Whiskers still bristling after more than 10,000 years in the Siberian cold
By The Siberian Times reporter
Two extinct cave lions - dug from the permafrost – have made their first appearance since Pleistocene times. The ancient cubs, the best-preserved ever seen of this long-gone species, are a 'sensational' find, according to scientists who normally choose their adjectives with studied caution.
Yesterday in Yakutsk, the coldest city on Earth, the pre-historic specimens were revealed to the media in a permafrost cave, perhaps reminiscent of their natural habitat when they roamed Siberia.
They were displayed on giant slabs of ice: the cubs were the size of plump domestic cats. The permafrost preserved them in wondrous lifelike detail for at least 10,000 years but they could be even more ancient: only now will tests commence to establish their true age.
The permafrost preserved them in wondrous lifelike detail for at least 10,000 years.
And could these deep-chilled snow lions be cloned? The scientists for now are coy.
'The cubs were found in Abyisky ulus, on the bank of the Uyandina River,' said Dr Albert Protopopov, head of the mammoth fauna studies department of the Yakutian Academy of Sciences. The river is just below the Arctic Circle, some 1,045 kilometres north east of Yakutsk, capital of a diamond-rich region almost the size of India.
'This find, beyond any doubt, is sensational,' he said. The cubs 'are complete with all their body parts: fur, ears, soft tissue and even whiskers'. They are, he claimed, unique in the world, the most complete remains of cave lions ever found.
The cubs were the size of plump domestic cats.
The Siberian Times revealed the existence of the lion cubs last month, provoking interest from around the world. Yet today is the first time the remains of these ancient creatures have been widely seen, revealed by Russian scientists more familiar with discovering the relics of the extinct woolly mammoth.
'Possibly, the cubs died in a hole, in a landslide, and afterwards this site was never affected by weather,' said the academic. 'This is how we explain such unique preservation of the animals.'
The remote region where the lions were found, known as Yakutia or the Sakha Republic, is the largest in the Russian Federation.
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. Finds of their remains are rare, and the Yakutian scientists have no hesitation in saying that this pair are best preserved ever unearthed in the world.
After the ice lions were found, tests were conducted to ensure they did not carry ancient diseases: but they were given the all clear. Research on the two cubs could help to explain why the species died out around 10,000 years ago, 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 a decline in deer and cave bears, their prey, caused their demise.
Featured image: Yesterday in Yakutsk, the coldest city on Earth, the pre-historic specimens were revealed to the media in a permafrost cave, perhaps reminiscent of their natural habitat when they roamed Siberia. Picture here and below: Vera Salnitskaya.
The article ‘Whiskers still bristling after more than 10,000 years in the Siberian cold ‘ was originally published on The Siberian Times and has been republished with permission.