Monday, 15 August 2011

Giant Cheetahs Were Once Feared Predators By Early Hominins

The holotype skull of Acinonyx pardinensis, with its short,
powerful jaws designed to crush the throat of its prey 
The only remaining species of cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, lives on the grass prairies of Africa and runs at speeds of over 70 miles an hour, making its one of the fastest land animals on Earth. However fossil evidence suggests that prehistoric species once stalked Europe and Africa. Palaeontologists have discovered the remains of what they believe to be a species of giant cheetah at a 1.8 million year old site in Dmansi, Republic of Georgia. Many other big cats such Homotherium and Megantereon have been discovered in the area before.

The oldest known cheetah, Acinonyx kurteni, lived in China 2.8 to 2.3 million years ago. It would have had a similar build to its modern day cousin, with long legs and a lithe body made for speed. This new species, Acinonyx pardinensis, was almost twice the size of the modern day cheetah with a shoulder height of over a metre, with a stocky build and a weight of 110 kilograms based on paw and leg weight ratios. Such a creature would have needed over 7500 kilograms of meat per year - more than any other predator in the area.

Such a bounty of meat would have provided a great scavenge for other animals in the area, a quick and easy bite to eat for creatures such as Homo erectus, despite the dangers of this giant feline. While no direct evidence for interactions between Homo erectus and Acinonyx pardinensis has been found, we know that both species were active in the area. This story shows us yet again how unlikely our species is in the vast fight for survival that is evolution.