Thousands of years ago, a thermophilic rhinoceros foraged near today’s Gorzów Wielkopolski (Lubuskie Voivodeship). His bones – a few years ago – were encountered by workers during the construction of the S3 expressway. Now scientists from the University of Wrocław want the rhinoceros Stephanorinus – known as Stefania – to regain its former shape. The elements of the animal’s skeleton have already been cleaned and preserved. Palaeozoologists – in recreating the most damaged bones – are helped by an artist-sculptor.
On Wednesday (September 22), the World Rhino Day was celebrated. There are only five species of these mammals on Earth today, three of which are critically endangered. Palaeozologists from the University of Wrocław decided that it was a good opportunity to show off their work. As they say, there used to be many more species of rhinoceros. These mammals also lived in today’s Poland.
Rhinoceros from Gorzów Wielkopolski
Prof. Krzysztof Stefaniak, head of the Department of Palaeozoology at the Faculty of Biological Sciences of the University of Wrocław admits that scientists in Poland find the remains of many species of these animals.
– A scientific project is carried out in our plant, devoted to many aspects of the life of the fossil rhino called Stefania, whose remains have been excavated almost entirely in the vicinity of Gorzów Wielkopolski. At the moment, we are concentrating on assembling the rhinoceros skull. Previously, this species of rhinoceros was thought to feed mainly on grass. It turned out that our Stefania lived in forests and also fed on shoots. Another species, the woolly rhinoceros, ate, for example, leaves – says Prof. Stefaniak.
As a result of climate change, Stefania became extinct about 40,000 years ago, and the woolly rhinoceros about 10,000 years ago.
– We are not able to say whether it was only climate change or human activity that contributed to the extinction. Today, we must not allow the few species of rhinoceros that remain in the world to become extinct. We have to save them – emphasizes the scientist.
Challenge of the skull reconstruction
Employees of the Department of Palaeozoology, University of Wrocław, let the camera into their studio, so we can see what exactly they are working on. Doctor of veterinary medicine Adam Kotowski presented the elements of Stefani’s skeleton.
– We are in the final stage of getting our rhino back on its feet. All bones – after a very arduous and long process – were finally cleaned, prepared and preserved. There were bones preserved in perfect condition, there are also very delicate elements, such as the skull. Now we are trying to reconstruct it. We have invited an artist-sculptor who will help us combine these elements together. The skull was very badly deformed, crushed – admits Kotowski.
Scientists are assisted by the artist-sculptor Wojciech Iłenda in the reconstruction of the most damaged bones, especially the skull.
University of Wrocław, TVN24 Wrocław
Main photo source: University of Wroclaw