The Beginning Of The Big Cats

1241 words - 5 pages

What do we really know about the first of the big cats? Big cats or cats in general are solitary animals, so finding any fossils, let alone a well preserved fossil is like finding a needle in a hay stack. I believe that it is important for us to take a look back in time so we can try and see what pressures the ancient big cats faced, to prevent making some of the same mistakes that caused the extinction of many of the ancient big cats. Today many of the big cats of Central Asia, South America, and Africa are facing extinction due to humans impeding onto their territory and destroying the necessary habitat for them to survive.
The history of the cat family Felidae has its origins that can be traced back to the late Eocene Epoch about thirty-seven millions years ago. The cats began to evolve long before most of the other mammals were even recognizable as species. Big cats belong to two main subfamilies Pantherinae and Felinae. The Felinae’s are among some of the younger of the big cat groups appearing in Eurasia about ten million years ago. The slightly smaller big cats of the Felinae include cougars, cheetahs, lynxes, and ocelots. The Pantherinae which first appeared in Central Asia around sixteen millions years ago are among the oldest and largest of the big cats which include tigers, lions, jaguars, and leopards. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.)
On August 7, 2010, paleobiologist Jack Tseng and colleagues were exploring on the Tibetan Plateau when they came across what is perhaps the most significant finds to date, part of the skull of a large cat sticking up out of the dirt. As the scientist began to dig they quickly realized they were digging in a bone bed when they began to find well preserved pieces of fox, pica, and badger along with unusual hoofed mammals. The big cat skull was the oldest big cat fossil found, Panthera blytheae, which dated back to the late Miocene and early Pliocene Epochs, more than four millions years ago. Although the bone bed had more to reveal than just the oldest big cat fossil, it was like a time capsule of sorts. The fossil bed showed the mixing of species that goes back millions of years. Along with the big cats were Tibetan Antelopes and Blue sheep, which were all part of unique refuge on top of the world during the ice ages, “It appears the Plateau was a center of origin of a whole slew of animals that subsequently spread across Eurasia during the cold periods of the ice ages, says Werdelin. During that time the Plateau was always cold, he explains, so animals that evolved there were pre-adapted to the climate of the ice ages, and this facilitated their spread.” (Holland) The bone bed also showed that there was a fluvial process to the Tibetan Plateau, which helps show the scientist the type of environment that existed back then and also explains why the fossils were so well preserved. Panthera blytheae has been described as just another piece of the puzzle and helps fill the large time gap that...

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