It was long thought that Siberian unicorn with the extraordinary single horn became extinct much before the last Ice Age, perhaps about 200,000 years ago. Now, a new study has confirmed that the shaggy Ice Age rhinoceros was wiped out about 36,000 years ago not because of the impact of humans as commonly believed, but owing to the diminishing grassland caused by climate change.
The new study found that the Siberian unicorn, which scientific name is Elasmotherium Sibiricum, became extinct around 36,000 years ago, most likely owing to the reduction in steppe grassland where it lived, which means due to climate change and not impact of humans.
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The new finding on the origin and extinction of the Siberian unicorn which weigh up to 3.5 tonnes was published in the journal “Nature Ecology and Evolution”.
Genetic analyses was carried out in Australia’s University of Adelaide. The analyses revealed that the Siberian unicorn that roamed the steppe of Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Northern China, was the last surviving member of a unique family of rhinos.
“The ancestors of the Siberian unicorn split from the ancestors of all living rhinos over 40 million years ago,” said Kieren Mitchell, who analysed the DNA of the Siberian unicorn, as reported by PTI.
It is the first time DNA has ever been recovered from E Sibiricum, said Mitchell in the PTI report.
“That makes the Siberian unicorn and the African white rhino even more distant cousins than humans are to monkeys,” Mitchell said.
This new genetic evidence overturns previous studies that suggested the Siberian unicorn was a very close relative of the extinct woolly rhino and living Sumatran rhino.
“It is unlikely that the presence of humans was the cause of extinction,” said Professor Chris Turney, climate scientist at the University of New South Wales.
“The Siberian unicorn appears to have been badly hit by the start of the Ice Age in Eurasia when 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,” Turney added.
The new study revealed the bone specimens of 23 Siberian unicorn, indicating that the species survived possibly as late as 35,000 years ago. The Siberian unicorn’s final days were shared with early modern humans and Neanderthals, researchers said. They also said that today there are just five surviving species of rhino, although in the past there have been as many as 250 species.
(With PTI inputs)