In remote and icy Siberia, bodies of long extinct ancient animals are often found preserved within the thick permafrost, from woolly mammoths to ancient horses. These carcasses have been so well preserved, that some reports suggest that the meat is often fresh enough to eat, and can even contain liquid blood. In another stunning find, The Siberian Times reports the “sensational” discovery of two almost perfectly preserved cave lion cubs.
Thought to be at least 10,000 years old, the lions were found earlier this summer in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic of Siberia, famed for many other striking discoveries of ice age animals. The creatures lived during the Pleistocene, when the world was gripped by repeated ice ages as glaciers expanded and retracted. All that had been previously found of cave lions in the area were some skulls and fragments of teeth and bones.
Another Pleistocene find in the region. Image credit: Courtesy of Academy of Sciences of Yakutia
The lions in question – easily the best preserved ever discovered – are thought to be Eurasian cave lions (Panthera spelaea), which were among the largest species of lions ever to have lived, with a shoulder height of 1.2 meters (3.9 feet). They would have stalked the grasslands, taking down reindeer, horses, and possibly even young mammoths with which they shared the landscape. Why they disappeared is a little less certain, but perhaps as their prey species dwindled, due to a combination of climate change and human hunting, they were no longer able to survive in the cold north of Europe.
The cubs have undergone a preliminary study, and the results will be presented at the end of November in the Siberian town of Yakutia to both national and international press. They will be shown along with a whole host of other specimens dug out of the permafrost in the region, including mammoths, woolly rhinos and ancient bison. While they have announced that the specimens are free of certain microbial infections, such as deadly anthrax, all other significant details and pictures of the finds are being closely guarded.
Reconstruction showing ice age fauna, including cave lions feasting on a deer. Mauricio Antón/Wikimedia Commons
Main image: Alpha/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0