IN A DREAM, you walk outside to find your familiar landscape swarming with fantastic beings. Depending on where you live, there might be deer with antlers thick as tree boughs, or something resembling a live armored tank. There’s a herd of what look like camels—except they have trunks. Furry rhinoceroses, big hairy elephants, and even bigger sloths—sloths?? Wild horses of all sizes and stripe. Panthers with seven-inch fangs and alarmingly tall cheetahs. Wolves, bears, and lions so huge, this must be a nightmare.
A dream, or a congenital memory? This was precisely the world that Homo sapiens stepped into as we spread beyond Africa, all the way to America. Had we never appeared, would those now-missing mammals still be here? If we go, will they be back?