Yes, Virginia, there were rhinos in the Rhine once upon a time. Plus hippopotamuses, lions, elephants, and other animals that are now strangers to Europe. Or so paleontologists tell us.
Actually, the rhinos are old hat. Remains of two-horned rhinoceroses from an inter-ice age about 100,000 years ago have turned up before in what is now Germany.
The exciting new discovery, however, is the hippo. This creature was assumed not to have made it so far north as to mingle with the deer, boar, and beaver of the pre-ice era. But Swiss and West German paleontologists have recently reported 40 separate finds of hippopotamus bones and teeth in layers of gravel and metal from the last freezing period of the Rhine. Five of the sites are in West Germany, between Frankfurt and Karlsruhe.
The specialists now conclude that hippo herds frequented the meandering upper Rhine in search of the good life.
Remains of hippopotamuses had long since been unearthed in Spain and the Riviera, where they had migrated from Africa half a million years ago. And traces of these animals had been found in southern England. The English hippos remained something of a mystery, however, since there was no other evidence of the mammal north of the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean.
The most recent discovery suggests that the hippos bathed their way up the Rhone and then down the Rhine on their way to an England that was at that time still connected to the Continent.