"Siberian Unicorn" walked alongside humans, was swept away by climate change



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The representation of an artist from the "Siberian unicorn".

(Ecology and Evolution of Nature)

  • A massive, furry rhino known as the "Siberian unicorn" lived much longer than expected.
  • A new study found that the beast survived enough to walk the Earth with humans.
  • Scientists say a change in climate probably ended the species.

A massive, furry rhino nicknamed the "Siberian unicorn" lived much longer than was believed and walked the Earth with humans, a new study says.

By radiocarbon dating, 23 rhinoceros specimens, scientists have discovered that the four-ton beast – not exactly what you imagine when you think of a unicorn – survived in Eastern Europe and Central Asia until 39,000 years ago., at the same time as modern humans and Neanderthals, according to new research in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Previously, scientists thought that the rhinoceros, scientifically known as Elasmotherium sibericum, was extinct about 200,000 years ago.

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Another important finding was that the extinction of the Siberian unicorn was not caused by human hunting or the last Ice Age, which began about 25,000 years ago. Instead, a subtle change in the climate was its disappearance.

A skeleton of Elasmotherium sibericum in the Stavropol Museum.

(Ecology and Evolution of Nature)

As Earth began to warm up and out of the Ice Age, dating back about 40,000 years ago, grasslands began to decline in size and the rhino, which grazed exclusively on hard, dry grass, was probably driven to extinction.

"Relatives like the woolly rhinoceros always ate a more balanced variety of plants, and were much less impacted by a change in habitat," the study authors wrote.

Today, only five of the 250 known rhinoceros species remain, Three of which are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Very few rhinos live outside parks and national reserves due to illegal hunting and habitat loss.

Scientists believe that studying the extinction of the Siberian unicorn could help them save the remaining rhinos that face extinction because of their stubbornness in choosing a habitat.

"Any change in their environment is a danger to them"Adrian Lister, who led the study, told BBC News." And, of course, what we also learned from the fossil record is that once a species is gone, it's over.

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