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Ancient cave lions had spots, believe scientists, after analysing cub preserved in permafrost

By 0 and 0 and 0
30 October 2018


Spartak - likely a sibling of Boris - was found later but close by the other cub, some 15 metres away. Picture: Academy of Sciences of Yakutia

Scientists examining recently found cave lion cub Spartak, dug from the permafrost, say they have made an unexpected discovery about the extinct species. 

Dr Alexei Tikhonov, head of the Zoological Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said: 'We see that this lion cub is spotted. 

‘And we know that in ancient cave drawings some ancient lions were depicted with spots. 

‘It used to be thought that the Palaeolithic artists decided to simply put on these spots. 

‘Now it can be argued that, at least in the fur of cubs, they really were.' 

Or anyway, some were spotted. 




The little cub may well have perished from starvation, perhaps abandoned by its mother. Pictures: Academy of Sciences of Yakutia, YSIA

Cave lions were once prevalent from Great Britain to the land bridge with Alaska and into modern-day Canada. 

Recently remarkable finds of life-like frozen corpses of cave lion subs have been found in Yakutia, eastern Siberia. 

One, called Boris, without visible spots, has been definitively dated by Japanese experts as living 43,500 years ago, it was announced this week in regional capital Yakutsk. 

Spartak - likely a sibling of Boris - was found later but close by the other cub, some 15 metres away.

The prehistoric baby lions are being examined for possible use in extracting live cells which could lead to cloning the species back to life.

Boris and Spartak

Boris and Spartak

Scientists assume the death of Boris (first from the left) was unexpected. This cub was ‘chubby’. In contrast Spartak (first from the right) appears to have been completely exhausted. Pictures: Academy of Sciences of Yakutia

Dr Tikhonov told The Siberian Times: ‘Spartak definitely has spots on his back. They are few, but still visible. 

‘I think it is kind of individual variability, since Boris doesn't have spots.’ 

Both have ‘brown tassels’ on the ears.

Professor Naoki Suzuki, of Jikei University School of Medicine (Tokyo) said: 'Boris is the largest cub found in Yakutia. 

‘We also carried out tomographic studies of Spartak in order to learn more about its internal structure, which is truly amazing.

‘Not only are bones preserved, but also the brain and other organs. 

‘I have already worked with the previously found lion cubs Uyan, Dina and Boris, but Spartak has so far been the best sample for anatomical research.’




The scientists carried out tomographic studies of Spartak in order to learn more about its internal structure. Pictures: Academy of Sciences of Yakutia

The professor is returning to Japan to create a 3D model of the carcass - allowing a ‘digital dissection’.

A mystery remains as to how the cubs died so close to each other - but plainly in very different ways. 

Dr Tikhonov said scientists assume the death of Boris was unexpected. This cub was ‘chubby’.

In contrast Spartak appears to have been completely exhausted.

The little cub may well have perished from starvation, perhaps abandoned by its mother.

A tomogram analysis showed its gastrointestinal tract was completely empty, and the carcass itself was much smaller than Boris.

Frozen cave lion cub

New cave lion cub

Frozen cave lion cub

Frozen cave lion cub

Boris was found in permafrost on the bank of Tirekhtykh River of the Abyisky district of Yakutia by a local resident Boris Berezhnov in 2017. Picture: The Siberian Times, Anastasiya Koryakina

Dr Tikhonov said: 'Unlike Boris, Spartak has a fully preserved tail.

‘But there is a strange cut or gap on it. We need to sort out how it happened.’

He concluded: ‘We suggest that the mother lioness dumped Spartak from the very beginning. 

‘It happens. A lioness can dump weak cubs in unfavourable conditions. 

‘We think that the poor thing was abandoned soon after birth and never got mother's milk. 

‘Boris was well-fed, but something happened rather soon after his birth and he also died.'

Comments (4)

Leave them alone. Man will destroy them again just as before.
Carolyn Sheetz, United States
13/10/2023 19:32
I vote for "Frosty Pancake".
Hans, Switzerland
23/08/2019 12:39
We hear about efforts to clone plant-eating animals from the past. Will there also be carnivores from the Ice Age?

Before wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone Nat'l Park environment, wolf-enthusiasts (outside Alaska & Canada, where large populations were always secure) had created a 'cottage industry' of small 'parks' where they kept penned packs. We had one of these quasi-scientific operations in my home-area.

One day company had piled-up at the house, and I overheard a couple mention that they had pulled in and taken a tour of the 'wolf-park'. Later I had an appropriate setting to button-hole them about the wolves.

"Hey - how was that, at the wolf-place"? "Oh, $!~% - DON'T GO!!! It's the most pathetic thing you every saw. Like touring a psych-ward for the terminally insane!"

Zoos learned this, long ago. They have to work hard, and work with the critter, to create something that is nominally healthy.

Well ... think about it. If we're going to bring these animals back ... they're not all going to be munching plants, are they?
Ted Clayton, Forks, USA
01/11/2018 01:59
Is it boy or girl?

Should we give her / him a name?
Gregg, Helsinki
31/10/2018 15:03

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