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Meet Sparta, the 28,000 Year Old Lion Cub Perfectly Preserved in Siberia

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Credit: Center of Paleogenetics

Scientists say the remains of a lion cub, named Sparta and found in Siberia in 2018, are 28,000 years old and in excellent condition.

They say the lion baby, or cub, may still hold some of its mother’s milk inside it.

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The cub was a female cave lion. Researchers named her Sparta. Her remains were discovered in permanently frozen ground at the Semyuelyakh River in Russia’s Yakutia area.

The remains of another ancient cave lion had been found nearby in 2017. It was a male that researchers named Boris.

The findings were part of a study published in the journal Quaternary.

The study said the cubs were found 15 meters from each other. But, the scientists said many generations separated them. The research showed that Boris lived around 43,448 years ago.

Cave lions died out thousands of years ago. The two cubs, aged 1-2 months, were found by mammoth tusk collectors. Mammoths were large, hairy prehistoric elephants with very long teeth, or tusks.

“To my knowledge, this is the best-preserved frozen specimen from the last Ice Age ever found,” study author Love Dalén, an evolutionary geneticist Stockholm University’s Centre for Palaeogenetics, tells NBC News. “Sparta is in near-perfect condition.”

Cave lions coexisted with early humans for thousands of years, according to the study. For example, the Chauvet Cave in France depicts cave lions drawn on walls. The early cave paintings are estimated to be more than 30,000 years old.

The coloration of cub fur appears different than that of mature cave lions, requiring further study to determine if aging causes changes. Researchers also noted similarities in the fur between the Ice Age big cats and lions that still roam the savannas of Africa. The species is thought to have smaller manes than African lions while adapting to exist in colder climates.

Other lion cubs found in Siberia

Two other lion cubs have also been found in Siberia’s Yakutia area in recent years.

Valery Plotnikov is one of the study’s writers. He told Reuters that Sparta was so well preserved that it still had its fur, organs and skeleton.

“The find itself is unique; there was not any other such find in Yakutia,” he said.

Plotnikov added that the scientists hope to find evidence of mother’s milk inside Sparta in order to learn what cave lions ate.

Similar finds in Russia’s larger Siberian area have increased in recent years. Climate change is warming the Arctic faster than the rest of the world. That increase in temperature has melted the ground in some areas that were permanently frozen.

Earlier this week it rained on the summit of Greenland for the first time in the ice sheet’s history. The rainfall is a shocking harbinger of global warming and the devastating melting occurring at the Arctic Ocean’s ice sheets.

Climate scientist and Brown University professor Laurence C. Smith told Business insider that “it portends a future of greater meltwater runoff” that can “amplify Greenland’s melting and contribution to global sea level rise.”

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