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When Giganto walked the earth – and why he disappeared

A GIANT PRIMATE called Giganto walked the earth for millions of years, but died out when its food source became scarce, scientists said this week.

The massive creature was twice the height of humans, at three meters tall, and weighed as much as three or four people, at 200 to 300 kilograms.

Details emerged from analysis of teeth and sediments found in 11 caves in China.

The existence of the giant primate (the group of animals which includes apes and humans), has been known for some time. But new analysis reveals more of its story, and in particular, why it disappeared.

The name Giganto is short for its scientific name Gigantopithecus blacki. It roamed Asia from about two million years ago, but signs of its existence become rare from about 330,000 years ago.

A study of the Chinese fossils published in Nature magazine, a top science journal, reveal why.

The fruit on which it mostly lived became scarce because of a gradual change in the types of forest where it roamed, and the introduction of seasons, said researcher Dr Kira Westaway of Macquarie University.

The Giganto tried to survive on twigs and bark. Another extinct animal, the Chinese orangutan, managed to survive longer because it did a better job of changing its diet. But the Giganto was less adaptable and eventually went extinct.

Image at the top shows an artwork by Garcia/Joannes-Boyau/Southern Cross University, inlaid with a diagram by Discover Science.

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