The “Siberian unicorn” – an ancient rhinoceros species thought to have gone extinct 350,000 years ago – may have found its last refuge as recently as 29,000 years ago in Kazakhstan, scientists say.
These conclusions were made from the fossilised skull of Elasmotherium sibiricum or “Siberian unicorn” – a Siberian rhinoceros, found in the Pavlodar Irtysh region of Kazakhstan.
“The skull is well preserved. There are some cracks but no trace of pelletisation, gnawing and exfoliation,” researchers said.
Most likely, south of Western Siberia was a refugium, where this rhino was preserved the longest in comparison to the rest of its range, said Andrey Shpanski, from Tomsk State University (TSU) in Russia.
“There is another option that it could migrate and dwell for a while on the more southern areas,” said Shpanski.
Analysis of the fossils showed that the skull belonged to the animal that died 29,000 years ago.
“The dimensions of this rhino today are the biggest of those described in the literature, and the proportions are typical,” researchers said.
Elasmotherium sibiricum was supposed to be extinct about 350,000 years ago. Its habitat was the vast territory from the Don River in Russia to the east of modern Kazakhstan.
Elasmotherium residue findings in the Pavlodar Irtysh showed quite a long existence of these rhinos in the southeast of the West Siberian Plain.
The finding were published in the American Journal of Applied Science.