Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cave Hyena

Crocuta crocuta spelaea
Tens of thousands of years ago the Cave Hyena could be found all across Europe and Asia, hunting the massive Pleistocene mammals that live there. A subspecies of the extant Spotted Hyena, the Cave Hyenas were larger (weighed up to 225lbs) and lived far beyond the warm weather confines of the African Continent.

Cave Hyena fossils have been found in abundance, and because these creatures were such prolific hunters, they were responsible for large deposits of herbivore fossils as well. Unsurpsingly, they lived in caves, and sometimes even had to compete for spaces with Neanderthals and early humans. Hyena fossils with tool marks on the bones have been located, and they are also depicted in cave paintings and in sculptures that date back more than 20,000 years.

No one is really 100% sure how and why these predators went extinct. Climate change may have had something to do with it though. The grasslands that they lived in became forests in many areas, and those environments were more suited to hunters like wolves and humans. Hunting by humans may also have played some role, and competition with new predators most certainly had something to do with it as well.

Interestingly, Hyenas might one day return to their old Asian stomping grounds. Out in a Siberia, a nature reserve known as Pleistocene Park is working to restore the tundra to its original grassy steppe condition. They are accomplishing this by reintroducing the large, Pleistocene-like herbivores that lived there thousands of years ago. Now that different herbivores have been thriving, there is talk of bring back carnivores as well. Though the Cave Hyena subspecies is extinct, their close Spotted Hyena relatives are still around, and could one day make the park their home.

Status : Extinct for 11,000 years
Location : Europe, Asia
Size : Weight up to 225lbs (102kg)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Mammalia -- Order : Carnivora
Family : Hyaenidae -- Genus : Crocuta -- Species : C. crocuta -- Subspecies : †C. c. spelaea
Image : Heinz-Wener Weber

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