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News Article | March 7, 2016
Site: http://www.techtimes.com/rss/sections/science.xml

Ice Age cave lions lived approximately 12,000 years ago. Now, scientists are hoping to clone the species back to life using new DNA methods. In August last year, the frozen, unspoilt remains of two lion cubs were discovered in the remote area of Sakha Republic in northwest Russia. The cubs were named Dina and Uyan and their remains are believed to be the closest remaining samples of the big cat species. The lion cubs were submerged in permafrost, enabling their samples to become well preserved. The species were last documented in the Pleistocene times. Now, a team of scientists from South Korea and Russia are looking for living tissues in the cubs' remains that can be used to clone the cave lions or Panthera spelaea (Goldfuss) species back to life. The scientists are from the North East Russia University's Joint Foundation of Molecular Paleontology. In the joint venture, one of the lion cub fossils will be used for cloning while the other will be displayed in a museum. The cave lions were once abundant in Canada, Alaska, British Isles and Eastern Russian during the middle to late Pleistocene period. The name 'cave lions' was coined because most of the species remains were found in caves. Experts believed they hardly lived in caves, despite the moniker, and they are smaller compared to other herbivore hunters. The cave lions were believed to enjoy fewer shares of predators. The species became extinct approximately 10,000 years ago due to the reduction of cave bears and deer populations, one theory said. The lion cubs were discovered in Yakutsk, Yakutia. Resident Yakov Androsov spotted the remains from the cracks in the frozen Uyandina River. Dr. Albert Protopopov, the Yakutian Academy of Sciences' mammoth fauna studies department head said the cub fossils' entire body parts were found intact, including soft tissue, ears, fur and whiskers. Protopopov said the discovery is truly a sensational one. "Comparing with the modern lion cubs, we think that these two were very small, maybe a week or two old. The eyes were not quite open, they have baby teeth and not all had appeared," added Protopopov. An autopsy is scheduled late this year. Hwang Woo-suk, a cloning expert from South Korean took samples from one of the lion cub fossil for the initial research on the proposed cloning study.

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Site: http://phys.org/biology-news/

Organized by researchers from the University of Helsinki in collaboration with an international team of conservation and land use change scientists the study concludes that immediate action is needed to prevent habitat loss and conflict with humans in priority areas for carnivore conservation. Lead author Dr. Enrico Di Minin of University of Helsinki explained, "We assessed how expected land use change will affect priority areas for carnivore conservation in the future. The analysis revealed that carnivores will suffer considerable range losses in the future. Worryingly, it seems that the most important areas for carnivore conservation are located in areas where human-carnivore conflicts are likely to be most severe." Di Minin continued, "Presently, South American, African, and South East Asian countries, as well as India, were found to contribute mostly to carnivore conservation. While some of the most charismatic species, such as the tiger and giant panda were found to be at high risk under future land use change, smaller, less charismatic species, with small ranges were found to be equally threatened by habitat loss." Carnivores include some of the most iconic species that help generate funding for biodiversity conservation and deliver important benefits to humans. Protecting carnivores will conserve many other bird, amphibian, reptile and mammal species that live in priority areas for carnivore conservation. Dr. Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer of Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, and a co-author of the paper shared, "Carnivores like big cats have been squeezed out of their ranges at alarming rates for decades now, and we can now see that habitat loss and its shock waves on wildlife are only on the rise. In order to protect our planet's landscape guardians, a far greater financial investment from the international community is needed for range-wide conservation approaches, both within and outside of protected areas where carnivores roam." Professor Rob Slotow from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, another co-author in the paper, in South Africa emphasizes that reducing conflict with humans outside of protected areas is pivotal. "Most priorities for carnivore conservation are in areas in the global south where human populations are increasing in size, agriculture is intensifying, and human development needs are the highest. There is need to implement conservation strategies that promote tolerance for carnivores outside protected areas and focus on the benefits that people derive from these species." More information: Enrico Di Minin et al. Global priorities for national carnivore conservation under land use change, Scientific Reports (2016). DOI: 10.1038/srep23814

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Site: http://www.scientificamerican.com

From western Europe to the Yukon, the grasslands of the Northern Hemisphere used to belong to the cave lion. The bones of this massive and maneless cat, larger than today's lion, can be found from the caves of Eurasia to Arctic permafrost. But what were these burly pantherines? Were they something truly distinct, or a variation of the regal felids that roam Africa and India today? The cave lion, called Panthera spelaea by specialists, has been known to paleontologists for a long time. Naturalist Georg Goldfuss first described the cat back in 1810. Since then, though, experts have disagreed about what the cave lion truly was. Where some experts proposed that the cats were little more than an unusual population of the modern lion, Panthera leo, others elevated the cat up one more step to the level of subspecies, while still others have argued that these fossil felids were a unique species. Bones have been at the center of this debate, but the cave lion lived so close to us in time that paleontologists can also draw details from the extinct cat's genes. And as paleogeneticist Ross Barnett and colleagues report in a new paper, those little tidbits have bolstered the case that the cave lion was a true species all its own. Drawing from a 29,860 year old arm bone found in the Yukon and 28,690 year old hair recovered from Russia, Barnett and colleagues were able to assemble the first mitochondrial genome sequences for the long lost cat. By comparing these to genetic sequences from modern lions, leopards, jaguars, snow leopards, tigers, clouded leopards, and domestic cats, the researchers were able to conclude that, yes, the cave lion is a true lion. It's the closest extinct relative of the lions that still prowl around Africa and India today. Yet, as the fossil bones hinted, the cave lion was not just like Panthera leo. The genetic differences between the cave lion and the modern lion are greater than is typically seen between big cat subspecies. More than that, the researchers note, the cave lion split from its closest leonine relatives earlier than previously thought. The earliest known cats on the lion line, the researchers write, have been found in the 1.4-1.2 million year old rock of Africa. But lions didn't start to become abundant until much later, with the 680,000 year old Panthera fossilis pioneering the expansion into Eurasia. This cat was supposed to be near the split of cave lions and the lions we know today, but this doesn't appear to be the case any longer. Based on their genetic findings, Barnett and colleagues estimated that the two lion branches separated from each other about 1.89 million years ago, long before Panthera fossilis was on the scene. "Despite their global range and continued dominance of ecosystems in Africa, and until recently in Asia, the lionlike cats have left a confusing fossil trail," Barnett and colleagues write. The new findings suggest that trail is far longer than anyone previously knew, with Panthera fossilis being a cat comfortably on the cave lion fork rather than something betwixt and between the two evolutionary paths. This also makes the cave lion something much more distinct than the lions we know today - a species of its own, different in anatomy and behavior - and that only salts the wound of its loss so close to us in time. Reference: Barnett, R., Zepeda Mendoza, M., Rodrigues Soares, A., Ho, S., Zazula, G., Yamaguchi, N., Shapiro, B., Kirillova, I., Larson, G., Gilbert, T. 2016. Mitogenomics of the extinct cave lion, Panthera spelaea (Goldfuss, 1810), resolve its position within the Panthera cats. Open Quaternary. doi: 10.5334/oq.24

Lindsey P.A.,University of Pretoria | Balme G.A.,Panthera | Midlane N.,Panthera | Midlane N.,University of Cape Town

Recent studies indicate that trophy hunting is impacting negatively on some lion populations, notably in Tanzania. In 2004 there was a proposal to list lions on CITES Appendix I and in 2011 animal-welfare groups petitioned the United States government to list lions as endangered under their Endangered Species Act. Such listings would likely curtail the trophy hunting of lions by limiting the import of lion trophies. Concurrent efforts are underway to encourage the European Union to ban lion trophy imports. We assessed the significance of lions to the financial viability of trophy hunting across five countries to help determine the financial impact and advisability of the proposed trade restrictions. Lion hunts attract the highest mean prices (US$24,000-US$71,000) of all trophy species. Lions generate 5-17% of gross trophy hunting income on national levels, the proportional significance highest in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia. If lion hunting was effectively precluded, trophy hunting could potentially become financially unviable across at least 59,538 km2 that could result in a concomitant loss of habitat. However, the loss of lion hunting could have other potentially broader negative impacts including reduction of competitiveness of wildlife-based land uses relative to ecologically unfavourable alternatives. Restrictions on lion hunting may also reduce tolerance for the species among communities where local people benefit from trophy hunting, and may reduce funds available for anti-poaching. If lion off-takes were reduced to recommended maximums (0.5/1000 km2), the loss of viability and reduction in profitability would be much lower than if lion hunting was stopped altogether (7,005 km2). We recommend that interventions focus on reducing off-takes to sustainable levels, implementing age-based regulations and improving governance of trophy hunting. Such measures could ensure sustainability, while retaining incentives for the conservation of lions and their habitat from hunting. © 2012 Lindsey et al. Source

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Site: http://phys.org/biology-news/

From the white Toyota Hilux, its sides lacerated by branches, the 31-year-old researcher from the republic of Benin plays the tormented sound of a distressed buffalo calf over a megaphone. In theory, the lions are supposed to hear the buffalo and come for an easy meal. Then Kiki would shine a floodlight on the hungry, nocturnal cats and count them for a population estimate. But despite broadcasting 29 hours of calls and trekking 150 kilometres (more than 90 miles) through Yankari looking for tracks, Kiki hasn't seen one lion yet. Not even a paw print. "I expected to see more than this," Kiki told AFP in the heart of the reserve, an expanse of savannah the size of Luxembourg in Nigeria's northeast, dubbed the country's "richest wildlife oasis". "The situation has become worse. There has been no response, no tracks," he said, inadvertently likening the situation to one of the darkest scenes from Disney's "The Lion King", when the protagonist's pride is overrun by a pack of mangy scavengers. "In five, 10 years, lions can disappear completely from Nigeria," said Kiki, a languid, boyish man with broad shoulders wearing a worn beige baseball cap. "Now everywhere we're going there are hyena prints." There are only two areas in Nigeria home to lions: Kainji Lake National Park, in the northwest, where some 30 cats are living, and Yankari, where researchers believe there are just under five. The numbers for West Africa are equally dire, with just 400 lions remaining in the region, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), out of a total population of 20,000 lions living in the wild around the world. "When we started our first comprehensive West Africa lion survey in 2009, lions had already lost 99 per cent of their West African range," said Philipp Henschel, a survey coordinator at the lion conservation organisation Panthera. There is no simple solution to saving the West African lions, whose males have shorter manes than their southern counterparts, and in December were listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. With chronic mismanagement in the past and underfunding, Yankari today is struggling to attract the funds it needs to preserve its last lions. Parks famous for their lions, including Tanzania's Serengeti Park and South Africa's Kruger National Park, run on a budget of approximately $500 (450 euros) per square kilometre (0.3 square miles). In contrast, most West African parks with lions operate on a budget of just $36 per square kilometre. "Yankari is one of the few areas where fencing makes sense because the situation is so urgent," said Henschel, speaking from Libreville. To protect the animals and allow rangers to patrol more efficiently, fences need to be built around the perimeter of the park, he added. "We know how to conserve cats," he said. "We just need money to do it." Kiki has to go through the whole park for his surveys, even though he knows that in the searing heat of March, when there is no rain, the lions are probably closer to the river to hunt thirsty prey. Field work is difficult. Unmaintained roads render swathes of the reserve inaccessible to rangers' patrol vehicles, which gun-toting, machete-wielding poachers who hunt on foot exploit. Bloody skirmishes are common, so Kiki is escorted at all times by six armed rangers, who have had to defend him more than once during his buffalo calls. "We shot to scare them but instead of them trying to run away, they shot us," he laughed before adding more seriously: "I used to like camping in the bush but now I think it's too dangerous." By the end of his trip, it's clear Kiki's survey will only serve to document the last lions living in Nigeria unless a dramatic conservation effort is put in place—and fast. "You know when you are standing on the same ground as the lion, you feel how strong they are, you can feel your heart beating. You really feel that this is the king of the jungle," he said. "But not in Yankari. Here you can only see lions in pictures." Explore further: Lions are critically endangered in West Africa

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