A mysterious shaggy giant species of rhinoceros – named the Siberian unicorn due to its enormous single horn – turns out to have survived in western Russia until just 36,000 years ago, according to research published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution. This extinction date means that the Siberian unicorn’s final days were shared with early modern humans and Neanderthals.
Previously, little was known about the creature thought to have become extinct more than 200,000 years ago. But genetic analysis and radiocarbon dating have begun to reveal many aspects of how it lived, and when it died out.
A key finding is that the Siberian unicorn did not become extinct due to modern human hunting, nor even the peak of the last Ice Age starting around 25,000 years ago.
Instead, it succumbed to a more subtle change in climate that reduced grassland from eastern Europe to China.
Our new results show that the Siberian unicorn was reliant on these grasslands and, unlike other species in the area such as the saiga antelope, was unable to adapt to change.Read full article at THE CONVERSATIONAncient artwork from a cave in Rouffignac, France, depicting what is believed to be an Elasmotherium. Image license Public Domain, U.S. France, by The Rhino Resource Center via Wikimedia Commons
NOTE: These beasties ranged across Siberia, Mongolia, up to Eastern Europe, at the same time the Denisovans and Neandertals lived in those regions. That also puts them around the Caucasus Mountains, the Black Sea, the Himalayas, Tibet, and up the Volga - all areas where Caucasians evolved from Sapiens, Neandertal and Desisovians, and the area where nations like the Scythians mastered the horse and agriculture, and where related races reached north and west to establish themselves as native Americans, (eastward as well). The point is that humans knew this animal well, and if ever a "Unicorn" emerged in legend from a real creature, that creature could have been this rhino, now extinct. Grass eaters generally want to be left alone, especially in northern climes. So, it is possible that some humans danced with them at times.
Many people assume that prehistoric megafauna, like this animal, mammoths, and the saber-toothed cat, went extinct only 10-20 thousand years ago. Exterminated by man, or by the Ice Age, or both. In fact, this was the final blow, or fall, after the megafauna had been dropping for tens of thousands of years more - apparently due to the effects of climate changes, less severe than the ice age. While man as hunter certainly aided the extinctions, it was climate change which was the real hunter, and it was man who opportunistically exploited this, being able to live in so many regions on Earth, what with fire, clothes, and spears.
While this giant rhino fell along with a diminution of grasslands,
megafauna in Africa had been dropping even earlier, again, not so much because of man, but because of climate change, which caused an INCREASE of grasslands there!Grassland expansion—not human hunting—drove ancient African extinctions - ScienceBlog.comQuaternary extinction event
Animals tend to be larger in mass, ergo size, in colder climes, in order to retain heat better. This grazing rhino's low-hanging head suggests that he had not had serious predators for hundreds of thousands of years, and this was backed up by the threat of his horn. No one knows what the horn looked like, so it may be possible that the horn was also used as a kind of scythe, to facilitate eating.
What interests me is that these animals petered out at about the same time as Neandertal. This can give clues as to why Neandertal eventually 'went extinct', (we all contain some degree of Neandertal genes).
There are indications that this whooly rhino was extended as far as Western Europe, where Neandertal was common. Neandertal probably hunted this animal, and may also have considered it a kindred spirit, animistically. Did Neandertal go extinct because this animal dwindled? (Relatively few bones remain of this animal, compared to the mammoth - why?) Did Neandertal go extinct because of the dwindling grasslands, or the decreased prey on them? Maybe it was also the changing climate, directly. And maybe it was also the invasion of Homo Sapiens, with whom they partly intermingled. For the most part, Neandertal tended to retreat to caves and survive by hook or by crook.