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A 55 MILLION YEAR JOURNEY

Broadly speaking, the evolution of rhinos began, as with all life forms, soon after our planet was born. But it took an awfully long time before anything like the horned giants of today began to roam the plains and forests of the world. In fact Earth was already some 99 percent along its 4.5 billion year path to the present before the first creatures we can definitely place as the ancestors of rhinos loped onto the evolutionary stage. This is a brief history of the rhino’s emergence some 55 million years ago, and its subsequent journey through countless climatic changes and extinction bottlenecks to face the challenges of the present.

100 million years ago—the decline and fall of the dinosaurs

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About 100 million years ago the age of the dinosaurs was in full swing.
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65 million years ago—the rise of the mammals

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In the wake of impact devastation and the globe-mantling cloud of debris that ensued, the planet cooled.
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56 million years ago—a hot, hot world

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This was the Eocene Epoch, a time that stretched from 56–33.9 million years ago.
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48 million years ago—enter the rhinos

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Within a few million years the perissodactyls had split into two distinct lines: one embracing the horses and their relatives and the other which included the forbears of tapirs and rhinos.
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38 million years ago—the horse rhino

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For a while the perissodactyls were the most diverse and abundant herbivores in North America, Asia and Europe.
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34 million years ago—the hornless giant

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About 34 million years ago, the Circumpolar-Antarctic current formed, and global cooling accelerated as the flow of other ocean currents were affected.
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23 million years ago—the golden age of rhinos

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Around 23 million years ago the planet’s climate remained temperate and comparatively cool compared with the period soon after the demise of the dinosaurs, and the continents continued to assemble into the positions, shapes and sizes that are familiar to this day.
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14 million years ago—the decline begins

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Around 14 million years ago, probably triggered by ocean circulation changes, cooling returned and rapidly so, faster than many creatures were able to cope with.
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11 million years ago—the ancestors of Africa’s extant rhinos emerge

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About 11 million years ago the northeastern parts of Africa split from Arabia as the Red Sea grew.
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2.5 million years ago—the Ice Age commeth

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About four to five million years ago the Black Rhino line, by then specialist browsers, diverged from the White Rhino and Diceros praecox evolved. Its direct descendent, D. bicornis, the Black Rhino of today, emerged about two and a half million years ago.
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12,000 BCE—a world reshaped

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Over the past 11,700 years, especially the most recent 60–70 years of it—the Anthropocene, as it has come to be called—we humans have redesigned the face of the planet.
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