A new species of the ancient giant rhino – among the largest mammals to walk on land – has been discovered in north-western China, researchers say.
The Paraceratherium linxiaense, which lived some 26.5 million years ago, weighed 21 tonnes – the equivalent of four large African elephants.
The hornless creature’s head could also reach 23ft (7m) to graze treetops, making it taller than a giraffe.
The new findings were concluded from fossils discovered in Gansu Province.
In a study published in Communications Biology journal on Thursday, scientists said that analysis of the fossils – found near the Wangjiachuan village in 2015 – pointed to an entirely new species that was different to other known giant rhinos.
A completely preserved skull and jawbone, for example, indicated that the animal had featured a slender skull, as well as a prehensile nose trunk similar to that of the modern tapir, according to the study led by Dr Deng Tao of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing.
The team of scientists also found that the new species was closely related to giant rhinos that once lived in Pakistan, which suggested that it had travelled across Central Asia.
If it had roamed freely between north-west China and the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent, it would suggest that the Tibetan Plateau would have likely had some low-lying areas at the time.
“Tropical conditions allowed the giant rhino to return northward to Central Asia, implying that the Tibetan region was still not uplifted as a high-elevation plateau,” said Prof Deng in a news release.