Woolly rhino died out because it was too hot and wet

Woolly rhino

There was a big questionmark hanging over the extinction of the woolly rhino which it is believed died out about 14,000 years ago. That time was about 15,000 years after humans first saw them.

Woolly rhino

Woolly rhino. Image: Rhino Resource Center.

Researchers, using mitochondrial DNA sequencing thanks to the availability of genetic material from 14 rhinos dating to 18,500 years ago preserved in frozen soil, discovered that there was no inbreeding and that the woolly rhino enjoyed strong genetic diversity.

It had been believed that their extinction was due to human intervention. They were hunted and therefore human contact may have been their demise. However, the scientists who carried out this study, Professor Dalen, Edana Lord and Nicholas Dussex, have decided that this two ton behemoth would have struggled due to climate change. The woolly rhino was a herbivore grazing on grasslands.

The changing climate would have replaced grasslands with trees. They were over insulated for the warmer weather, which was also wetter. There was more precipitation and in winter snow cover increased which made it harder to graze.

In the summer the land became more boggy which made it more difficult for this heavy animal to survive. The researchers believe that the evidence is fairly convincing that this ancient rhino’s extinction was not due to human intervention but climate change as it is known that at the time of their demise there was a period of intense warming.

The woolly rhinoceros is one of the great lost megafauna of the Arctic together with the more famous woolly mammoths. They are closest genetically to the Sumatran rhino. It’s habitat was the ice and snow of northern Europe, including Britain. In Siberia, in those ancient times, humans coexisted with the woolly rhino.