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Palaeontology

Did humans really wipe out the woolly rhino ?

By T.K. Randall
August 14, 2020 · Comment icon 14 comments

Perhaps we didn't wipe out the rhinos after all. Image Credit: Heinrich Harder
The woolly rhino may not have been wiped out by human hunting practices as was previously believed.
One of the most recognizable of all extinct Ice Age mammals, the woolly rhino, like the mammoth, is often associated with a time long before modern human civilization started to appear on the scene.

That's not to say that they didn't live alongside man however - many researchers believe that their ultimate demise was due to the prevalence of human hunting which slowly wiped them out.

Now though, a new study has cast doubt on this idea, instead suggesting that climate change was primarily responsible for these long-lost mammals going extinct.

The research involved winding back the clock by analyzing the preserved DNA of woolly rhinos found in north-east Siberia for evidence of inbreeding and decreased genetic diversity.
Their findings indicated that rhino population numbers had remained relatively stable right up until they disappeared, suggesting that the species may have been wiped out in a very short space of time.

"It hints that maybe the final extinction decline happened very, very rapidly, perhaps within the space of a few hundred years," said study co-author Prof Love Dalen from the the Center for Palaeogenetics in Sweden.

"Humans arrived in north-eastern Sibera at least 30,000 years ago. They co-existed there for 12,000 years until [the time of] our [woolly rhino] genome, and during that time we see no evidence for decline in the woolly rhino population."

Instead, the main culprit was most likely to be a period of warm weather known as the Bolling-Allerod interstadial which happened to coincide with the time of their demise.

"It hammers home the fact that rapid climate warming can have devastating impacts on species survival," said Dalen.

"While perhaps we are let off the hook in terms of having killed them with spears back then, it highlights the risk that we are taking with biodiversity at present when we are affecting global climate on a rapid scale."

Source: The Guardian | Comments (14)




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Comment icon #5 Posted by Malaria_Kidd 4 years ago
Seems good ole planet earth took care of animal *extinctions back then without our present climate changing "Industrial Age"! MK   *Others creatures joined the wooly mammoth and wooly rhino's fate. To include the mastadon, the giant sloth, and the saber toothed tiger just to name a few others mankind did not kill off! Those last few did not need to escape a warming planet!
Comment icon #6 Posted by MysteryMike 4 years ago
That's because we originated there so they along with other African megafauna developed a healthy fear and learned to avoid. Notice how Africa has the most abundant of megafauna compared to everywhere else? Akso ever wonder why we could never domesticate zebras and had such vile tempers? Whereas we were able to domesticate horses which evolved in an environment of our absence.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Wepwawet 4 years ago
Not sure that elephants or rhinos fear us, and crocodiles and hippos certainly don't. I don't see a scenario with us migrating and killing off en masse any mega fauna we came across, but I do see changes to the environment not caused by us being a problem. Lions and elephants used to live in the British Isles when it was still joined to Europe, then an iceage pushed them out. North American bison were certainly hunted by what became the indigenous people, who would be related to those who supposedly killed off the wooly rhinos and mammoths, but failed to kill off the bison, until Europeans tur... [More]
Comment icon #8 Posted by MysteryMike 4 years ago
I stand that it was a combination of overhunting and climate change that cause the extinction. The latter would have caused environmental stress and population bottlenecks making megafauna more vulnerable to the former. Personally I think if climate change was never an issue there would still be some megafauna today outside of Africa or at least persisting until historic times. My nominations would be woolly mammoths and short-faced bears.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Wepwawet 4 years ago
Mammoths did in fact technically survive into historic times, though that would be historic times of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, not within the Russian Arctic circle. However, I do see what you mean, and I don't say you are wrong or I am right as we do hunt, and there was most certainly normal climate change not caused by us. My angle is that while I don't doubt that the prehistoric peoples of Africa, Siberia and the Americas would have killed off a number of species if they had the weapons, a capability for mass slaughter did not emerge until the European industrial revolution. That's when... [More]
Comment icon #10 Posted by MysteryMike 4 years ago
You'd have a point but notice how each extinction on every continent coincided with our arrival? Australia and New Zealand also were probably the only continents where megafauna extinction was human contributed having not been affected by climate change due to being located further south. The latter when the Maori arrived was when moas and haast's eagles went extinct. As for megafauna like cougars and bison. I recall cougars along with jaguars were massively declined but managed because cougar populations thrived in the mountains isolated from humans who arrived and jaguars in jungles. Some me... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by Wepwawet 4 years ago
I will certainly agree that humans were responsible for the extinction of megafauna in Australia and New Zealand, though in a way it's a "mammal problem". For instance, the moa had no land predators and only had to worry about attack from the air, likewise many other indigenous species. We upset the balance by becoming a predator they did not know how to deal with. If, say, other mammals other than us had somehow got to New Zealand, extinctions would still have occured, though at a slower rate, and of course this is an ongoing issue due to the introduction of rats and cats. I don't disagree th... [More]
Comment icon #12 Posted by MysteryMike 4 years ago
A species under environmental stress is particularly susceptible to over hunting, and particularly so when the predator is a new species. If the mammoth - to arbitrarily pick an example - was able to persevere despite losing 1,000 members of the species in a year to 'whatever' they may survive. But if humans come along and raise the mammoth death rate to 1001 animals a year the mammoth will, eventually, go extinct. Maybe early North Americans did not go 'kill crazy', but it doesn't take much more additional stress on a population for that population to go extinct. Again notice the arrival of ... [More]
Comment icon #13 Posted by Jon the frog 4 years ago
And the wealthy hunter of the 1800 and 1900... they got most of them first !
Comment icon #14 Posted by DanL 4 years ago
I have always questioned the idea that in a world full of all sorts of animal life that a primitive (only in the sense of compared to a modern mechanized world) people would choose to hunt something that actually offered such a dangerous and poor return for their efforts. The problem with hunting those big hairy rhinos or some form of big hairy elephant is that when you only have spears and maybe bows and arrows they take a lot of killing. You are going to have to poke a LOT of holes in them to kill them and most of the killing holes will be made with spears. If you get that close to an angry ... [More]


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