Sivatherium was a large giraffid and also one of the largest ruminants of all-time.
Sivatherium Scientific Classification
- Scientific Name
- Sivatherium giganteum
Sivatherium Conservation Status
- Fun Fact
- Sivatherium was a large giraffid and also one of the largest ruminants of all-time.
- Biggest Threat
- Climate change
- Most Distinctive Feature
- Sivatherium had four horns or ossicones on its head
- Distinctive Feature
- Bulky build with thin legs
- Foodplains, woodlands, and savannah grasslands
- Dinofelis, Megantereon
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Sivatherium is an extinct genus of giraffid, a family that includes giraffes and the okapi. It lived between seven million and one million years ago. However, there are some unsubstantiated speculations that it may have lived until about 8,000 years ago. Fossils of the Sivatherium have been recovered from various locations across the African and Indian subcontinents. One member of this genus, the Sivatherium giganteum, was one of the largest giraffids by weight and also one of the largest ruminant animals to have ever lived.
Description and Size
The name Sivatherium was coined from two Latinized Greek words, “Shiva” and “therium,” which translates to “shiva’s beast.” Shiva is one of the main Indian gods widely considered the king of Indian deities. This animal was named by Scottish geologist Hugh Falconer and English engineer Proby Thomas Cautley in 1836, who found the first fossil specimen on an expedition in Siwalik Hills, India. Sivatherium is one of the largest giraffids ever known and also one of the biggest ruminants that have ever existed.
In terms of appearance, this massive mammal looked like a cross between a deer, an ox, and a giraffe. It was about 7.2 feet tall at the shoulders, 13 feet long, and weighed between 880 and 1000 pounds, with a moose-like build and quadrupedal posture. Recently, scientists have posited that it was about 2,760 pounds. This new estimate makes it one of the largest ruminants of all time, rivaling the modern-day giraffe and bovine. There’s a chance that this animal was even bigger than this since the weight estimate does not consider the weight of the male’s antlers. This was one of its most unique features, along with the second pair of ossicones above its eyes.
The Sivatherium had a bulky body supported by thin legs. Its overall build is very similar to that of the okapi—a close living relative of the giraffe. However, it was far larger than the okapi. The shoulders of this animal were strong enough to support the neck muscles needed to lift the heavy skull.
Evolution and History
Sivatherium evolved during the Late Miocene, about seven million years ago, and survived until sometime in the Early Pleistocene. Giraffids today are represented by two living genera. The first genus, which is the popular giraffe, is known for its massive size and unique body proportions (notably the long neck). The second member of this family is the okapi which has a relatively smaller build and normal body proportions.
Sivatherium took a completely different evolutionary pathway compared to present-day giraffids. The skeletal build of this animal was unique to it and was divergent from adaptations shown by their ancestors. Sivatherium evolved a relatively short neck with thick back limbs. It also had ornate appendages on its head.
The unique appearance of this species prompted earlier studies to classify it as a link between modern ruminants and the pachyderm group, which includes elephants, rhinoceroses, and horses. However, this classification has been shown to be unlikely based on more recent studies.
Diet—What Did Sivatherium Eat?
Sivatherium was an herbivore that fed primarily on grasses, herbs, and foliage. Thanks to its height, it was a mixed feeder. This means it could nibble on the high branches of trees like modern giraffes and also reach down to eat grasses. Like giraffes, Sivatherium probably used its long tongue to pull leaves off thorny bushes. Sivetherium had a hypsodont dentition, which is similar to that of modern-day horses and cows.
Habitat—When and Where Sivatherium Lived
Sivatherium lived predominantly in the floodplains, woodlands, and savannah grasslands of Eurasia, India, and Africa during the Pleistocene Epoch (precisely from the Late Pliocene to the Early Holocene). Its remains were famously discovered at the Himalayan foothills, and it might have lived in this region about a million years ago.
Depictions that greatly resemble this animal are also known from the ancient rock paintings in the Sahara and central West India. The Sahara went through periods of aridity interspersed by wet periods that turned dry lands into green savannahs. When the desert bloomed, all kinds of megafauna, including Sivatherium, thrived. However, some scientists think this rock painting was probably of another animal since the Sivatherium most likely died off before humans came on the scene.
Threats and Predators
Based on size estimates of this animal, it was probably too big for most predators to take on. Only young and weak Sivatherium would have fallen prey to predators that were in abundance in its day, such as the Dinofelis and Megantereon. However, like most megafaunas, they probably faced the threat of climate change which transformed their habitats and affected food availability.
Discoveries and Fossils
The first fossil discovery of Sivatherium was made in 1836 in Siwalik Hills, India, by Falconer and Cautley. In 1892, French palaeontologist Auguste Pomel received fossils from another site close to Lake Tanganyika. They consisted of a fragmentary cranium, a molar, and two distinct ossicones atop the skull. Pomel noted the similarities between these fossil finds and those found more than 50 years earlier. However, due to the smallness and difference in Ossicone structure, he named it Sivatherium maurusium.
Subsequent fossil discoveries were made at the Upper Nagrota Formation in Jammu, India. Chandigarh was another fossil spot, and other specimens have also been excavated in South Africa. Fossil discoveries have also been made in Ethiopia, Chad, Uganda, and Morocco. In Morocco, 165 specimens were found. Most of these discoveries were found in a place with strata findings between two million and 3.6 million years ago.
Extinction—When Did Sivatherium Die Out?
Scientific viewpoints differ as to when Sivatherium went extinct. The youngest fossil of this animal found so far dates back to about one million years ago. It is unclear why they went extinct. Climate change in the northern hemisphere, which reduced its food source, was probably the chief factor that led to its extinction.
Archaeological evidence has, however, shown that there is a possibility the creatures lasted until the Sumerian Empire about 8,000 years ago. A strange figurine found during the archaeological excavations in the 1930s in Kish, Iraq, shows a creature with the same two sets of horns, a strong neck, and a giraffe face. However, no fossil evidence supports the claim that they lived until this period.
Similar Animals to Sivatherium
Similar animals to the Sivatherium include:
- Bramatherium — This is a member of the Giraffidae family, believed to be a cousin of Sivatherium. It existed during the late Miocene age, and just like Sivatherium, it looked like a heavily built okapi with its four ossicones. It was also herbivorous, and it lived in wetlands and woodlands.
- Samotherium — This is also an extinct genus of Giraffidae that existed in Eurasia and Africa. It also had two ossicones on its head and lived in grasslands feeding on roots, shrubs, grasses, and vegetation. It had a neck length in between that of the giraffe and okapi.
- Helladotherium — This is an extinct giraffid genus that lived in Europe, Africa, and Asia during the Miocene. Two species of this genus have been found to date.
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Sivatherium FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
When was Sivatherium alive?
Sivatherium emerged during the late Miocene Period, around seven million years ago. The youngest fossil of this animal found so far dates back to about a million years ago. Archaeological evidence suggests it might have lived until a few thousand years ago, but no fossils that young have been found to date.
How big was Sivatherium?
Sivatherium was about 7.2 feet tall at the shoulders and weighed more than 2,000 pounds. It was one of the largest ruminants of all time.
Why did Sivatherium go extinct?
A combination of human hunting activities and global warming, which depreciated its food source, is said to be the two most significant causes of extinction.
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