The Tibetan Plateau seems to be a cradle of evolution for Ice Age beasts, as paleontologists found the fossil of an ancient woolly rhinoceros that lived about 3.7 million years ago.
The ancient furry rhino's remains were found in a southwest Tibet area called Zanda Basin. Zanda Basin is an area that is rich in fossil beds.
The rhino specimen was unearthed along with extinct horse, antelope, snow leopard, badger and other mammals that had acquired similarly snow-ready qualities.
The rhino is believed to be the oldest specimen of its kind found to date. It is approximately one million years older than any other woolly rhinos known and it seems the beast was well-adapted to a cold lifestyle in the Himalayas a million years before the Ice Age.
It is the oldest specimen discovered so far, said Xiaoming Wang from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It's quite well preserved - just a little crushed, so not quite in the original shape; but the complete skull and lower jaw are preserved.
The findings are published in Friday's edition of the journal Science and lead researchers to believe that before the ice age began, the cold Tibetan highlands may have served as an evolutionary cradle for the origins of some of the Ice Age giants.
Dubbed Coelodonta thibetan, the rhino had some primitive features when compared with its counterparts that lived through the Pleistocene Epoch. It was well equipped with a built-in snow shovel on its face that would have allowed it to brush away snow and find vegetation beneath.
Very little is known about where these giants came from and how they got their adaptations for living in a cold environment.
According to Wang, such large and furry mammals ruled the world during Earth's cold snap from 2.6 million to about 12,000 years ago.
It just happens to have the right environment to basically let animals acclimate themselves and be ready for the Ice Age cold, he said.
The researchers believe the rhino may have belonged to an animal that weighed 1.2 to 1.4 tonnes, which is close in size to modern rhinos and about 10 percent smaller than the woolly rhinos found a million years later during Ice Age.