Woolly Rhino
An artist's reconstruction of a newly discovered species of Tibetan woolly rhino with a flattened horn. Julie Naylor

A woolly rhino fossil was discovered by scientists as they dug up on the Tibetan Plateau is believed to be the oldest specimen of its kind to be found.

According to scientists, the newly discovered skull belongs to previously unknown species of ancient rhino now classified as Coelodonta thibetana and can vaguely be described as a woolly animal that came equipped with a snow shovel on its head.

The rhino was found in Tibet's Zanda Basin, an area is rich in fossil beds, and this specimen was unearthed along with examples of extinct horse, antelope, snow leopard, badger and many other kinds of mammals, the BBC reported.

The creature lived some 3.6 million years ago and the new discovery could show that animals that lived during Ice Age were able to adapt to the difficult Tibetan Climate.

It would also help explain why so many different species travelled through North America, Europe and Asia during the last Ice Age beginning about 2.8 million years ago, by showing how animals that had previously adapted to cold environment in the Himalayas later expanded to other regions.

"There is a general principle, called Bergmann's Rule, that suggests animals tend to increase their body size in colder environments," Discovery News quoted co-author Xiaoming Wang, as saying.

"Large-bodied animals have relatively smaller surface areas to lose heat and thus conserve heat better -- it's a matter of physics," he added.

"The extinct Tibetan woolly rhino had developed special adaptations for sweeping snow using its flattened, forward-leaning horn to reveal vegetation, a useful behaviour for survival in the harsh Tibetan climate," Wang explained.

"They just happily came down from the high altitude areas and expanded to the rest of Eurasia," he also told the BBC before adding "Woolly rhino were preyed on by spotted hyenas and they were eaten pretty thoroughly; the hyenas liked the bones."

Tibet has also been home to other cold-adapted animals like the Tibetan wild yak, snow leopards and blue sheep and many animal experts maintain that Tibet was the birthplace for many species that later survived through the Ice Age and beyond.