Paleontologists have unearthed the fossil of a 3.7-million-year-old shaggy rhinoceros in Tibet's Zanda Basin, they believe could be an ancestor of the woolly mammals that dominated the cold climate during the Ice Age.
Tibet's Zanda Basin is a hotspot for unexpected discoveries.
A new study published in Science, which was led by Xiaoming Wang from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Qiang Li of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, suggested that a number of these creatures possibly originated from Tibet.
The fossils of a primitive shaggy rhinoceros displayed more primitive features than that of the Ice Age's woolly rhinos. And it had certain traits that enabled it to survive in the harsh, cold environment of Tibet.
Those traits included a 3-foot-long skull and lower jaw, along with a neck vertebra that led scientists to believe the rhino's horn was flattened in the form of a paddle. It is believed the rhino used this horn to sweep away snow, revealing vegetation.
The creature was pre-adapted for the future Ice Age climate, stated a press release from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. When the Ice Age finally came, the rhino may have simply descended from the mountains and expanded to Asia and Europe.
The cold winters in high Tibet served as a habituation ground for the mega-herbivores, which became pre-adapted for the Ice Age, successfully expanding to the Eurasian mammoth steppe, Wang, fsaid. It just happens to have the right environment to basically let animals acclimate themselves and be ready for the Ice Age cold.
In addition to the rhino fossil, paleontologists also found extinct species of the three-toed horse (Hipparion), Tibetan bharal (Pseudois, also known as blue sheep), chiru (Pantholops, also known as Tibetan antelope), snow leopard (Uncia), badger (Meles), and 23 other kinds of mammals in the Tibet area.
Cold places, such as Tibet, Arctic, and Antarctic, are where the most unexpected discoveries will be made in the future - these are the remaining frontiers that are still largely unexplored, Wang said.