Kazakhstan’s killer cats

I’m reading up on previous paleontological research that’s taken place here in Kazakhstan, planning for future work. There aren’t any human fossils known from here (at least, none to my knowledge). But, I did stumble upon this badass, sabre-toothed cat from the Late Miocene (over 5 million years ago):

From Sotnikova, 1992. Original caption: Fig. 2. Machairodus kurteni, Kalmakpai (PIN-2433/287), skull, ventral and lateral view.

From Sotnikova, 1992 (mandible not shown). Original caption: Fig. 2. Machairodus kurteni, Kalmakpai (PIN-2433/287), skull, ventral and lateral view.

The skull was described by MV Sotnikova in 1992, and comes from a site called Kalmakpai in the Zaysan Basin in East Kazakhstan. For perspective, Sotnikova says the skull is about the same size as an adult African lion. This is much larger than the wildlife I’ve seen lately in snow-soaked Astana (I trailed a large white rabbit in Presidential Park by the river on my run today. Not as badass).

This is a reminder that the Big Cats once had a much larger geographical distribution than they do today. The skull above belongs to the genus Machairodus, which is also known from Africa, Europe and North America. Machairodus is closely related to Homotherium, another large, geographically dispersed genus of sabre-toothed cat from the Pliocene (including at Dmanisi).

Of course, extinction isn’t exclusive to the deep past: the Caspian Tiger used to roam parts of southern Kazakhstan and other areas of Central Asia, going extinct only in the past few decades.

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One thought on “Kazakhstan’s killer cats

  1. Pingback: Osteology everywhere: Graffiti | Lawn Chair Anthropology

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