TOP: ICE-AGE WOOLLY RHINO
This artist’s reconstruction shows a woolly rhinoceros grazing in the plains of northern Thuringia in Germany 460,000 years ago
BOTTOM: PRE-ICE-AGE TIBETAN WOOLLY RHINO
Artist’s reconstruction of the woolly rhinoceros whose 3.7 million year old skull was discovered in southwest Tibet
TIBETAN PLATEAU MAY HAVE BEEN A CRADLE
FOR ICE AGE MEGA-FAUNA
Tibet may have been a cradle for the ancestors of some prehistoric ice age giants - those large, furry mammals that ruled the world from 2.6 million to about 12,000 years ago.
In the Zanda Basin, high on the Tibetan Plateau, paleontologists have uncovered the skull of a previously unknown species of ancient rhino, a woolly furred animal that came equipped with a built-in snow shovel on its face. [pictured above, bottom].
Xiaoming Wang and his colleagues uncovered a complete rhino skull and lower jaw, along with a neck vertebra, in southwestern Tibet. The 3-foot-long (1 meter) skull is 3.7 million years old. It would have belonged to an animal that weighed 1.2 to 1.4 tons (1,090 to 1,270 kilograms), Wang said. That’s close to the size of modern rhinoceroses and about 10 percent smaller than the woolly rhinos found a million years later during the Ice Age [pictured above, top].
The rhino’s flat, paddle-like horn would have allowed it to brush away snow and find vegetation beneath, suggesting that the woolly rhinoceros was well-adapted for a cold, icy life in the Himalayas about 1 million years before the Ice Age. The rhino had another feature that would have made it a master of winter weather. The teeth have high crowns, making them more durable and able to handle tough, high-altitude vegetation.
Those adaptations may have left the rhino perfectly poised to spread across Asia (a million years later) when global temperatures plummeted, ushering in the Ice Age.
The Zanda Basin is in a remote area of western Tibet - called Ngari - that was the site of the ancient Tibetan kingdom of Gu-ge. It is now home to China’s Zanda Earth Forest National Geopark. Mount Kailash is to its east.