The earliest description of the mythological unicorn comes from ancient Greek literature. The unicorn was said to be the size of a horse, with a white body, a purple head with a horn, and blue eyes, according to the historian Ctesias, who lived around 400 BC. The unicorn was associated with innocence, purity, and mystical healing powers. Although there is no evidence that such a creature ever existed, there really was a formidable horned beast that roamed the Earth thousands of years ago. It is believed that Elasmotherium sibiricum, popularly called the “Siberian unicorn,” was actually a giant shaggy rhino that lived on the grasslands of Eurasia, alongside early humans. The animal became extinct around 39,000 years ago, scientists say, perhaps because it was a picky eater. Researchers carbon-dated Elasmotherium remains found in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, revising previous theories that the Siberian unicorn went extinct between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago.
Struggles for the rhino, past and present:
- A study of its teeth confirmed that the Siberian unicorn fed on the tough, dry grasses of the region, which started to disappear after the Ice Age.
- In the very distant past, today's rhino species shared a common ancestor with Elasmotherium sibiricum. That creature lived around 40 million years ago.
- Today there are just five remaining species of rhino and they are in danger of extinction. Few have survived in the wild, due to relentless poaching and loss of habitat. Most are now found in national parks and reserves.