'Siberian Unicorn' Existed Much More Recently Than Thought
New fossil evidence shows the Siberian rhinoceros roamed the Earth hundreds of thousands of years after it was presumed extinct.
A now-extinct giant "Siberian unicorn" existed much more recently than previously thought, paleontologists say.
The animal, an elasmotherium Siberian rhinoceros or Elasmotherium sibiricum, was previously thought to be extinct 350,000 years ago. However, new research by experts at Tomsk State University (TSU) in Russia indicates that the "unicorn" may have existed until 29,000 years ago.
This means that the "unicorn" may have roamed the Earth at the same time as humans – a human fossil found in western Siberia in 2008 was dated to 45,000 years ago.
The researchers cite a well-preserved fossilized skull fragment discovered near Kozhamzhar village, Pavlodar, Kazakhstan as evidence for the rhino's more recent existence. The findings are detailed in the "American Journal of Applied Science."
"Most likely, in the south of Western Siberia it was a refúgium, where this rhino had preserved the longest in comparison with the rest of its range," explained Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at TSU, in a press release. "There is another option that it could migrate and dwell for a while on the more southern areas."
Radiocarbon dating was performed on the skull at Queen's University, Belfast, in the U.K. "Most likely, it was a very large male of very large individual age (teeth not preserved)," said Shpanski, in the press release.
It is thought that the giant animals were about 6.7 feet tall and 15 feet long.
The rhinos could be found across a vast habitat that spanned from the Don river to the east of modern Kazakhstan, according to experts. Residue from the animal in Kazakhstan reveals that the rhinos had "quite a long existence" in the southeast of the west Siberian plain, TSU says.
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New technologies could make it possible to bring extinct species back to life, concludes a paper published on April 4 in the journal Science. These advances include back-breeding (assembling or reassembling an extinct species' genes), cloning and genetic engineering.
A leading candidate for de-extinction is the woolly mammoth. Russian scientist Semyon Grigoriev, of the Sakha Republic's mammoth museum, plans to replace the nuclei of an elephant egg with nuclei extracted from woolly mammoth bone marrow. The elephant would theoretically become a surrogate mother to a baby mammoth.
Tasmanian tigers died out in 1936, in part because they had little genetic diversity which translates to "bad news for a species," said Katherine Belov, professor of comparative genomics at the University of Sydney. "Species are less able to adapt to change." Even if Tasmanian tigers -- or other animals -- are resurrected, it will take some time to build up diversity again.
Experts believe billions of these birds populated the Americas when Europeans arrived. Loss of habitat and commercial exploitation of the birds for their meat are thought to have killed them all off.
Efforts are now underway to revive the species by extracting DNA fragments from preserved specimens, and later, using band-tailed pigeons as surrogate parents.
The Pyrenean ibex, a horned mammal once common in Europe, was one of the first subspecies targeted for de-extinction. Scientists began the attempts in late 1990s, when the last female Pyrenean ibex was still alive. Even if researchers could successfully clone that individual, there would be no males for her to breed with. Instead, genetic engineering might be required.
Since saber-toothed cat bodies are sometimes found frozen, it might be possible to extract preserved DNA and clone the animal. About 5 years ago, scientists did just that with a mouse that was dead and frozen for 16 years. Woolly mammoth remains are also sometimes found in a well-preserved, frozen state.
The dodo, a flightless bird, proved to be a tasty meal for humans and other predators. In 2007, scientists found a remarkably well-preserved dodo in a cave. Dodo DNA could be used to resurrect this avian species.
Ground sloths, relatively slow, lumbering animals, were easy targets for prehistoric big-game hunters. Scientists have found remains that still bear soft tissue. As with woolly mammoths, there's a chance extracted DNA could be used to back-breed or clone the large sloths.
The Irish elk has been extinct for 11,000 years. Like the woolly mammoth, it inhabited colder regions. As a result, bodies are sometimes found frozen and in relatively good condition, making them candidates for DNA extraction.
Earlier this year, Harvard geneticist George Church -- with tongue in cheek -- said that he was seeing an "adventurous female human" to be a surrogate mother to a cloned Neanderthal. While Church was really just theorizing about what it would take to bring a Neanderthal back to life, the possibility could be a reality, should any scientist undertake such a controversial project.
Paleontologist Jack Horner is leading a project to create a dinosaur out of a chicken -- a "dinochicken." He told Discovery News that birds "are dinosaurs, so technically we're making a dinosaur out of a dinosaur." He and his colleagues have been genetically engineering chickens to reactivate ancestral traits, such as long tails, which are more associated with non-avian dinosaurs.