Sivatherium: Facts and Figures


Heinrich Harder

Name: Sivatherium (Greek for "Shiva beast," after the Hindu deity); pronounced SEE-vah-THEE-ree-um

Habitat: Plains and woodlands of India and Africa

Historical Epoch: Late Pliocene-Modern (5 million-10,000 years ago)

Size and Weight: About 13 feet long and 1,000-2,000 pounds

Diet: Grass

Distinguishing Characteristics: Large size; moose-like build; quadrupedal posture; two sets of horns above eyes

About Sivatherium

Although it was directly ancestral to modern giraffes, the squat build and elaborate head display of Sivatherium made this megafauna mammal look more like a moose (if you inspect its preserved skulls closely, though, you'll see the two small, distinctly giraffe-like "ossicones" perched on top of its eye sockets, under its more elaborate, moose-like horns). In fact, it took years after its discovery in India's Himalayan mountain range for naturalists to identify Sivatherium as an ancestral giraffe; it was initially classified as a prehistoric elephant, and later as an antelope! The giveaway is this animal's posture, clearly suited to nibbling on the high branches of trees, though its overall size was more in line with the closest living relative of the giraffe, the okapi.

Like much of the mammalian megafauna of the Pleistocene epoch, the 13-foot-long, one-ton Sivatherium was hunted by the early human settlers of Africa and India, who must have greatly valued it for its meat and pelt; crude paintings of this prehistoric mammal have been found preserved on rocks in the Sahara Desert, which implies that it may also have been worshipped as a semi-deity. The last Sivatherium populations went extinct at the close of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, victims of human depredation as well as environmental change, as warming temperatures in the northern hemisphere restricted its territory and its available sources of forage.

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Strauss, Bob. "Sivatherium: Facts and Figures." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 25). Sivatherium: Facts and Figures. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Sivatherium: Facts and Figures." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).