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The cave lion cub now known as ‘Sparta.’ Source: Siberian Times

Uniquely Preserved Cave Lion Cubs: Stunning Photos and Secrets Revealed

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By Valeria Sukhova / Siberian Times

At first, scientists believed they had found male cave lion cub siblings that were born 44,000 years ago and found ten meters (32.8 ft.) apart in Yakutia, but the truth is rather different. And they still hope to bring the species back to life.

The Cave Lion Cubs’ Story Changes

The pair of cubs were believed to be siblings both born 44,000 years ago. But actually, one of the famous extinct cave lions named Spartak has been found to be female not male, and will need to be rechristened as Sparta. It has now been discovered that some 26,000 years ago Sparta’s mother either left her in the cave and went hunting, or was killed herself, leaving the tiny cub without food. Sparta was born 18,000 years after the cub found next to her named Boris.

Sparta was born 18,000 years after the other cave lion cub, Boris. (Siberian Times)

Sparta was born 18,000 years after the other cave lion cub, Boris. (Siberian Times)

Complete restoration works on the baby cave lions, preserved superbly in the Siberian permafrost, reveals a sensational level of pelt and hair preservation .

“She starved to death. We wondered why she looked so skinny when she was found, and then tomography of her internal organs showed there was no fat,” said scientist Dr. Albert Protopopov, an expert in frozen remains from the woolly mammoth era. “It was the most extreme stage of starvation.”

Complete restoration works on the baby cave lions, preserved superbly in the Siberian permafrost, reveals a sensational level of pelt and hair preservation. (Siberian Times)

Complete restoration works on the baby cave lions, preserved superbly in the Siberian permafrost, reveals a sensational level of pelt and hair preservation. (Siberian Times)

Sparta was found in Yakutia region in 2018 by the same mammoth bone hunter who discovered a bigger cave lion cub called Boris a year earlier. They were found just 10 meters apart in Abyisky district.

The first theory was that the cubs must have been from the same family - but now scientists know that the cubs are separated by 26,000 years.

Dr. Albert Protopopov, an expert in frozen remains from the woolly mammoth era. (Siberian Times)

Dr. Albert Protopopov, an expert in frozen remains from the woolly mammoth era. (Siberian Times)

Boris lived some 44,000 years ago and was aged between two to three weeks old when he died. Most likely his death came when his mother left him inside a cave, went hunting and the cave rock collapsed, burying the cub.

“We found visible traces of internal injuries which we believe could have been caused by rock falling on him,” Protopopov said.

The scientists found traces of internal injuries to Boris’s body. (Siberian Times)

The scientists found traces of internal injuries to Boris’s body. (Siberian Times)

What Made Cave Lions Unique?

And the scientist also discussed the importance of discovering what the cave lion cubs really looked like when they were alive:

“The most important task of this complex research on the cave lion cubs is to restore their appearance. It is still an enigma, in that on hundreds of published drawings of cave lions they are depicted without manes. Yet we notice spots and stripes of pigmentation in that area… which are not seen in modern day lions. So we are moving towards re-creating the way the cave lions looked. Their living conditions were very different to modern lions in that cave lions live in a much colder climate and we believe therefore had to look different. There was less prey in a cold climate. If we understand this question about manes we might get an idea of their social hierarchy - for example, we don’t know if they created prides with alpha males and several females like modern lions.”

“The most important task of this complex research on the cave lion cubs is to restore their appearance.” (Siberian Times)

“The most important task of this complex research on the cave lion cubs is to restore their appearance.” (Siberian Times)

Hopes and Plans for the Cave Lion Cubs

Tests are underway on the lions to extract as much information as possible. In the distant past cave lions were the largest predators after bears in Siberia, and in the area where we find skulls of cave lions there are only a handful of bear skulls. Lions reigned in the ancient lands of what is now Siberia because at the time it was savanna, bears needed more woods.

Tests are underway on the lions to extract as much information as possible. (Siberian Times)

Tests are underway on the lions to extract as much information as possible. (Siberian Times)

“Cave lion cubs are superbly preserved, you can even see their whiskers, and we are hoping to fetch a lot more information from them,” Protopopov said, and the scientist predicted:

“There is a very realistic chance to recreate cave lions and it would be a lot easier than to clone a woolly mammoth . Cave and modern lions separated only 300,000 years ago, in other words they are different species of the same genus. It means that we can take DNA of the modern African lion and use it to recreate cave lions. It would be a lot easier than the mammoths. But if we find methods to bring back woolly mammoths it would be a revolution and a pay back by humans who helped extinguishing of so many species.”

“There is a very realistic chance to recreate cave lions […]” (Siberian Times)

“There is a very realistic chance to recreate cave lions […]” (Siberian Times)

Boris, the older cub, has a severed tail. This led to speculation he was an ancient lynx not a cave lion.

 “We were all worried by the lack of a tail on Boris,” said Dr. Protopopov. “But the man who found him explained that it got cut off when the cub was taken out of the permafrost. I know it raised suspicion that the lion cub was in fact a lynx, but we know from the very first tests that this was clearly a cave lion cub.”

Boris, the older cub, has a severed tail. (Siberian Times)

Boris, the older cub, has a severed tail. (Siberian Times)

Top Image: The cave lion cub now known as ‘Sparta.’ Source: Siberian Times

The article, originally titled ‘ Stunning pictures of the world’s only uniquely preserved cave lion cubs as new secrets revealed ’ first appeared on The Siberian Times and has been republished with permission.

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