for its Y-horn. It too was the size of an elephant and lived in South Dakota and Nebraska during the Paleogene period. Some of the earliest fossils were discovered by Native Americans (Sioux) who believed that thunderstorms were caused by their stampedes (bronto = “thunder”, therium = “beast”).
Believed to be related to pigs, these omnivores lived on the plains of North America, Europe and Asia for 21 million years during the Neogene period. Their most famous feature is the bony lumps on the side of their heads, making them resemble warthogs. The average Entelodont stood 6 ft tall at the shoulder.
I chose to call this creature by the name Sir Richard Owen chose when he came to the conclusion that this was the earliest ancestor of the whale and not a marine reptile like Mosasaurus. But today it’s still called Basilosaurus even though that name means “king lizard”. Fun fact: it’s the state fossil of Mississippi and Alabama.
No, you’re not seeing another species of Smilodon. In fact this animal isn’t even a cat. It’s a marsupial that lived in South America during the Neogene period (that means it’s distantly related to POSSUMS!!!).
Xenokeryx amidalae (heck, any one of those prehistoric giraffes. They had some crazy horns!)
Star Warriors should already be familiar with this one because it was named after Padme Amidala for its distinctive “hairdo”. Can you imagine the types of Star Wars toys made with this one? It lived during the Neogene period. Also believed by scientists to be related to deer as well.
The weirdest one on my list. Nobody can pinpoint what species it was related to: it looks like a cross between a gorilla, a horse, a bear and a giant sloth. It was named for its pebble-like teeth. Can you imagine the looks on people’s faces when they notice the plush toy your baby or toddler is holding in his or her arm and the first thing that comes out of mouths is what is it??!!
So join me in my quest to make these products happen. Contact these companies (or any other toy company you can think of. Read: I did contact Hansa toys one time suggesting they make an indricotherium but I never got a response.):
and give them your two cents for what type of Cenozoic mammal (or any other non-dinosaur prehistoric animal) you’d like to see on the shelves. By the way, what prehistoric animal is your favorite?
And does anyone know if Build-A-Bear lets you make other animals besides bears?