Himalayan fossils point to Asian origin of big cats
by Jane Qiu
The evolutionary origin of big cats has been a mystery. Until recently, the oldest fossils, dating back to 3.8 million years ago, came from Africa, but analyses of the molecular relationships between living species suggest that big cats originated in Asia about 10.8 million years ago.
Yet an Asian origin for big cats was disputed because there was no fossil evidence during that 7-million-year gap, says Zhijie Jack Tseng, a palaeontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
No longer. Tseng and colleagues have uncovered a partial skull, a jawbone and a few teeth belonging to a species of big cat in the Zanda basin in the south-west Tibetan plateau, dated to 5.95 to 4.10 million years ago.
The species has been named Panthera blytheae. It is a close relative of the snow leopard, which still lives on the plateau, says Xiaoming Wang, a curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and a co-author of the study…
(read more: New Scientist)
illustration by Mauricio Anton
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