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Baluchitherium: The Beast of Balochistan

Posted on March 16, 2008
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Science and Technology
28 Comments
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Owais Mughal

World’s largest mammal that ever walked the face of the earth used to live in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Yes it is true.

BaluchitheriumThis mammal is called Baluchitherium (The Beast of Balochistan). So far the fossils of this mammal have only been found in Baluchistan and Central Asia.

In 1999, a team of French Palaentologists discovered the complete skeleton of this giant mammal in Dera Bugti Hills of Pakistan. The find came as the result of a 5 month long expedition by the French Team in the Balochistan desert.

All in all it was a 5 year long on-and-off study. The French team was led by Professor Jean-Loup Welcomme of the Natural History Museum in Paris. While the first complete skeleton of Baluchitherium was dicscovered in 1999, it was as early as 1846 when first pieces of fossilized Baluchitherium were accidentally stumbled upon in Dera Bugti by a British Army officer who went by the name of Vickary.

In 1909 another skeleton was found in the same area by a British team led by Mr. Forster-Cooper of the Cambridge Sedgwick Museum.


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Following photo is a replica of Baluchitherium created for a museum in western hemisphere.

Beast of Baluchistan

According to a BBC news report of May 10, 1999:

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.

It had an estimated shoulder height of nearly 18 ft (5.5 m), a length of upto 28 feet (from nose to rump) and a weight of about 10 to 15 tons. The head was four feet long, sitting on top of a six feet long neck. This beast had poor eyesight, but made up for this with keen hearing and smell. Baluchitherium is classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Perissodactyla, family Rhinocerotidae.

Following photo shows the French team and their Pakistani helpers recreating the skeleton of a Baluchitherium

Balochistan

BBC News report further says that:

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.

Eventhough Balochistan is now mostly a desert but since Baluchitherium would have needed as much as two tonnes of fodder every day, the French team believes this area of Pakistan must have been heavily forested.

It is said that the Baluchitherium was a very defensive animal, and attacked any animal that was nearby. This beast tried to charge and trample foes with its front feet.


In an article written few years ago at www.thehotspotline.com blogger Ali Khan writes:

At a recent function organised by the Pakistan Embassy in Paris which saw the launch of the Pak-France cultural forum, professor Welcomme delivered a lecture on his recent find. He also thanked the Nawab of Bugti, the Bugti people and the University of Balochistan for extending all assistance to the French team. The Nawab of Bugti convinced other tribes to allow the team to work in the area and also provided material and technical assistance to Professor Welcomme‘s team.

The latest news about Baluchitherium came last week when in early March 2008, more pieces of Baluchitherium have been excavated in Dera Bugti area. I read this update in Jang’s latest news feed but didn’t see the detailed news on it in the regular paper.

Is There A Baluchitherium Museum in Pakistan?

The short answer in NO.

But then I am not familiar either with what has been done at Government level to help finding and preserving Baluchitherium fossils. A National museum displaying some fossils of this mammal who roamed the land of Pakistan before us is the need of the hour. Does any of our readers know about any effort in this regard? If we come to know of any effort, we’ll update this paragraph here with the new information.

Baluchitherium Trivia:

1. Baluchitherium is a Van Halen instrumental from their 10th studio album, Balance (album).
2. Baluchitherium is also the name of a monster appearing in the computer game NetHack.

Photo Credits:

1. 50birds.com
2. biocrawler.com
3. davo.com
4. Major Fossil find in Balochistan by Ali Khan
5. kokorodinosaurs.com
6. dionsoria.com
7. elachee.org

References:

1. Geological Survey of Pakistan
2. Major Fossil find in Balochistan by Ali Khan
3. BBC News Feed of May 10, 1999
4. Enchanted Learning
5. La Baluchitherium

28 Comments on “Baluchitherium: The Beast of Balochistan”

  1. temporal says:
    March 15th, 2008 3:36 am

    very interesting owais!

  2. March 15th, 2008 6:21 am

    Owais Bhai,

    What a post, I am so proud today thanks to your post.

    We must cherish these gifts for our nation and guard them. We have so much heritage and I hope we can build an international class museum and network so tourists can visit the excavation site and so on so that Balochistan itself can benefit from its largest inhabitant.

    I am willing to help anyway I can so if anyone has any ideas contact me via my website below:

    http://www.otherpakistan.org/today2.html

    Feimanallah

    Wasim

  3. Adam Insaan says:
    March 15th, 2008 9:37 am

    Wasim Arif/Other Pakistan @

    I do agree ; ” we have to put the monsters of yesterday
    behind glasses in a museum ”

    ……may be we can be able to learn from yesterday ???

    Well , could be a` primatae primus inter pares`.

  4. March 15th, 2008 9:49 am

    A great knowledgable post.

  5. jk says:
    March 15th, 2008 10:33 am

    “Eventhough Balochistan is now mostly a desert but since Baluchitherium would have needed as much as two tonnes of fodder every day, the French team believes this area of Pakistan must have been heavily forested.”

    My mother was born and raised in Balochistan and she remembers her area (quetta) as quite forested just a few decades ago. Sadly, people there have not taken care of the place and it has all mostly become a polluted desert.

  6. zia m says:
    March 15th, 2008 10:56 am

    Amazing! The largest known land mammal.
    Poor thing did not fit in Noah’s Arc :)

  7. Tina says:
    March 15th, 2008 11:29 am

    I loved this post.

    Even I have fossils I have picked up on the ground in Pakistan. It is a very rich region for paleontology.

    Almost all studies are conducted by Westerners and the fossils are removed abroad. This is simply because of the education divide; not too long ago the Chinese were calling dinosaur skeletons “dragon bones” and grinding them up for medicine. I expect time will change this.

    Balochistan did not lose its forests centuries ago but very recently, I am sorry to say. Cheetah and gazelle could be reliably seen there until the 1970s. The last credible sighting of the Asiatic cheetah was about 25 years ago. The Asiatic cheetah is now extinct but some of the hoofed species can still be seen in Balochistan on the Iranian side of the border. Extreme environmental degradation and hunting pressures, mostly hunts mounted by wealthy foreigners, have turned Pakistan’s Balochistan into desert. Hunters are now starting to turn their attention to Afghanistan, where it is easy to bribe a local leader and conduct a hunt.

    It looks like all the wildlife of the region is set to go the way of the rhinoceros of Balochistan. Someone who was doing a survey of small wildcat populations said you could drive for miles and not even see a hare. He said furthermore that even the locals said it was because of hunting.

  8. Daktar says:
    March 15th, 2008 2:20 pm

    Amazing. What an informative post.

    So, does this qualify as a dinosaur?

  9. Kabir Das says:
    March 15th, 2008 3:37 pm

    Wasim Arif/ Other Pakistan says: What a post, I am so proud today thanks to your post.
    I say: What is there to be proud of. What is our contribution in this discovery. First homo sapien lived in Africa. So what? What is their contribution in this discovery. Still they have more reason to be proud of this discovery than we have . Be nationalistic but also be realistic at the same time .

  10. Kabir Das says:
    March 15th, 2008 3:54 pm

    zia m says: Amazing! The largest known land mammal.
    Poor thing did not fit in Noah

  11. Faizan says:
    March 16th, 2008 5:16 am

    History 101:

    Modern human beings or ‘Homo Sapiens’ originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Baluchitherium, as stated above, lived about 20 to 30 million years ago. Hence dear friends, Noah and his Arc had nothing to do with Baluchitherium.

    And yes, super article.

  12. zia m says:
    March 16th, 2008 12:34 pm

    @Akbar Das
    My comment about Noah’s Arc was merely an invitation for 3 major religions of world (based on Genesis) to think outside the box.
    Stephen Hawking in a recent conversation with Charlie Rose emphasised on space exploration.He does not think we can survive on this planet for more than a few centuries.He said human race should not put all its eggs in one basket or one planet let us hope we can avoid dropping the basket before we spread the load.Our greed and stupidity has brought us very close to disaster.

    @Daktar
    It is thought that birds and reptiles evolved from Dinosaurs and other mammals like apes,elephents,horses and rhinos from Baluchitherium also known as Indricotherium

  13. Rasheed says:
    March 16th, 2008 8:29 pm

    Thanks for a great article!
    Our country is literally a paradise of life.

    Actually, some readers might not be aware that the region widely known as the “Fossil Paradise” is in the northern part of Pakistan. It is where the largest concentration of echinoderm fossils are found – echinoderms are tough spiny-skinned marine animals like starfish and sea cucumbers. It is used as evidence that the area was once covered by the ocean – the Tethys sea, now known as the Mediterranean.

    This article reminds me of the ’80′s, when I was in grad school and was invited by my most respectable zoology professor, Dr. Muhammad Shareef Khan of T. I. College, Rabwah, to join him for a research project in Cholistan desert and Baluchistan. The research would be in partnership with Dr. George R. Zug, a noted American herpetologist and author of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s article on aging. We planned on studying reptiles, on which Dr. Khan is an authority. I was all excited to get an opportunity to work with an American scientist and funded by an American grant. Dr. Khan and I had great conversations with Dr. Zug and were all set to go when the Pakistani Government didn’t issue the American a visa for the 5-year project. At the time we were dismayed at being blocked by such a silly hurdle (they probably thought Zug was a spy), and the project was terminated.

    But one lesson we can learn from this is that if the Pakistani government officials could be educated about the richness of our heritage, we might be able to convince them to fund at least native scientists to pursue such projects and bring good name to Pakistan.

    If Baluchitherium were studied by Pakistan-funded grants and Pakistani scientists, the French wouldn’t be getting credit for this great find today – just a thought!

    All for a museum highlighting Baluchitherium (in Quetta?), and soon!

    Wassalam,
    Rasheed

  14. Hassan says:
    March 17th, 2008 2:18 pm

    Great post! Just a little update – the 1999 skeloton was not a full skeleton from a single beast. It was just the first full ‘composite skeleton’. That means, one set complete set of all the bones which existed in the beast was found, though it did not necessarily came from one sinlge animal.
    I don’t know about the latest find of 2008.

  15. Owais Mughal says:
    March 17th, 2008 6:19 pm

    Hassan. thanks a lot for updating 1999 find info. i don’t know if 2008 find was new or not. The Jang news that I read couple of weeks ago was something like “palaentologist collected more remains of Baluchitherium from Dera Bugti-Kaahan area and moved them to Quetta”. This was shown as ‘latest news update’ feed but the next day I couldn’t find this news in regular news.

  16. Hafeez Jamali says:
    March 30th, 2008 10:56 am

    It’s a very interesting and well-researched article and few people within Balochistan know about Balochitherium or its genealogy. I myself saw it for the first time in a government office where a picture of it adorned the Commissioner’s table. So we definitely need further anlaysis and research as well as a greater awareness of the biological diversity in Balochistan and rest of Pakistan. Having said that I find it interesting (or distressing) that neither the writer not any of the commentators felt a need to refer to the contemporary residents of Dera Bugti who have been displaced from their homes as a result of the ongoing military operation. Many of these once proud people are reduced to begging for eking out a living in the vicinity of towns in Sindh and Balochistan. What this suggests is that it is considered acceptable behavior in Pakistan to talk about Balochistan (Dera Bugti/Gwadar) as a site of Pakistani nationalist imagination- the nationalist pride associated with the discovery of a huge land mammal is obvious in the responses- without giving a thought to the living conditions of the actual inhabitants of Balochistan. I am quiet sure that the people who wrote these comments have all the good wishes for the people of Dera Bugti and I doubt many of them support the military operation. What is interesting/distressing is that these well-intentioned people can engage in nationalist amnesia- forgetting the actual inhabitants of Dera Bugti- while talking about the region. One can calmly talk about whatever discoveries have been made there while at this time there may be gunship helicopters circling over people’s homes in Dera Bugti and many Bugtis themselves are living shelterless.

  17. Umar Shah says:
    April 9th, 2008 1:02 am

    Baluchitherium is indeed the name of a song/instrumental by Van Halen. Not sure why they picked this name.

  18. April 10th, 2008 2:39 am

    Thanks Owais for such a wonderful coverage on a mamoth in Balochistan.

    Pakistan is host to a multiple of wonders. like the fossils of Mehrgarh in Balochistan which gave a firm clue on world’s first organized settlement (almost 17000 to 7000 years BCE). Again it was a son of this soil who inrtroduced dental surgery when the whole world did not know even abc of any thing.

    The sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro bespeak of this country’s heritage which gave the world its highly planned cities many milllenia before the Christ. In post-Christ era our Gandhara Civilization tells even today the mastery of this country’s artists and craftsmen.

    Many years ago I met a Greek Professor in Venice.
    While sitting in Venice’s famous Gondola, the Professor told me that he was in Taxila and he observed that even the Greek sculptors could not equal the art of sculptory fas exhibited by the Gandharans while patterning and finishing the life of Buddha depicted in the artefacts at Taxila.

    The only problem with we Pakistanis is that till now we negated our country’s pre 1947 history.

    I fully agree with the views expressed by Prof Ahmad hassan Dani (Pakistan’s only archeologist of world repute) and Aitzaz Ahson that even before 1947 the area called Pakistan has always been independent of the main land of India. In contrast to Gangetic civilisation that prospered in the present Indian lands, our side always sought anlightment from its Indus civilisation which is much older and far superior to the Gangetic civilisation.

    By writing these lines I don’t mean we should live in our past, what I mean is, we should re-discover ourselves. ]

    We are proud Muslims but we shouldd equally be proud of being Pakistanis. With such a rich heritage, we can strive to make this country great – great not in size but great in ideas, great in values and great in knowledge. That’s what makes a country great.

    The resilience shown by this country, by its people, manifests what I say and BELIEVE.

    Dr. Nayyar Hashmey

  19. July 13th, 2008 6:08 pm

    “Long, long ago,” were favorite words of my father. We stood in front of some statues of Buddhist origin in Taxila in 1939 when we lived in that part of INDIA, long ago. I still have a buddha replica statue in my bedroom from that time. Not too long ago, in 1985 I travelled in Baluchistan near to the area where the Baluchitherium was discovered. I had visited Moheno-daro and other historic sites as well and marvelled at the art, the rich history and the cultural heritage of the area near to Quetta. I travelled in the NWFP and looked acrosss the Durand Line that divided Pakistan from Afghanistan, a strange line that had been drawn not too long ago. Long, long ago is wonderful to consider. There were wonders galore here before 1947, and after that time. ” The only problem with we Pakistanis is that till now we negated our pre 1947 history.” Dr. Nayar Hashmey. How true, how true. What is now Pakistan was part of something, not too long ago, is part of S.E Asia right now, and is part of world history, that means my history as well. We can rejoice in the now, as well as the not so long ago and the long, long ago my dad talked about. Jai Hi–story.

  20. July 22nd, 2008 9:42 pm

    Bol, magar piar se. Such bhat.
    Umar says, “Great ideas are what make a country great.” I read that there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. They too feel great about being at home, I hope. Home is where belief, heart and head is. As an expatriate who lived in Pakistan for many years, I felt I was at home. I felt home was India as well. I grew up in pre-partition Taxila thinking, “mother india” thoughts, and I guess I will never shake that, though I am neither Muslim or Hindu. Haule or narmi se jana. Professor Bergsma.

  21. Anne Wingate says:
    July 30th, 2008 5:19 pm

    How can anybody possibly know that the beast had poor eyesight but good hearing and smell, or that it trampled with its front feet anything that appeared threatening? Let me guess: We’re basing this assumption on today’s rhinoceros.

    And will SOMEBODY PLEASE

  22. Umar Shah says:
    January 27th, 2009 10:19 pm

    Just found this searching on the web:

    “Paraceratherium Bugtiense (Pilgrim, 1908) from the early Miocene of Pakistan is the type species of Paraceratherium. Baluchitherium osborni Forster Cooper, 1913a is a junior synonym. It was first found in the Chitarwata Formation of the Bugti Hills, Balochistan,Pakistan, after which it was originally named” -courtesy Wikipedia.

  23. March 5th, 2009 1:27 pm

    Dear, I have worked with JL-Welcomme and have created the final shape sculptor of Baluchitherim.Life Size Replica.
    Regards,
    Asim Mirza.

  24. Owais Mughal says:
    March 5th, 2009 1:33 pm

    Asim that is great. What other details can you share with our readership here

  25. sky says:
    April 19th, 2009 7:28 am

    Very Nicely done!

  26. Hadi says:
    December 27th, 2009 6:33 am

    In Indonesia with a small size is still alive in Sulawesi island, Baluchiterium like Tapir, its size was the size of the goat.

  27. muju says:
    October 25th, 2010 11:17 am

    ooooo really ya know i lived in dera bugti well a little further in a place called perko and lol now that i’m here it is not at all shocking for i have even seen precious stones lying on da ground and could never pick them!!!!

  28. Christian De Maegd says:
    September 6th, 2011 10:10 pm

    It would be interesting to read Job 40 and 41, because of its similarity.
    Job 40 and 41(King James Version):
    Behold now behemoth (great beast), which I made with thee.
    Shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?
    Who can open the doors of his face? His teeth are terrible round about.
    In his neck remained strength.
    Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.
    I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion.
    He moved his tail like a cedar.
    His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron.
    Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly.
    His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal.
    He eats grass as an ox.

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