Prehistoric Animals Collection
Woolly Rhinoceros

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Woolly Rhinoceros

Beginning in eastern Asia about 1.8 million years ago, the giant Wooly Rhinoceros, known scientifically as Coelodonta antiquitatis, migrated into Europe and became well-suited to the harsh environment there that existed in our last Ice Age. The animal's massive body and long, shaggy fur allowed it to withstand the severe cold and barren land as it fed on vegetation of the steppe and tundra of Eurasia.

The Wooly rhino grew to 11 feet in length and stood 6 feet at its shoulders. It had a huge pair of horns that grew inline on its snout. The front horn grew to lengths in excess of 3 feet. Like modern rhinos, wooly rhinoceros had horns composed of keratin. Unlike the hollow horns of cows, rhino horns are made of fused hair that are solid throughout. The fibers are attached to the snout by skin supported by a raised, roughened area on the skull. An interesting feature of the Wooly rhinoceros's anterior horn is that it was flat from side to side, rather than round like the horn of the modern rhinoceroses.

Wooly rhinoceros fossils can be found throughout Europe and Asia. Well-preserved remains have been found frozen in ice and buried in oil-saturated soils. At Staruni in what is now the Ukraine, a complete carcass of a female rhinoceros was found buried in the mud. The combination of oil and salt prevented the remains from decomposing allowing the soft tissues to remain virtually intact. This specimen is currently mounted in the Paleontological Museum in Krakow, Poland.

Wooly rhinoceros are clearly shown in cave paintings made by Neanderthals in southern France around 30,000 years ago. Hunting these animals would have been extremely dangerous given the beast's violent temperament and size coupled with its weaponry of its two horns. Like the cave bear, these deadly creatures were revered and were quite a trophy upon a successful hunt.

Their eventual extinction is believed to have been caused by their inability to cope with the warming climate that marked the close of the last Ice Age. Today, the family Rhinocerotidae contains only five living species in the wild, two in Africa and three throughout Asia. All but the Sumatran rhinoceros are virtually hairless except for the tip of the tail and a fringe on the ears. The Sumatran rhinoceros is thought to have been stranded on the island of Sumatra during the retreat of the last ice sheet. This amazing animal was covered with a fairly dense coat of hair and is believed to be the closest living relative of the Wooly rhinoceros.

by John McNamara