For many years, experts thought that the Siberian unicorn, a fossilized animal that more closely resembled a rhino than a horse, had become extinct around 350,000 years ago. A recently found perfectly preserved skull in Kazakhstan has refuted this hypothesis. The skull has shown that these amazing animals did roam the planet as recently as 29,000 years ago.
The unicorn that once roamed the earth was unlike the legendary animal portrayed in children’s literature. Elasmotherium sibiricum, the actual animal, was a large, shaggy creature that looked similar to a contemporary rhinoceros and had a single, commanding horn on its forehead.
According to descriptions, the unicorn was about 4.5 meters long, 2 meters tall, and weighed about 4 tonnes, which puts it in the same size class as a woolly mammoth rather than a horse.
Despite its enormous girth, the unicorn was probably a grazer that mostly consumed grass. A woolly rhinoceros with a single, long, slender horn sticking out of its forehead, as opposed to a contemporary rhino with a short, stubby horn, would better represent this animal.
The recently discovered, perfectly preserved skull was in Kazakhstan’s Pavlodar region. Researchers from Tomsk State University estimated the skull’s age at around 29,000 years ago using radiometric dating methods. The reason for the skull’s demise is unknown, but it most likely belonged to an extremely elderly male.
The fossil consists of both the skull and lower jaw and displays the characteristic appearance of the Siberian Elasmotherium.
One issue on researchers’ minds is how this unicorn species managed to endure for a long time compared to its counterparts, which perished hundreds of thousands of years ago. One explanation is that the southern region of Western Siberia acted as a refuge, allowing rhinos to survive longer there than elsewhere. Another hypothesis holds that they moved and spent some time in more southern regions.
Researchers expect to gain more insight into the environmental factors that contributed to the extinction of this species by understanding how it was able to endure for so long before going extinct. As we deal with our environmental problems, this information may enable us to make more informed decisions about the future of our species.
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