Young woolly rhinoceros fed on mother’s milk when it died in Pleistocene era

Scientists have shared the first results of a study of the world’s best-preserved extinct rhinoceros, which lived in Yakutia at least 20,000 years ago.

A uniquely preserved young woolly rhinoceros with even its brain intact was found in Arctic Yakutia in August 2020.

The extinct rhinoceros with thick hazelnut-colored hair, a horn and a full set of teeth was discovered by a group of mammoth tusk hunters in permafrost deposits near the Tirekhtyakh River.

This week, a group of scientists shared the first interesting results of their research on the rhinoceros.

Surprisingly, the rhino still suckled on its mother’s milk and still had a “normal” grass diet.

“The reverse side of his horn was visibly worn. We believe the horn rubbed against the mother’s belly every time he knelt down to suckle milk.”

“The front part of the horn was also badly worn, because the rhinoceros used it to dig through soil and snow in search of food. This is similar to the modern rhinoceros when mothers feed their cubs up to two years old,” said Dr. Valery Plotnikov of the Department of Mammoth Fauna Studies at the Yakutia Academy of Sciences.

Intense feeding caused the horn to wear down and scuff. We see the same thing on a baby woolly rhinoceros named Sasha, the world’s only surviving baby woolly rhinoceros.”

“His nasal and frontal horns are almost completely worn out. We believe this was due to the cub being breastfed and rubbing its horns on its mother’s belly,” Dr. Plotnikov added.

“The body length of the juvenile woolly rhinoceros is about 231 centimeters, which is about a meter shorter than an adult animal. The height at the withers is about 109 centimeters,” said Dr. Gennady Boeskorov of the Academy of Sciences of Yakutia.

According to scientists, the rhinoceros, which was three to five years old at the time of death, was “very well-fed”, even with a fat hump.

Predators may have driven it into the water, where it drowned at least 20,000 years ago.

A more precise date as to when the rhinoceros lived will come from radiocarbon analysis.

“The rhinoceros’s coat is very well preserved: layers of thick wool on its belly and long protective hair all over its body – even on its ears, making it fully prepared for winter time. It’s wonderful to have specimens of extinct woolly rhinoceroses at different stages of their lives.”

“We have a calf, we have adult animals, both males and females, and now we have a juvenile. We’re excited to study them and share the results with the world.”

The paper was presented at the international conference “Quaternary Paleontology and Paleoecology of Yakutia,” held in Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, in November 2021.

A well-preserved woolly rhino with its last meal still intact found in the extreme north of Yakutia. The unique discovery was three or four years old when it died at least 20,000 years ago.

A well-preserved woolly rhino with its last meal still intact found in the extreme north of Yakutia. The unique discovery was three or four years old when it died at least 20,000 years ago.

A well-preserved woolly rhino with its last meal still intact found in the extreme north of Yakutia. The unique discovery was three or four years old when it died at least 20,000 years ago.

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