12,000-Year-Old Cave Lion Cubs Presented To The World

The two cubs were no more than a fortnight old when they died. Vera Salnitskaya via The Siberian Times
Ben Taub 18 Nov 2015, 17:39

Two extraordinarily well-preserved cave lion cubs have been presented to the world’s media following their discovery in a permafrost cave in Siberia last month, complete with all their fur, soft tissues and even whiskers intact. It’s thought the pair – named Uyan and Dina after the Uyandina river that flows through the site where they were found – were only a week or two old when they died, and perished after a landslide sealed off the hole in which their mother had hidden them.

Image credit: Vera Salnitskaya via The Siberian Times 

While this may have been bad news for the cubs, it has enabled researchers to get their best look yet at a species of lion that once roamed a territory spanning from the British Isles to the extreme east of Russia, until its demise around 10,000 years ago. DNA analysis on previous specimens has indicated that these cave lions (Panthera spelaea) differ from modern lions, and that their disappearance should therefore be considered a true extinction.

Image credit: Vera Salnitskaya via The Siberian Times 

It’s thought that the landslide may have caused an airtight seal over the cave which, combined with the icy permafrost, protected the cubs from degradation and decay. The pair will now undergo MRI scans and a range of other studies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, as researchers hope to uncover the mystery of how this particular species of lion became extinct. While initial estimates place the age of the cubs at around 12,000 years, tests will now be conducted to refine this figure.

Image credit: Vera Salnitskaya via The Siberian Times 

As the photographs show, the young lions had yet to fully open their eyes when they died, and scientists in Siberia have stated that not all of their baby teeth had yet appeared.

Photographs show two cave lion (Panthera spelaean) cubs, found in a permafrost cave in Siberia. Credit: Vera Salnitskaya via The Siberian Times

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