Scientists confirmed that the ancient rhino species called Siberian unicorn walked the Earth until around at least 39,000 years ago, much later than initially thought.
The Elasmotherium sibiricum, known for its magnificent lone horn on its nose, was among the 250 different species of rhino that had existed in the past. It roamed the Eurasian grasslands ranging from southwestern Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Siberia.
Scientists previously thought that the creatures went extinct sometime between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. However, a new study claims that it shared Eurasia alongside Neanderthals and modern humans.
Changing The Timeline Of Siberian Unicorns
"We dated a few specimens — such as the beautiful complete skull we have at the Museum — and to our surprise, they came in at less than 40,000 years old," explained Adrian Lister, Merit Researcher from the Natural History Museum in London.
The new findings published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution changes the way scientists view the history of the Siberian unicorns. Because of the earlier belief that the creatures perished 100,000 years ago, the one-horned giants were not considered to be a part of the megafaunal extinction during the end of the last Ice Age.
Lister said that the event, which saw other iconic creatures such as the woolly mammoth and the saber-toothed cat disappear, started around 40,000 years ago.
Why The Siberian Unicorns Went Extinct
Lister ruled out the possibility that the megaherbivores were hunted into extinction by modern humans. Instead, the researchers suspect that the rhinos struggled because of the fluctuations in the environment.
The anatomy of the Siberian unicorn suggested that it was adapted to run fast, suggesting that the creature thrived in open grassy plains. By analyzing stable isotope ratios in their teeth, the scientists determined that the rhinos grazed on dry grasses.
"The environment where the animal was living seems to have changed quite considerably around the same time it went extinct," stated Lister.
Moreover, much like modern rhinos, the Siberian unicorns were solitary creatures. They were spread out within their habitats. They were rare animals, to begin with, and it put them at a high risk of extinction.
Today, there are only five surviving species of rhino and two of them are considered critically endangered. The scientists hope that these new findings could help conservationists to save the already dwindling number of rhinos around the world.