An international group of paleontologists have unearthed the complete skull and lower jaw of a long-extinct, but previously unknown, animal in Tibet’s Zanda Basin.
Dubbed the Tibetan woolly rhino (Coelodonta thibetana) by the scientists, the find marks the discovery of “the oldest, most primitive woolly rhino ever found," according to Yang Wang, a Florida State University geochemist who was a part of the research team.
Before the team had discovered the Tibetan woolly rhino, the oldest known woolly rhino was dated at 2.6 million years old.
The remains found in the Zanda Basin appear to be about 3.7 million years old. That would mean the animal was alive before the last Ice Age.
Based on remains, scientists believe the woolly rhino stood about 6 feet tall and was about 12- to 14-feet long. The animal had two large horns, with one growing from the tip of its nose. A smaller horn was located between the eyes.
The woolly rhino is similar in body size and weight to today’s rhino, but was covered in thick hair, similar to that of the woolly mammoths.
Analysis performed by Wang of the woolly rhino’s teeth and bones also shed light on its dietary habits, specifically that it ate grasses at high altitudes and them moved to lower altitudes as the Ice Age began.
Wang, along with the other members of the research team, plan to return to the Zanda Basin in summer 2012 to continue their research.
This study was published in the September 2011 edition of the journal Science.