Two perfectly preserved cave lion cubs found in the far north of Siberia could help revive the species. The two cubs were believed to be male and female, and around 50 000 years old. However, further research showed that the cubs, only found 15 meters apart from one another, had an age difference of around 18 000 years.
The youngest of the cubs, Spartak, died of starvation. This likely happened when her mother was killed or abandoned the cub. ‘She starved to death. We wondered why she looked so skinny when she was found, and then tomography of her internal organs showed there was no fat,’ said scientist Dr. Albert Protopopov. ´It was the most extreme stage of starvation´.
Boris, the other cub died when his mother went hunting. The cave collapsed with the cub inside burying it under rocks and debris.
‘We found visible traces of internal injuries which we believe could have been caused by a rock falling on him’, Protopopov said.
‘The most important task of this complex research on the cave lion cubs is to restore their appearance.
¨It is still an enigma, in that on hundreds of published drawings of cave lions they are depicted without manes. Yet we notice spots and stripes of pigmentation in that area… which are not seen in modern-day lions. So we are moving towards re-creating the way the cave lions looked.¨
¨Their living conditions were very different to modern lions in that cave lions live in a much colder climate and we believe therefore had to look different. There was less prey in a cold climate. If we understand this question about mane we might get an idea of their social hierarchy – for example, we don’t know if they created prides with alpha males and several females alike to modern lions.¨ Protopopov told the Siberian Times.
The well known African lion and the extinct cave Lion belong to the same genus. Meaning it would be possible to use the DNA of the still extant African lion and create a cave lion. According to Dr. Protopopov, this would be a whole lot easier than bringing back the mammoth.