The herbivorous Paraceratherium was a genus of giant hornless rhino that lived during the late Eocene to late Oligocene epochs, aproximately 37 to 23 million years ago in the subtropical woodlands and forests over much of what is now modern Pakistan, India, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
Measuring almost 6 meters (18ft) to the shoulder, 12 metres (39 ft) long from head to tail and weighing in the region of 20 tonnes, Paraceratherium was by far the largest mammal that has ever walked the faces of the earth, and would have dwarfed even the largest specimens of modern elephants by a some margin. Even its skull was over 1.5 meters (5ft) in length.
Despite its gigantic size, Paraceratherium retained many of the hallmarks of it ancestors, the running rhino family Hyracodontidae. Its limbs were long and relatively slender, with long toe bones as well. This is in stark contrast to other giant mammals such as mammoths and modern elephants, who all possessed short, stout limbs and toes.
Because of it sheer height, much like modern day giraffes, the ecological niche Paraceratherium was in browsing the tops of tall trees and large shrubs where no others could reach. It had a number of features which were highly adapted to this lifestyle including a long neck, which when fully extended enabled it to add another two meters in height to its already large frame. Also inside its long, low, hornless skull were two large tusk-like insisors, which overlapped smaller forward pointing lower teeth. Combined with a flexible upper lip, these were ideal for stripping rough vegetation from the tree tops.
The first description of Paraceratherium was made by Forster Cooper in 1911. In the intervening period since, a number of other similar animals were found each generally given their own name, such as "Indricotherium", "Baluchiterium", "Indricothere". However more recent analysis of the fossils has concluded that they while they are numerous different species, they all belong to the same genus. As a result by scientific convention the first name Paraceratherium takes priority.
One of the main theories put forward for the extinction of Paraceratherium is the collision with the Indian subcontinent with Asia. The Himalayan uplift caused by the collision resulting in a global cooling and increased desertification, ultimately causing the disappearance of their preferred forest habitats.
Paraceratherium featured heavily in of Walking with Beasts: Episode 3 - "Land of the Giants"