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Monday, May 10, 1999 Published at 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK


Giant discovery in Pakistan

The most complete skeleton of the largest land mammal that ever lived is believed to have been discovered by a team of French palaeontologists.

Baluchitherium is an extinct rhinoceros that lived during the Tertiary Period about 20 to 30 million years ago. With its long neck and legs, it was thought to feed high up in the trees. However, unlike the modern rhinoceros, the animal had no horn.

The find was made in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan and marks the culmination of a five-month search in the Baluch desert by the French team.

Baluchitherium stood over five metres high and was seven metres long. The leader of the French team, Jean-Loup Welcomme, said the specimen they found would probably have weighed 15 to 20 tonnes.

Climate clues

Although fossil remains of Baluchitherium have been discovered before, a near-complete skeleton has always evaded palaeontologists.

The fact that the Baluchitherium was able to live in Baluchistan is giving scientists clues about the climate in the area millions of years ago.

The place where the French team found the remains is now a desert and one of the hottest places on earth. But since the Baluchitherium would have needed as much as two tonnes of fodder every day, the French team believe the area must have been heavily forested.

The team also found a nine-metre-long fossilised trunk of a palm tree, along with fossils of two different types of crocodile and what the scientists describe as a very big pig.

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