Cave Lions: Could They Be Today’s Alaskan Tiger?

CaveLionPup01Could the two Cave Lion cubs recently found in Russia’s frozen north be a link to a creature reportedly lurking in the Alaskan wilderness? The history and description of cave lions reminded me of another puzzle in the cryptid world, Alaska’s Tiger. Do they or don’t they exist? Are they tigers or could they actually be lions? Cave lions? CryptoVille investigates!

In the summer of 2015, scientists uncovered the intact remains of two cave lion cubs in Yakutia, Russia. At first glance the scientists estimated the cubs to be about 10,000 years old, if not older. They were found in the permafrost layer dating to at least the Middle and Late Pleistocene era.

They said these cubs “… are the best preserved ever unearthed in the world.” They expect to learn a great deal from these little creatures that will really enhance our understanding of that era, these creatures, and more.


The Yakutia Academy of Sciences spokesperson said, “Since the soft tissues of the cubs are practically not damaged, our scientists believe it might be possible to clone them. We’ll see how it goes in a couple of years.”

The scientists named the cubs Uyan and Dina because they were found near the Uyandina River. So far they figure the cubs died when they were 2 or 3 weeks old. They hadn’t even cut their teeth yet.

CaveLionCub2015.01Head of the mammoth fauna studies department at the Yakutia Academy of Sciences, Albert Protopopov, said, “We will conduct computer-based and radiocarbon investigations, genetics and molecular examinations of the DNA, and inspect the cubs’ internal organs. This complex research will tell us a lot about the origin of cave lions and their kin group.”

How did they die? The scientists guess that a landslide buried their den and they suffocated.

Next year, the scientists hope to continue the search for more cave lion evidence, either another cub or a she-lion.

First Clue

The first thing I found very interesting is that cave lions (Panthera spelaea) roamed most of the northern hemisphere including the British Isles, across Europe into Russia and all the way over to the most Eastern areas of Russia. They also roamed Alaska and northwestern Canada.

AlaskaWildernessWe’re not really sure what’s roaming the incredibly wild and remote areas of Alaska, but it gets me wondering. See the map left showing the uninhabited areas of Alaska.  I have to wonder, could the Alaskan Tiger reports really be about Cave Lions that somehow evaded extinction and continue to thrive in the remote areas of the world?

Let’s see if that’s possible.

CaveBear01Are They Extinct

Giant herbivores who lived alongside the cave lions went extinct in that era because they couldn’t find enough food to keep their huge bodies going. But cave lions are smaller animals compared to the giant herbivores and didn’t need as much food daily as the giant herbivores, so you would think they might have survived. Add to that the fact that the lions had few predators. They also didn’t venture into boggy areas where they would have been trapped by the muck like other dinosaurs were.

So what killed them? The scientists figure it must have been a decline in their favorite prey of choice: deer and cave bears (pictured above left).

But I have to think, surely there must have been other types of animals around for them to eat. Hmmm.

CaveLionAdultTheir Appearance

Though there was variation within the species, as there is in most mammals, scientists believe they were a large lion. Our modern day African lions are also considered large. Some remains of the cave lions indicate that they could have grown to be 8-10% larger than today’s African lion, but not all did.


Scientists believe these animals had protruding ears that were round, tufted tails, a primitive mane in the neck area, probably on males, and very faint stripes like a tiger would have.  The scientists gleaned this data from many Paleolithic cave paintings that showed these animals in quite a bit of detail (pictured above).


Habitat is important because we have to consider whether Alaska would be suitable for them in the modern era. Scientists believe they preferred conifer forests and grasslands, but suspect they tolerated a wide range of habitats.

CaveLion01Wherever they lived had to have the right type of prey for them to eat, and enough of it to sustain a population. As it stands, cave bears and deer were their top choices.

Fossil finds indicate that the cave lions ate a lot of reindeer and reindeer are still around today in great numbers. But during that Pleistocene era a lot of Earth changes were occurring, turning vast plains into forests which would have suited the hunting tactics of a cave lion. However, it would have been bad for what seems to be their main prey, cave bears.

Add to that the addition of wolves into the habitat and Paleolithic humans, and there’s more competition for the same food sources. (Artist’s interpretation of cave lions and bears in the Pleistocene era, pictured below right.)

CaveBearandLionsThat’s why scientists seem to believe they cave lions died out – their main source of prey did before them.  In an article on, the unnamed author writes, “Unless prey is incredibly numerous, no two predators can co-exist by hunting the same prey in the same ecosystem, and eventually one would give. Whereas the Eurasian cave lion was a much larger and more powerful predator, wolves do not require as much food to feed their smaller bodies. Additionally wolves use completely different hunting tactics to hunt food. Lions hunt by ambush because they cannot outrun a fast animal like a deer in a straight race, they are just not built for it … A pack of wolves will deliberately force a herd of deer to run so that they can pick out the slower and weaker individuals.”

So the wolves and the humans would win the battle for food.

That sounds like the death knell for the cave lion, doesn’t it? But guess what. Reindeer live in Alaska. But don’t get too excited. We have to be cautious because wolves also live there.

reindeer_thumbReindeer and caribou (left) are closely related, and here’s what Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game have to say about their numbers:

“There are approximately 750,000 wild caribou in Alaska (including some herds that are shared by Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory). The largest herds (as of 2011) are the Western Arctic Herd at about 325,000, the Porcupine Caribou Herd at about 169,000, the Central Arctic Herd at 67,000, the Fortymile Herd at 52,000 and the Teshekpuk Herd at about 55,000. Caribou are somewhat cyclic in number, and the timing of declines and increases, and the size to which herds grow is not very predictable. Although overhunting caused some herds to remain low in the past, today, varying weather patterns (climate), population density, predation by wolves and grizzly bears, and disease outbreaks determine whether most herds increase or decrease.”

That’s still a lot of caribou! Perhaps enough to sustain a population of lions in the frozen North?

Tiger and Lion Confusion

In a scholarly paper I read by Gennady Baryshnikov and Gennady Boeskorov in an article for CRANIUM, 18, 1-2001 titled, The Pleistocene cave lion, Panthera spelaea (Carnivora, Felidae) from Yakutia, Russia, they write,

“Fossil remains of a large Panthera from Pleistocene deposits of the Siberian Arctic were first identified by Chersky (1891) who attributed them to Felis [=Panthera] tigris L., the modern tiger. This attribution was due to the difficulty of distinguishing osteologically between P. tigris and P.leo, the modern lion, and also to the fact that tigers in east Siberia have a northern distribution that reaches as [far as] the Aldan river in Yakutia.”

Then in an article about cave lions on Wiki, their writer states, “… and at least one authority, basing his conclusion on a comparison of skull shapes, considers the cave lion to be more closely related to the tiger, which would result in the formal name Panthera tigris spelaea. However, recent genetic research shows that among extant felids it was most closely related to the modern lion ….”

So that means the bones of the tiger and the lion are so similar, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. That’s why I’m wondering if these reported Alaskan tigers may be cave lions. Over the millennia they would almost certainly have evolved to be a bit different in appearance, so who knows.

I say that because in a past interview with Charlie Baer, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the University of FL, Gainesville, he said that it’s possible for African lions to have evolved into a slightly different population over 400 years. We were discussing the “Black Beasts of Britain” and if wealthy landowners in the 1600s let their beasts loose back then, could they have evolved to look a little differently than their African cousins today. The answer was yes.

Also, in my article about the Alaskan Tiger, I mentioned another scientist (Sandra J Herrington formerly of the Museum of Natural History, University of Kansas, Overland Park), who finally figured out how to tell the difference between tigers and lions from their skeletons.

Anyway, so perhaps our purported Alaskan Tiger is just an evolved Alaskan Cave Lion.

BurdenOfProofBurden of Proof

The only way we’re going to ever know is by finding a carcass and the possibility is extremely remote. There’s a reason why Alaska has such a huge uninhabited area – it’s nearly impossible for humans to survive there. So no one is around to search for these big predators.

Then add to that the debate about habitat and competing predators. Could cave lions have survived where wolves also lived, hunting the same prey? Well reindeer and caribou are pretty abundant in Alaska, and people (the third element in the ecosystem) are not.

So I’m still hopeful. I hope somehow, someway, someone will get some data for scientists to review.  It would really be exciting if the scientists launched a study themselves.

So what do you think about all this?

PS — Don’t worry folks! He doesn’t live in Alaska!  😉





  1. This is one of the cryptid ideas that I think may be possible. You covered the details very well and make a good argument for it. What makes me sad is that even if there are cave lions in Alaska, they may not survive much longer seeing as how so many species all over earth are disappearing in such great numbers. Let’s hope things start going well for all our co-habitants of earth, known and unknown.

  2. The California Lion

    Stories in different books and website articles mention a big cat during the 1800’s in the western U.S. known as the “California Lion.” Mountain lions were generally known as “panthers,” just as they were in the eastern U.S. and as the settlers traveled west. However a “California Lion” was larger than and somewhat different looking from the mountain lion, or cougar, as we know it, and that name has been used when speaking about a big cat in Nevada and in Arizona too.

    A book by Loren Coleman, “Mysterious America.,” discusses many strange topics, including mysterious cats and more modern big-cat sightings. In one chapter he mentions that an environmental/conservation student at the University of California (in modern years) was browsing old newspaper articles for a project and discovered an early record of a “California Lion” from an encounter a settler/hunter named Archie McMath had in 1868, when he killed such a lion after his dogs treed the big cat. The cat had killed a couple of draft horses, weighing around 1,200 pounds each, and had also killed around 40 sheep one night. McMath didn’t yet know what type of cat it was, but his dogs chased the cat and treed it. He caught up with them and shot the cat out of the tree. McMath said it was a “California Lion,” which he said was different from a “panther” (which I assume was the term there for a mountain lion just as in the East back then) and was the biggest he had heard of in that area (northeast of San Francisco). He said it weighed over 300 pounds. He said the cat had a scruffy mane and stripes down its shoulders and part of its back. The student at UCal Davis who ran across this old newspaper article showed it to her professor, a well-known wildlife authority, including about mountain lions, and he sent it on to Loren Coleman, who he knew was interested in mysterious cats.

    A website article from a California magazine/environmental group called “Faultine,” included a short article about the “California Lion.” It told of an incident in 1858, about a large, strong cat that was different looking from a mountain lion (although details were not given), and the big cat apparently had killed a grizzly bear. A Faultline editor saw the 1858 story as being “fanciful” and an exaggeration of what was just an ordinary mountain lion. (This website article apparently doesn’t exist anymore.)

    Archie McMath mentioned some stripes over the shoulders and part of the back of the 300+ pound California lion he shot, and cave paintings of Pleistocene lions in France show faint stripes on those cats too. It would seem the European “cave lion” would’ve been similar to the big North American Pleistocene lions, which got to be 600 pounds or more, although there apparently is no record of how those big N.A. cats were marked. Only their fossils have been found, in LaBrea, California, mostly, but also some in the middle of the country.

    • Verrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyy interesting Don!! I’m gratified to know this. It may be another important piece in the puzzle of this (these) creatures.

      I’m grateful you took the time to share! Thanks for visiting CryptoVille! … Susan (CryptoVille)

      • Susan,

        Another document of interest that I found on a website several years ago was about the history of Fresno County, California, said document being from 1892. This document is very long and includes sections about the early history of humans there, settlement of the white people, various historical info, political, etc. The last section of this document is about “Wild Animals” and part of this is shown below. I edited, sometimes extracted, some paragraphs, sentences, and parts of sentences from this document for the purposes of sending to you and your readers and kept some statements about the wildlife there just to keep the character of the purpose of this major section intact. In the parts included in the below information are two statements that I separated from the text and indicated by placing three asterisks (***) before these statements. I will not provide my own thoughts about these brief statement but will leave this for you and your readers to do, just noting the types of animals in these two statements, comparisons between them and to speculate on why the original writer made these distinctions.


        Fresno County
        SOURCE: Memorial and Biographical History of the counties of Fresno, Tulare and Kern, California – Chicago, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1892


        “The number of wild animals that roamed on the plains, the foothills and mountains of Fresno County, and before civilization encroached upon them, was very great, among which the grizzly bear was monarch of all. Elk in great herds were to be found in the valleys, foothills and mountains, but were the first to abandon this section upon the approach of civilized man, who slaughtered them as much for sport as for use. Deer were numerous along the foothills and among the timber on the mountains, and even yet are to be found in the mountain regions. Wild cattle in large herds roamed the plains in early days and were slaughtered for their hides and tallow. Antelopes were more numerous than other animals on the plains in early days. They furnished meat for settlers, travelers, teamsters, etc.; were more easily approached and killed than deer. Deer were numerous along the foothills and among the timber on the mountains, and even yet are to be found in the mountain regions.

        The coyotes were very numerous and destructive to sheep in early days. This made an enemy for him in every man; consequently every man’s hand was against him, and has comparatively exterminated him from the valley. A few are still to be found roaming in the foothills.

        The common ground-squirrel here is darker than the Eastern gray squirrel, and are numerous and destructive to grain crops. The most beautiful of gray squirrels are to be found in the pine forests on the mountains. The gopher is the most numerous, as also the most troublesome rodent in the State, living principally under ground and gnawing roots of fruit trees and garden vegetables. The prairie hare inhabits the plateau of the Sierra Nevada and the San Joaquin valley. It is all white in winter, but yellowish-gray with brownish tinges above and white below in summer.

        *** Panthers and wild-cats are still found in the mountains.

        The mountain sheep is a rare specimen. Shy and hard to kill. Some-times they are found on the Sierras, north from Tejon pass to the Oregon line, about five feet in length and sometimes 300 pounds in weight; color, white beneath, grayish brown elsewhere. Mountaineers assert that these rams leap from precipices 50 and even 100 feet, alighting on their head and bounding ten feet into the air from the concussion of the fall, and the alighting on their feet without any perceptible injury!

        *** The grizzly bear and California lion, once unpleasantly plentiful in the mountains, are very rare now.

        The jack-rabbit, before mentioned, deserves more than a passing notice, as he has been one of man’s most formidable competitors in the valley. Like the Indian, once numerous, he is fast disappearing before the unrelenting, destroying hand of “man.”

        Don again:

        As noted in my long comment yesterday, the word “panther” was the most-oft used word by early settlers in the U.S. from the eastern part of the country through to the west for what we commonly call “mountain lions, cougars, and now pumas” in more recent years. The majority of the early settlers in the U.S. were of English descent, and the English people who had also settled in India and Africa used the word “panther” to identify the spotted leopards in those areas. “Panthera” is the genus of the leopard, lion, tiger and jaguar. These big cats all have the vocal structures to enable them to roar, which the American mountain lion does not. The term “black panther” just denotes the black variation of the spotted leopard but does not mean “panther” on its own. “Mountain Lion” must’ve come into use instead of “panther” in North America as settlers in the western mountains just made the association of the tawny color of what had been called “panther” with the large “Old World.”

        At any rate I have found the term “California Lion” in different documents or writings about big cats in the far west and sometimes with a distinction from what was commonly called a “panther” or what has come to be called a mountain lion, cougar, or puma.

        “Wildcat or wild-cat” was likely the same type of small cat we usually know as the ‘”bobcat.”

        Please know that I am not a scientist or an educator but just an interested layman.


  3. Tigers fossils were not found in North America only the lion. In the time of the Siberian cave Lions no tigers bones were found. This region was in the complete domination of the Lions and brown bears. Tigers came later most likely when the Lions vanish.

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