Ice Age cave lions lived approximately 12,000 years ago. Now, scientists are hoping to clone the species back to life using new DNA methods.
In August last year, the frozen, unspoilt remains of two lion cubs were discovered in the remote area of Sakha Republic in northwest Russia. The cubs were named Dina and Uyan and their remains are believed to be the closest remaining samples of the big cat species.
The lion cubs were submerged in permafrost, enabling their samples to become well preserved. The species were last documented in the Pleistocene times.
Now, a team of scientists from South Korea and Russia are looking for living tissues in the cubs' remains that can be used to clone the cave lions or Panthera spelaea (Goldfuss) species back to life.
The scientists are from the North East Russia University's Joint Foundation of Molecular Paleontology. In the joint venture, one of the lion cub fossils will be used for cloning while the other will be displayed in a museum.
The cave lions were once abundant in Canada, Alaska, British Isles and Eastern Russian during the middle to late Pleistocene period. The name 'cave lions' was coined because most of the species remains were found in caves.
Experts believed they hardly lived in caves, despite the moniker, and they are smaller compared to other herbivore hunters. The cave lions were believed to enjoy fewer shares of predators.
The species became extinct approximately 10,000 years ago due to the reduction of cave bears and deer populations, one theory said. The lion cubs were discovered in Yakutsk, Yakutia. Resident Yakov Androsov spotted the remains from the cracks in the frozen Uyandina River.
Dr. Albert Protopopov, the Yakutian Academy of Sciences' mammoth fauna studies department head said the cub fossils' entire body parts were found intact, including soft tissue, ears, fur and whiskers. Protopopov said the discovery is truly a sensational one.
"Comparing with the 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," added Protopopov.
An autopsy is scheduled late this year. Hwang Woo-suk, a cloning expert from South Korean took samples from one of the lion cub fossil for the initial research on the proposed cloning study.