Siberian Unicorn, Unicorn, Elasmotherium sibircum,
image source: Natural History Museum

We all see unicorns in the TV shows and fantasy world. In the Barbie movies, we all were mesmerized by the white unicorn which they show in their movies. But that is fantasy overall but now researchers have found a rhinoceros which is named as Siberian Unicorn was present in the late Pliocene period.

Siberian Unicorn was massive and hairy. A new study claims that it lived longer and also tend to walk with the humans on Earth. Why they were called unicorns? Yes it is interesting as those rhinos who lived around 36,000 years ago and walked on Siberian plains, had a single horn between their ears. They used to look like the rhinos which are present today but with a horn. The scientific name of Siberian Unicorn is Elasmotherium sibiricum.

According to a team of researchers from Adelaide, Sydney, London, Russia, and the Netherlands say that we are seeing those monstrous creatures anymore. In new research published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the scientists say the Siberian unicorn seems to have become extinct during the Ice Age, when climate change reduced its grassy habitat around present-day Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Northern China.

First there was misbelief that Siberian Unicorn died before the humans came but this study hypothesizes that these animals died around 165,000 years later than originally thought. After interpreting the study, this means at the time when the Neanderthal man was roaming on earth which had the highest brain capacity and buried the died people, these Siberian Unicorns were roaming with them.

”The Siberian unicorn appears to have been badly hit by the start of the ice age in Eurasia,” said study co-author and climate scientist Chris Turney, from the University of New South Wales, in a statement. “A precipitous fall in temperature led to an increase in the amount of frozen ground, reducing the tough, dry grasses it lived on and impacting populations over a vast region.”

WHAT SCIENTISTS DID THEN?

They did the radiocarbon dating of around 23-specimens of the rhinoceros and got to know these monstrous creatures were present at the same time when Neanderthals were present and proved the earlier study wrong.

Why did Siberian Unicorn Extinct?

Elasmotherium sibiricum (Siberian Unicorn) was supposed to extinct about 200,000 years ago, as thought by the scientists and the key cause was said to be the human hunting or the last Ice Age but In fact sudden change in climate the reason for their demise.

As the Earth began to warm and come out of an Ice Age that dates back to about 40,000 years ago, grasslands began to diminish in size and the rhino, which exclusively grazed on tough, dry grass, was likely pushed to extinction.

“Relatives such as the woolly rhino had always eaten a more balanced array of plants, and were much less impacted by a change in habitat,” wrote the study’s authors.

Siberian Unicorn, Unicorn, Elasmotherium sibircum,
image source: Phys.org

After analyzing the Rhino’s DNA, the researchers discovered that, despite appearances, the Siberian unicorn was only a very distant relative of today’s living rhinos, and in fact the last surviving member of a unique mammal family. “The ancestors of the Siberian unicorn split from the ancestors of all living rhinos over 40 million years ago,” said study co-author and University of Adelaide genetics researcher Kieren Mitchell, in a statement. “That makes the Siberian unicorn and the African white rhino even more distant cousins than humans are to monkeys.” Their genetic connection to prettier, and allegedly mythological, non-Siberian unicorns remains a mystery.

Fate of Modern Rhinos

Now rhinoceros are listed as endangered species and only five species are left from the total of 250 species. Three of them are even critically endangered as said by International Union for Conservation Of Nature (IUCN). The main causes of the loss of this diverse species is poaching and other is loss of habitat.

Scientists believe that studying the Siberian unicorn’s extinction could help them save the rhinos remaining that face going extinct because of their stubbornness when picking a habitat.

“Any change in their environment is a danger for them,” Adrian Lister, who led the study, told BBC News. “And, of course, what we’ve also learned from the fossil record is that once a species is gone.

More About Siberian Unicorn (Elasmotherium sibiricum)

According to Wikipedia: The best known, E. sibiricum, was the size of a mammoth and is thought to have borne a large, thick horn on its forehead. Theories about the function of this horn include defence, attracting mates, driving away competitors, sweeping snow from the grass in winter and digging for water and plant roots. Like all rhinoceroses, elasmotheres were herbivorous. Unlike any others, its high-crowned molars were ever-growing. Its legs were longer than those of other rhinos and were adapted for galloping, giving it a horse-like gait.

Siberian Unicorn, Unicorn, Elasmotherium sibircum,
image source: The News Daily

Elasmotherium is believed to have descended from the Late Pliocene genus of Central Asia, SinotheriumElasmotherium is thought to be the most derived genus of elasmothere, with E. caucasicum in turn being more derived than E. sibiricum. The two Chinese fossils, formerly considered distinct species, E. inexpectatum and E. peii, defined by Chow in 1958, have been sunk into E. caucasicum They were found in northern China from the Early Pleistocene Nihewan Faunal assemblage (from the same valley as nearby Nihewan in Shanxi) and were extinct at approximately 1.6 Ma.

E. caucasicum, defined by Borissjak in 1914, flourished in the Black Sea region, as a member of the Early Pleistocene Tamanian Faunal Unit (1.1–0.8 Ma, Taman Peninsula). However, an elasmotherian species turned up in the preceding Khaprovian or Khaprov Faunal Complex, which was at first taken to be E. caucasicum, and then on the basis of the dentition was redefined as a new species, E. chaprovicum (Shvyreva, 2004), named after the Khaprov Faunal Complex. The Khaprov is in the MIddle Villafranchian, MN17, which spans the Piacenzian of the Late Pliocene and the Gelasian of the Early Pleistocene of Northern Caucasus, Moldova and Asia and has been dated to 2.6–2.2 Ma.

E. sibiricum, described by Johann Fischer von Waldheim in 1808 and chronologically the latest species of the sequence, coming from E. caucasicum in the Middle Pleistocene, ranged from southwestern Russia to western Siberia and southward into Ukraine and Moldova. It appears in the Middle Pleistocene Khazar Faunal Complex of the Sea of Azov region, which has “no exact stratigraphic situation”.

 

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