Like something straight out of a Transformers movie – cue Megatron being unearthed from the Arctic permafrost – a team of researchers have unearthed the centuries-old remains of lion cubs that perished in Siberia.
Discovered in the remote region of Yakutia, the long-dead lions will certainly not be coming back to life a la Jurassic Park – but scientists hope to learn a lot about how these super predators fared back then. Of particular interest is how cave lions in general perished.
The almost pristinely-preserved lion cubs will be studied most extensively at Yakutia’s nearby Academy of Science, where they will join a proprietary collection of other Ice Age fauna found and transported to the educational institute.
Yakutia has the distinction of being the coldest region in Eastern Siberia and Russia Major; in fact, Yakutsk is the coldest recorded city on the planet with an average winter-time temperature of minus 40 degrees C – which makes it easy to understand how the lion cubs could have been preserved so well, for so long.
These prehistoric lions have a very close relationship with the modern-day African lion. Cave lions died out in Siberia millennia ago, and the study of these ice lions may reveal why such brilliant predators didn’t make Nature’s “cut.” They would not have been prone to being stuck in the swamps of the time – unlike the gigantic woolly mammoths; perhaps they were too effective as hunters?
The Siberian lions would have preyed on a veritable smorgasbord of choice meats in their heyday. This included reindeer, dwarf horses, giant horses, baby woolly mammoths, bison and anything else that either couldn’t get away, or was simply too large to take down.
Indeed, the Ice Age lions hunted in a manner similar to African lionesses today; group dynamics were instrumental. The pack mentality is evident from old cave drawings.
The working hypothesis is that the deer and bears upon which the lions used to prey became too scarce to support their hunting efficiency, which caused the number’s of lions to dwindle. They eventually died out as a result of the lack of food. As more work is done to thaw out the frozen lion cubs and examine the contents – if any – of their stomachs, researchers will have a better idea of the true narrative.
It is uncertain whether genetic material will be available from such an old species; but if so, there are many tantalizing potential results that await the scientific community.