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Earliest big cat found in Tibet

AFP-JIJI

An ancient skull found in Tibet indicates that big cats originated in Central Asia, and not Africa as widely thought, paleontologists reported last week.

Dated at between 4.1 million and 5.95 million years old, the fossil is the oldest remains ever found of a pantherine felid, as big cats are called.

It compares with the previous felid record holder — tooth fragments found in Tanzania that are estimated to be around 3.8 million years old. “This find suggests that big cats have a deeper evolutionary origin than previously suspected,” said Jack Tseng of the University of Southern California, who led the probe.

Big cats, a group called Pantherinae, include tigers, lions, leopards and jaguars.

Their evolutionary odyssey has been hotly discussed, spiced by a lack of fossil evidence to settle the debate.

The weight of evidence suggests Central or North Asia was where Pantherinae originated, some 16 million years ago, according to the paper in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday.