April 2, 2009

Giant Lions Once Roamed Parts Of Europe And North America

Scientists from Oxford University have uncovered the remains of giant lions that roamed around Britain, Europe and North America up to 13,000 years ago, BBC News reported.

Researchers previously thought they were a species of jaguar or tiger, but have now discovered through DNA analysis they were indeed large lions.

Experts believe the giant lions, which were 25 percent bigger than the species of African lion living today, would have lived in the icy tundra with mammoths and saber-toothed tigers.

The lions also had longer legs to chase their prey and likely hunted over long distances. In contrast to the modern-day species, which tends to ambush its victims, the longer legs would help them chase down their prey.

Researchers at Oxford took DNA from fossils and other remains gathered from Germany to Siberia, and Alaska to Wyoming and analyzed it along with DNA from lions that roam the planes today.

"These ancient lions were like a super-sized version of today's lions and, in the Americas, had longer legs adapted for endurance running," said Dr. Ross Barnett, who conducted the research at Oxford University's department of Zoology.

He said the genetic evidence revealed that these ancient extinct lions and the lions of today were very closely related.

"Cave art also suggests that they formed prides, although the males in the pictures would not have had manes and they are depicted very realistically," he added.

Early cave paintings, like those seen in the pre-historic cave complex at Chauvet in France, suggest lions were very important to early man.

Archaeologists in Germany who theorize that ancient humans may have even worshiped lions have uncovered figurines that are half man, half lion.

The remains from the Pleistocene Epoch (1.8 million years ago to 10,000 years ago) were divided by the researchers into two groups: the American Lion which lived in North America, and the Cave Lion which lived in northern Europe, Russia, Alaska and the Yukon.

The icy tundra inhabitants would have shared their habitat with herds of other large animals such as mammoth, woolly rhino, saber tooth tigers and giant deer.

Barnett said these species died out in a mass extinction some 13,000 years ago and discovering the reason behind this was what he called "one of the last great scientific mysteries".

Some experts believe it could have been climate change or something to do with humans, as humans could have been killing off their prey or killing the lions themselves.

Barnett is hopeful that more research and more advanced genetic analysis may some day answer the question behind the extinction.


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