The original ancestors of African and Asian elephants appeared in what is modern day east Africa 16 million years ago. The elephant's biological family split into the genera of mammuthus, loxodonta and elephas over a 2.4-million-year period that began 7.6 million years ago.
The mammuthus genus contains the animals known as mammoths that are said to have populated North America, Europe, northern Asia and central Mexico up until 12,000 years ago. The loxodonta genus contains the modern African elephant species while the elephas genus refers to Asian elephants. The closest living genetic relatives to African and Asian elephants are the hyrax, sea cows and golden moles.