For many years, scientists thought that the Siberian unicorn went extinct 350,000 years ago. However, a study published on February 2016 in the American Journal of Applied Science claims that the unicorn, which was actually an extinct genus of rhinoceros known as the Elasmotherium sibiricum, was still alive 29,000 years ago in Kazakhstan.
“Most likely, it was a very large male of very large individual age (teeth not preserved),” adds Andrey Shpanski, a palaeontologist at Tomsk State University (TSU) in Siberia. “The dimensions of this rhino today are the biggest of those described in the literature, and the proportion is typical.”
The rhino’s skull found near the Kozhamzhar village in the Pavlodar region in Kazakhstan does not have any trace of exfoliation and gnawing but it contains some cracks. Nevertheless, this was well-preserved enough to allow TSU researchers to conduct a radiocarbon analysis and conclude that the animal died out 29,000 years ago.
“Most likely, in the south of Western Siberia it was a refúgium, where this rhino had preserved the longest in comparison with the rest of its range,” says Shpanski. “There is another option that it could migrate and dwell for a while on the more southern areas.”
The Elasmotherium sibiricum mainly resided at the Don River to the east of modern Kazakhstan and in the southeast of the West Siberian Plain. Moreover, the new findings indicate that extinct animals could have actually been roaming the Earth later than previously thought before they all died.
This would mean conducting extensive radiocarbon studies of mammals that have gone extinct 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Furthermore, this could also provide new insight into how climate change may impact present-day animals.
“Our research makes adjustments in the understanding of the environmental conditions in the geologic time in general,” asserts Shpanski. “Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future: it also concerns climate change.”