Russian researchers have unveiled the remains of a pair of extinct cave lion cubs that were found preserved in permafrost in the remote Abyisky district recently. The cubs, dubbed Uyan and Dina, are believed to have died shortly after birth some 12,000 years ago. Their frozen remains are the most complete ever found.

Cave Lion 3 2015 11 17
Image © Vera Salnitskaya/Siberian Times
Cave Lion 1 2015 11 17
Image © Vera Salnitskaya/Siberian Times

“This find, beyond any doubt, is sensational,” Dr Albert Protopopov of the Yakutian Academy of Sciences told The Siberian Times. “The cubs 'are complete with all their body parts: fur, ears, soft tissue and even whiskers.'"

Alive during the Middle and Late Pleistocene eras, cave lions (Panthera spelaea) once roamed across Eurasia, from the British Isles to Chutotka in the east of Russia, as well as in North America in what is now Alaska and northwestern Canada. A decline in available prey may have led to their eventual extinction.

The prehistoric specimens were revealed today on giant slabs of ice in a permafrost cave in Yakutsk, Siberia – one of the world’s coldest cities, where the climate possibly resembles what these ancient cats would have dealt with.

Palaeontologists first made this amazing discovery when a summer rise in river levels opened up a crack in the ice. "In one crack, we saw an ice lens with some pieces inside. We decided to take a closer look and found the cubs," Protopopov explains.

Researchers have plans to perform radiocarbon dating, a genetic analysis, and an MRI scan to uncover more about the age of the species and the exact age of the cubs. They also hope to gain knowledge from a specialist researcher.

“The main complexity of our task is that here we have not adult lions, but cubs, so we are searching for specialists experienced in [that area]," says scientist Dr Gennady Boeskorov. "It's interesting to see the adaptive mechanisms that helped them to survive in the cold. They definitely differed from the modern lions, and we think there should be something that allowed them to adapt to the climate.”

Russian researchers plan to head back to the remote site where these remains were found next year in the hope of uncovering more specimens.

Cave Lion 2 2015 11 17
Image © Vera Salnitskaya/Siberian Times