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'In Buryar language Baikal is called Baigal-nuur'

Stunning pictures of the world’s only uniquely preserved cave lion cubs as new secrets revealed

By 0 and 0 and 0
18 September 2019


Some 26000 years ago Sparta’s mother either left her in the cave and went hunting, or was killed herself, leaving the tiny cub without food. 

The pair of cubs were believed to be siblings both born 44,000 years ago. 

In fact one of the famous extinct cave lions named Spartak has been found to be female not male, and will need to be rechristened as Sparta.

And she was born 18,000 years after the cub found next to her named Boris, it now emerges.

Complete restoration works on the baby cave lions, preserved superbly in the Siberian permafrost, reveals a sensational level of pelt and hair preservation.

Some 26000 years ago Sparta’s mother either left her in the cave and went hunting, or was killed herself, leaving the tiny cub without food. 

‘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, an expert in frozen remains from the woolly mammoth era.

‘It was the most extreme stage of starvation.’




‘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.’

Sparta was found in Yakutia region in 2018 by the same mammoth bone hunter who discovered a bigger cave lion cub called Boris a year earlier. 

They were just ten metres apart. 

The first theory was that the cubs must have been from the same family - but now scientists know that the cubs are separated by 26,000 years. 

Boris lived some 44,000 years ago and was aged between two to three weeks when he died. 

Most likely his death came when his mother left him inside a cave, went hunting and the cave rock collapsed, burying the cub. 

‘We found visible traces of internal injuries which we believe could have been caused by 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 lives in much colder climate and we believe therefore had to look different. 

‘There was less prey in 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.’





Boris, the older cub, has a severed tail.

Tests are underway on the lions to extract as much information as possible. 

The cave lions were the largest predators after bears in ancient , and in the area where we find skulls of cave lions there is only a handful of bear skulls. 

Lions reigned in ancient Siberia because at the time it was savanna, bears needed more woods. 

‘Cave lion cubs are superbly preserved, you can even see their whiskers, and we are hoping to fetch a lot more information from them.’

The scientist predicted: ‘There is a very realistic chance to recreate cave lions and it would be a lot easier than to clone a woolly mammoth. 

‘Cave and modern lions separated only 300,000 years ago, in other words they are different species of the same genus.

‘It means that we can take DNA of the modern African lion and use it to recreate cave lions.

’It would be a lot easier than the mammoths.

‘But if we find methods to bring back woolly mammoths it would be a revolution and a pay back by humans who helped extinguishing of so many species.’ 

Albert Protopopov

Dr Albert Protopopov, an expert in frozen remains from the woolly mammoth era.

Boris, the older cub, has a severed tail.

This led to speculation he was an ancient lynx not a cave lion.

‘We were all worried by the lack of a tail on Boris,’ said Dr Protopopov.

‘But the man who found him explained that it got cut off when the cub was taken out of the permafrost.

‘I know it raised suspicion that the lion cub was in fact a lynx, but we know from the very first tests that this was clearly a cave lion cub.’

The cubs were found 10 metres from each other in Abyisky district.

Frozen cave lion cub

Frozen cave lion cub

Frozen cave lion cub


CT scan

Comments (13)

Man kind has done so much that has lead to the extinction of so many animals it seems it is in fact time to pay it forward & preserve life rather than destroy it. It's a amazing these little cubs died thousands of years ago and made their debut to the modern world . Little stars they are!
Yaya, U S.A.
14/08/2021 00:24
I feel so sad to see little Sparta like that. I wish you could pet her, gently shake her awake and give her some food. :( Though the poor things died alone, they're no longer alone. If science should succeed in resurrecting the species, let the first cubs be named after these ones who lost their life, but helped to preserve their species.
A B, Canada
04/10/2020 01:18
Poor sweet cats ...so much sufferings they have endured.....may they be in pets paradise with no sorrows and no hunters

luca, Italy
11/05/2020 20:41
Come across this through adds on google and I cant put my phone down what amazing discoveries! I found myself fascinated with the information on the Cubs and wolf heads found at the same site. The stories behind the deaths of these wonderful creatures really tore at my heart strings as it shows how dangerous life was for these beautiful animals and making it to adulthood was harder than imagined. Its shows how different the world was back then, amazing finds I hope to see more about these Cubs x
St, Newton abbot, Devon
17/02/2020 18:01

I hope they can come back to life
sid civious, Roma
07/01/2020 01:45
I'd love to see the cave lion brought back to life!
Claus, Denmark
04/12/2019 20:37
I think it's very cool to find animals from long ago.. I think all big cats are amazing and beautiful. In one way I would love to see them bring one to life.. Just think we might have to do that with our animals now if things don't get better..
Kimberly scull, Crystal River fl
01/12/2019 14:03
Unlike their modern counterparts, these Cubs have lots of fur. Most likely due to the fact that they lived in cold mountainous regions and made caves their Dens. I wonder if the Cubs back then retained that fur into adulthood or did they eventually lose it as they moved into lower altitudes and more moderate climates? I guess we'll have to wait until they find an adult specimen. Great find nonetheless.
Alan Charles, United States
16/11/2019 07:40
If they want to know if cave lions had an alpha male and females, couldn't the study the bones on animals who were killed by the lion? They would leave much different teeth marks than the dire wolf or smilodon, and the marks around the bones should tell you if more than just 1-4 lions were eating from that meal. Also the type of prey they were eating, it is impossible for a female lion (even if helped by a male) to take on an animal such as young wholly mammoth or a (fast) horse without help of a pack.
Hazel, Matthews middle school
24/10/2019 01:35
Animals are amazingly interesting wether it be from the past or present.
James, Alaska
01/10/2019 06:10
You mean... they were white? I'm asking, cause they looked different on a pictures made a year ago - as if their fur were grey. And they were always depicted as white - e.g. by Zdenek Burian ("Life Before Man") or in popular BBC tv series "Walking With Beasts" (despite the fact other predators, like Siberian Tiger or Amur Leopard are not white).
Paul, Gdynia, Poland
24/09/2019 03:30
Fantastic and informing story. Fascinating research into ancient life. And, they're so cute! Amazing. Thanks again, for a great read, ST. Cheers!
C Hammond, Texas USA
21/09/2019 07:39
Good luck with your experiments. Wish you succeed in bring it back to live!
Matthew Tabone, Malta
20/09/2019 15:57

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