Extinct Lion Cubs Found in Siberia are up to 55,000 Years Old - Latest Test Results Reveal
By The Siberian Times Reporter
Tantalizing studies are now underway to establish if one of two lion cub carcasses preserved by permafrost has traces of the world's oldest mother's milk. The lion cubs found in summer 2015 were previously believed to be at least 12,000 years old. But new research indicates they are at least twice as old, living between 25,000 and 55,000 years ago, with one of them 'perfectly' preserved.
These cave lion siblings - which became extinct around 10,000 BC - were between one and two weeks old when they were killed in a likely prehistoric ceiling collapse in their den.
Intriguingly, the tails of the ancient cubs were short compared with modern lions - 23% of their body length compared with 60%.
Scientists have now established the cubs - named Uyan and Dina- were found in Edoma permafrost deposits formed during the Karginskii interstadial, a warmer period late in the Ice Age from 25,000 to 55,000 years ago.
The scientists want to extract all possible knowledge but at the same time cause 'minimum damage to the ancient cave lion'. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya
Dr. Albert Protopopov, one of the main researchers, said: 'That means that the cubs were not younger than 25,000 years old. Previously the youngest date for the cubs was 12,000, the time when the cave lions become extinct.'
The 'exact data' on their age will be calculated later. 'The analysis is not finished yet,' he said. 'As for their age when they died - we think that they were 1 to 2 weeks old.
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'We made a CT scan and saw that their teeth had not appeared yet. Based on a comparison with African lions, we concluded that they were younger than one month, most likely between 1 and 2 weeks old.'
Dr. Protopopov, head of the Department of Mammoth Fauna, Academy of Sciences of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), said: 'The CT scan also helped us to check the state of the inner organs of cubs.
'One of cubs, Uyan, is more preserved and the CT showed us that there is something in its stomach. Now we are discussing between us: what is it - mother's milk or some other substance.'
The 'opaque white fluid' might be milk but could also be gastric fluid. The scientists want to extract all possible knowledge but at the same time cause 'minimum damage to the ancient cave lion.
'With the milk, it is very interesting, but we need to think twice before doing something,' he said. 'The finds are really unique and any reckless action by us can damage them. We think that that perhaps we can use some unobtrusive method to research the cub's stomach.'
DNA analysis confirms the cubs are cave lions but they hope for better quality analysis when samples are taken from internal organs.
'We also plan to conduct radioisotope analysis to learn about their environment, what did they eat and what is more important - what did their mother eat and from where she came,' he said. 'We plan to make another more powerful CT scan to get more detailed information about their intestines.'
South Korean cloning guru Hwang Woo-suk took is believed to have taken samples from one of the cubs. Pictures: Galina Mozolevskaya/YSIA
The cubs were dug last year from their icy grave 'complete with all their body parts: fur, ears, soft tissue and even whiskers', said Dr. Protopopov.
South Korean cloning guru Hwang Woo-suk took is believed to have taken samples from one of the cubs, found close to the Uyandina River. He is also hoping to clone the extinct woolly mammoth.
Cave lions - Panthera spelaea (Goldfuss) - lived during Middle and Late Pleistocene times on the Eurasian continent, from the British Isles to Chukotka in the extreme east of Russia, and they also roamed Alaska and northwestern Canada.
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Research on the two cubs could help to explain why the species died out, since the animal had few predators, was smaller than herbivores, and was not prone to getting bogged down in swamps, as did woolly mammoths and rhinos. One theory is that they were hunted for their skins by ancient man.