In the permafrost of the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, two cave lion cubs have been discovered. The two ancient predators have been almost perfectly preserved; it is believed that cave lions went extinct over 10,000 years ago, but scientists say these two could be much older.
The discovery was made this summer by scientists from the Academy of Sciences of the Sakha Republic, reported The Siberian Times. Their find will be introduced properly at a presentation to the Russian and international media in late November, where the initial research findings will also be released.
The cave lion, before becoming extinct, lived during the Pleistocene and is thought to have roamed from the British Isles to northern Europe and Russia; they have even been found in Alaska and Northern Canada.
It has been seen as a “groundbreaking discovery” because all other finds of the cave lions in the region have been of just skulls and fragments of teeth and bones.
This is the first time we have seen the cave lion’s face as it would have looked in prehistoric times.
The remains of other Pleistocene animals that have been recovered from permafrost are said to have been so well preserved that the meat is often fresh enough to eat, and can even contain liquid blood.
Scientists from the Academy of Sciences of the Sakha Republic have announced that the specimens are free of certain microbial infections, such as deadly anthrax. Because significant details and pictures have been closely guarded, it is unknown if they have obtained high quality genetic material, but if it is found, it may lead to attempts to resurrect the cave lion.
The cave lions (Panthera (leo) spelaea) are believed to have lived during Late Ionian to Tarantian of Pleistoceneon, the Eurasian continent, and were among the largest species of lions ever to have lived, with a shoulder height of 3.9 feet (1.2 meters) and 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) long; although there are some remains that indicate a slightly larger size.
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The Eurasian cave lion got its common name (cave lion) because a large number of its bones have been discovered in caves; however, the name is somewhat misleading. The Eurasian cave lion is known from many locations and is believed to have been very tolerant of the cold, providing there was sufficient prey to hunt. It is thought that they would have stalked the grasslands eating reindeer, horses, and maybe even young mammoths.
However, in an Isotope analysis of collagen from the cave lion, it has shown that some populations did regularly eat young cave bears. So scientists believe that they would have entered caves to steal cave bear cubs (Ursus spelaeus), as well as feed on weak hibernating individuals.
It may be for this reason why the remains of cave lions have been found inside caves, as inevitably cave bears would have fought back, especially mother bears protecting their cubs, or a bear woken from its hibernation.
It is not clear why the cave lion became extinct; it may have been because their prey species had died out, or even a combination of climate change and human hunting. It is hoped scientists can get some answers from the recent discovery.
Paleontologists will also be showing other Pleistocene animals that have been preserved by ice in the largest and coldest region of the Russian Federation. These will include the famous woolly mammoth Yuka, the “Oimyakon” mammoth, the carcass of a Kolyma woolly rhinoceros, and Yukagir bison and horses.