On 25 May 1982, Li Guohua, who worked for the nature reserve's scientific team, observed an animal browsing on the slopes of Wuming Peak in the Shennongjia Forestry District. He described it as resembling a cross between a rhinoceros and a hippopotamus, 9'8'' in length and 4'9'' at the shoulder, with a large head and stocky legs. It had a bulky, barrel-shaped body similar in shape to a Chinese coffin, and was covered in greyish hair. It had a light, flexible tail which it used to switch its own back, and was observed to sway its head back and forth. As it moved, it broke tree twigs and displaced pebbles on the ground.
If it was not a case of mistaken identity, David C. Xu suggests that the guancaishou could have been some form of historical or prehistoric rhinoceros. Three rhinoceroses (Sumatran, Indian, and Javan) are known to have historically inhabited China, and several prehistoric genera are known. One particular prehistoric rhinoceros, the small grazer Teleoceras, had short legs and a barrel chest, which would have made it resemble a hippopotamus: however, it is known only from North America and Europe. Another family of hippopotamus-like rhinoceros relatives, the Amynodontidae, is also known from Miocene China.
An alternative suggestion put forward by Xu is that the guancaishou could be a living uintathere or uintathere descendant. These were vaguely rhinoceros-like Eocene browsing animals which had large, strong, and distinctive heads. The fossils of one species, Uintatherium insperatus, were discovered in the Lushi Basin, which is adjacent to the Shennongjia Forestry District.
Notes and references
- Xu, David C. (2018) Mystery Creatures of China: The Complete Cryptozoological Guide, Coachwhip Publications, ISBN 978-1616464301