After a 50,000-year-old cave lion was found perfectly preserved in Siberia, scientists are now thinking about cloning the ancient lion in hopes to bring the species back to life. The cave lion (Panthera leo spelaea) is a subspecies of feline that inhabited the European and Asian continent 50,000 years ago.
Today it is completely extinct, but a discovery in Russia has just opened the door to the possibility of resurrecting the species through cloning. The body has been frozen for 50,000 years in the permafrost of the tundra that surrounds the Tirekhtykh River, in the Russian province of Yakutia.
The extreme cold of that region has served to keep the body in an impressive state. Not only does it preserve all its bones, but also the skin and a large part of the soft tissues. Scientists argue that the cub was between six and eight weeks old when it died due to unknown reasons. Experts hope that the cub’s teeth will reveal more about it.
Dr. Albert Protopopov, head of the department of paleontology at the Yakutia Academy of Sciences believes that the specimen could give enough DNA samples to clone the species and resuscitate it, as scientists have been wanting to resurrect other species.
Cave lions were once considered the largest ‘big’ cats on the surface of the planet, living in extremely cold regions in the northern hemisphere before they were wiped out. Speaking to the Siberian times, Dr. Protopopov 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.”
‘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.’
This discovery was made two years after the same experts found two newborn cave lion cubs called Uyan and Dina. At the time of the discovery, Dr. Protopopov said that compared to modern lion cubs, Uyan and Dina were very small, maybe a week or two old. “The eyes were not quite open, they have baby teeth and not all had appeared,’ said Dr. Protopopov.
Experts are still unsure as to why the species became extinct. However, one theory suggests that the population of cave bears and deer – one source of prey – caused them to die out.
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