The Woolly Rhino (Coelodonta antiquitatis) was in existence as a species for about 35,000 years, disappearing from the Earth about 10,000 years ago, that is, from the late Pleiocene to the early Holocene. Fossils are fairly common and have been found throughout Europe and Asia, and not only fossils, well preserved remains have been found in ice or mud. In Ukraine, a carcass of a female Woolly Rhino was found in the mud, where the mix of oils and salt found in the mud had preserved the soft tissues and hair of the Rhino, making for an extremely fascinating find. The baby rhino, found in Siberia in a frozen riverbank has been nicknamed “Sasha”, and is the only complete young specimen found to date. Only a few adult bodies have been found so far, two complete bodies, without hair were found in Ukraine, and a headless, frozen mummified rhino had been previously found in eastern Siberia. The oldest fossil of the woolly rhinoceros in Europe, is a skull fragmented into 50 pieces, found in a gravel pit near Bad Frankenhausen, Germany. The skull has been dated, and is 460,000 years old, which suggests when the rhino first made its appearance in Europe.

They lived mainly in Northern Europe and Eastern Asia, into what is now Russia, but there is evidence to show that the rhinos lived as far west as Scotland, as far east as South Korea, this wide dispersion pattern occurred during the Pleistocene era, and it appears that the Woolly Rhino may have had the largest population size of any known species of rhinoceros. They lived in a cold, dry climate, sharing the same climate and landscape as the Woolly Mammoth. When the climate changed, the rhinos disappeared, and this seems to be the reason for their extinction. The Sumatran Rhino is the Woolly Rhino’s closest living relative. The Woolly Rhino itself had its head in a low position to the ground, ideal for grazing, and teeth ideal for grinding up the vegetation that they grazed on.

The behaviour patterns of the Woolly Rhino are believed to be similar to those of its modern day relatives, they lived alone, or in small family groups, their diet consisting of grass, shrubs, lichens and mosses. However new research suggests that the Woolly Rhino, along with the mammoths and other ice age herbivores may have also dieted on forbs, high protein wildflowers. This new research suggests that instead of a vast grassy steppe, the plains were a riot of colour and flowers. The recreations of the arctic landscape were built using pollen found in frozen soil or in permafrost, but those recreations showed a biased picture of the habitat, since grasses release more pollen than other flora. Scientists have since analysed the plant material found in permafrost, and the stomach contents and fossilized faeces of mammoths, woolly rhinos, bison and horses, showing that these animals not only ate grasses, but ate a wider range of vegetation than previously believed. These forbs were highly nutritious and high in protein, helping these animals to survive their environment.

They had two horns, a large one at the front which could measure up to 1 metre, or 3 feet. The horns on many of the fossils found show marks, that are presumed to have been made by the Rhino clearing snow away to find grass. They had two kinds of hair, a dense undercoat, and an outer coat of longer, rigid hair. They grew up to nearly 5ft long, 2.5ft high and could weigh up to 3tons. Their legs were short, and it is likely that this was their downfall when the climate shifted, unable to move through heavy snow, and during snow melts, the ground became muddy and boggy, creating natural traps for the rhino.

Rhinos coexisted with early humans, there are cave paintings of the Woolly Rhino found in caves in France from 30,000 years ago. These cave paintings seem to suggest that they had a darker band of fur around their mid-sections. Over-hunting by humans has been suggested to contribute to their extinction, but mostly the change in climate is attributed to their disappearance as a species.

The Woolly Rhino is obviously named for being hairy, but its scientific name Coelodonta Antiquitatis heralded from the Greek Coelodonta meaning, ‘hallow teeth;, and antiquus, from the Latin, which means old.