When paleontologists collected the bones of Africa’s largest carnivore in the early 1980s, they had no concept what they had discovered. Many other fossils cluttered the dig website, at Meswa Bridge in western Kenya, that the huge bones were simply another product to be cataloged. So, they stuck them in a drawer in the Nairobi National Museum, where they stayed for almost 4 years.
Then a brand-new group of scientists appeared. They pulled open the drawer by possibility and discovered “canines the size of bananas,” states carnivore paleontologist Matt Borths at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The teeth—with molars 6 centimeters long and canines 10 centimeters long—were simply the start. Connected to them was a huge jaw and other bone pieces dated to 23 million years back. The scientists approximate the 1.2-meter-tall animal (artist’s performance above) would have weighed 1500 kgs and determined 2.4 meters from snout to tail—making it larger than a polar bear and one of the largest mammalian meat eaters on record, the scientists report today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Called Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, which suggests “big lion from Africa” in Swahili, the peak predator would have played a comparable function in the area’s environment as today’s lions, whose forefathers did not get here in Africa till 3.7 million years later on. Prior to that, Simbakubwa was one of the only land-dwelling predators in Africa, part of a group of huge extinct mammals called hyaenodonts. However whereas contemporary lions have just one set of specialized, meat-slicing teeth on either side of their jaws, Simbakubwa had 3, making it a powerful opponent.
The scientists state Simbakubwa’s teeth remain in practically beautiful condition, assisting them figure out its relationship to the other huge predators in its household. However, they state, they still have much to discover why these huge meat eaters went extinct—and what they can teach us about the dangers to contemporary predators.