An extinct cave lion cub in ‘perfect condition’ has been found in the Siberian permafrost, its head still resting gently on a paw after up to 50,000 years.
The extraordinary find – which raises hopes of cloning the long-gone species back to life in a Jurassic Park-style experiment – was unveiled today in Yakutsk, capital of Russia’s largest and coldest region, the Sakha Republic.
The cub was aged between six and eight weeks old when it died for unknown reasons deep in the Siberian permafrost.
The preservation is so good that ‘it raises hopes of cloning the species back to life’, reported The Siberian Times citing Dr Albert Protopopov, an expert with the regional academy of sciences.
Cave lions were once the largest big cats on the planet, living in cold regions in the northern hemisphere before they were wiped out.
‘It is a perfectly preserved lion cub, all the limbs have survived,’ he said.
‘There are no traces of external injuries on the skin.’
Analysis of the creature’s teeth is expected to give a good indication of the age.
Significant results are expected after around three years of research on the frozen remains, said the Dr Protopopov.
The ancient animal was found in permafrost on the bank of Tirekhtykh River, in the Abyisky district of Yakutia.
Local resident Boris Berezhnov spotted the carcass of an ‘unrecognisable animal’ in September after a fall in water level in the remote river.
Its length is around 18 inches (46cm), with a weight of almost 9lbs (4kg).
The discovery comes two years after the same researchers discovered two newborn cave lion cubs called Uyan and Dina.
Dr Protopopov said in 2015 when he unveiled the animals to the media: ‘Comparing with modern lion cubs, we think that these two were very small, maybe a week or two old.
‘The eyes were not quite open, they have baby teeth and not all had appeared.’
Uyan’s body was found to weigh about 6 pounds (2.8 kilograms) – around 4.6 pounds (2.1 kg) heavier than a modern lion newborn.
Because newborn lions don’t have any identifiable sex characteristics, it is unclear whether Uyan and Dina were male or female.
The cubs were so young, it was unlikely that they could see.
On their poster presenting the research, the team wrote: ‘Dina’s eyelids were tightly closed, while in Uyan, the left eye was closed, but the right eyelids were positioned a little apart.’
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