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Siberian Unicorn Roamed The Earth With Humans 40,000 Years Ago




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The Siberian unicorn walked the Earth with humans and survived until just 39,000 years ago, much longer than previously thought.

Elasmotherium sibericum, which is actually a kind of ancient giant rhinoceros that may have been the origin of the unicorn myth, was roaming around on the grasslands of the same time as early humans.

Like modern rhinos, this mega-beast was very picky about its habitat and new evidence suggests that this resistance to change led to the breed's extinction.

Artist's impression of Elasmotherium sibiricum. (Credit: W S van der Merwe)W van der Merwe / Natural History Museum

"Modern rhinos tend to be rather solitary and spread out in their habitat," said Professor Adrian Lister of London's Natural History Museum in a statement. "Combined with Elasmotherium's restricted geographical range, it might have been a rare animal.

"The environment where the animal was living seems to have changed very well, so it is quite plausible that if it was a rare animal to start with it would have been a relatively high risk of extinction. "

The 3.5 tonne rhino had a huge single horn on its head, but despite its size and ferocious appearance, it was built for speedy running on the plains. Previous estimates had put its extinction at about 100,000 years ago. However, the latest DNA study shows that Elasmotherium may have died out as part of the megafaunal extinction event that also took out the woolly mammoth and the sabre-toothed cat.

"We dated a few specimens – such as the beautiful full skull we had at the Museum – and to our surprise they came in less than 40,000 years old," explained Lister.

In all, 23 specimens were dated by the London researchers in conjunction with scientists in the Netherlands and Russia.

"They are very strongly all confirmed that these species survived until at least 39,000 years ago, and maybe as late as 35,000 years ago," said Lister.

At that time, the world experienced a dramatic fluctuation in the climate, warming up as the Ice Age was ending, which was devastating for a species that already had such a low population and specialised diet. Hundreds of large mammals disappeared at this time, as the vegetation was lost and human populations bloomed, rapidly increasing the scale of hunting taking place.

There are only five species of rhino left in the world, but at one time, there were as many as 250 different types. Studying the fate of ancient rhinos like this can help scientists understand why they are so prone to extinction and how modern rhinos may still be saved.

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The Siberian unicorn walked the Earth with humans and survived until just 39,000 years ago, much longer than previously thought.

Elasmotherium sibericum, which is actually a kind of ancient giant rhinoceros that may have been the origin of the unicorn myth, was roaming around on the grasslands of the same time as early humans.

Like modern rhinos, this mega-beast was very picky about its habitat and new evidence suggests that this resistance to change led to the breed's extinction.

Artist's impression of Elasmotherium sibiricum. (Credit: W S van der Merwe)W van der Merwe / Natural History Museum

"Modern rhinos tend to be rather solitary and spread out in their habitat," said Professor Adrian Lister of London's Natural History Museum in a statement. "Combined with Elasmotherium's restricted geographical range, it might have been a rare animal.

"The environment where the animal was living seems to have changed very well, so it is quite plausible that if it was a rare animal to start with it would have been a relatively high risk of extinction. "

The 3.5 tonne rhino had a huge single horn on its head, but despite its size and ferocious appearance, it was built for speedy running on the plains. Previous estimates had put its extinction at about 100,000 years ago. However, the latest DNA study shows that Elasmotherium may have died out as part of the megafaunal extinction event that also took out the woolly mammoth and the sabre-toothed cat.

"We dated a few specimens – such as the beautiful full skull we had at the Museum – and to our surprise they came in less than 40,000 years old," explained Lister.

In all, 23 specimens were dated by the London researchers in conjunction with scientists in the Netherlands and Russia.

"They are very strongly all confirmed that these species survived until at least 39,000 years ago, and maybe as late as 35,000 years ago," said Lister.

At that time, the world experienced a dramatic fluctuation in the climate, warming up as the Ice Age was ending, which was devastating for a species that already had such a low population and specialised diet. Hundreds of large mammals disappeared at this time, as the vegetation was lost and human populations bloomed, rapidly increasing the scale of hunting taking place.

There are only five species of rhino left in the world, but at one time, there were as many as 250 different types. Studying the fate of ancient rhinos like this can help scientists understand why they are so prone to extinction and how modern rhinos may still be saved.


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