This is some news that actually cropped up last month which caught my eye, but we haven’t gotten a chance to circle back to it until now. If you’re in the market for one of the more exotic pet options out there you may have the chance to look into getting yourself a Panthera Leo Spelaea, better known as the Eurasian cave lion. Under most circumstances this would seem like a bit of a tall order because the big cat has been extinct for more than 12,000 years. (Some time during the end of the last ice age.) Up until now the best look you could get at one was something along these lines.

CaveLionSkeleton

But in the very near future you may be seeing one that’s considerably more fleshed out. Some intact cubs were found frozen in a Russian cave and through the miracles of DNA research and cloning there’s a group of scientists who think they can bring them back. (The Sun)

Scientists hope they’ll be able to revive the prehistoric bodies of lion cubs that have been preserved for thousands of years.

The tiny feline bodies, which date back to 12,000 years ago, were extracted from Siberian permafrost in Russia. Dr Albert Protopopov, who runs the mammoth fauna studies department in the Yakutin Academy of Sciences, is astounded by the discovery.

Scientists are planning on keeping one of the baby lions frozen in case of further scientific advancements, but the other will be the focus of an autopsy.

There are also plans to have the cubs cloned by guru Hwang Woo-suk, a scientist from South Korea.

So they’ve turned the cloning project over to Dr. Hwang Woo-suk in South Korea. That might set off a few alarms for people right off the bat. The guy used to be known as the “King of Cloning” and was responsible for some of the early work in that field, cloning dogs and cows. But he’s also gotten into his fair share of trouble in the scientific community, including accusations of falsifying his research in the development of new stem cell lines from adult cells and even questions over the cloning process used on his famous dogs.

Extinct animal remains, a dodgy scientist with a questionable record… is all of this beginning to sound a little Jurassic Park to anyone else? As much as I was a fan of the movies and continue to be fascinated by the science, I’ve remained a bit skeptical about the idea of bringing back these long lost creatures. I supposed I probably identify with Jeff Goldblum’s character a bit too much, but is it really wise to resurrect these creatures which nature chose to eliminate from the genetic lottery when we were still practicing with stone tipped spears? I’m not particularly worried about an army of cave lions suddenly descending on San Francisco and feasting on the population, but even if we do get a small pride of these lions established in a lab, what are we going to do with them? They don’t really have a natural habitat anymore where we could reintroduce them into the wild, and even if we did I imagine they wouldn’t be a very good fit with any humans in the area.

I can see using cloning to improve the lines of current domestic animals or even rescue some species which we’ve driven to the brink of extinction through loss of territory, but the cave lion’s day ended before the glaciers finished receding. Perhaps it’s best to leave them to the museums.

CaveLions