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Prehistoric Siberian ‘unicorn’ rhino challenges scientists

A recent discovery of a skull in Kazakhstan’s Pavlodar region provides evidence that Elasmotherium sibiricum lived until much more recently, having only become extinct about 29,000 years ago, the Guardian reports.

This means the rhino may have lived alongside humans, reports a study published in the American Journal of Applied Science.

This critter weighed about 9,000 lbs, was 15 feet long and was well over six feet tall, so despite the gigantic horn, a unicorn doesn’t come to mind in describing this big beast.

The skull, which was in good condition, likely belonged to an older male, researchers said according to Mashable. Because it was in such good shape, paleontologist Andrey Shpanski of Tomsk State University, in Tomsk, Russia, could tell where the rhinoceros may have lived, and why it may have survived when many of its relatives became extinct thousands of years before.

“Most likely, the south of Western Siberia was a [refuge], where this rhino persevered the longest in comparison with the rest of its range,” he said in a statement. “There is another possibility that it could migrate and dwell for a while in the more southern areas.”

By analyzing a tiny piece of the skull through radiocarbon dating, the scientists realized that this rhino became extinct much later than previously thought.

The researchers hope this find will give them a better understanding of the role played by environmental factors in the extinction of this magnificent, if bizarre-looking rhino, since it appears that Elasmotherium survived longer than previously thought, perhaps by migrating long distances, ScienceAlert reports.

There are three known species of Elasmotherium, but the mammoth-sized E. sibiricum is the largest known so far, Dinopedia reports. Despite it’s intimidating appearance, it was an herbivore, like all rhinos, but in one major difference, it had high-crowned molars that grew continuously. This allowed the animal to feed on grass, the underground parts of plants, along coastal rivers and lakes. It could easily eat the starchy rhizomes of sedges, cattails and reeds.

Amazingly, this huge rhino also had legs that were relatively long and it could gallop like a horse.

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