Isturitz Scimitar

Mystery big CATof Western Europe.

Physical description: Short body. Spotted coat. Sheathed incisors. Robust lower jaw. Long limbs. Short tail.

Distribution: Southwestern France.

Significant sighting: In 1896, a 6.5-inch-long Upper Paleolithic stone statuette of a big cat with a short tail was discovered in a cave near Is-turitz in the Pyrenees Mountains of France.

Present status: Extinct but of interest because it may have been contemporaneous with modern humans.

Possible explanations: It was 1 ong thought that the statuette showed a European cave 1 ion (Pan-thera leo spelaea), which has also been depicted in cave paintings. Vratislav Mazak believes it more l ikel y represents a Scimitar toothed cat (Homotherium latidens), a Pleistocene sabre-tooth, because of its tail and jaw. If so, this cat would have survived until around 25,000 years ago and not died out some 200,000 years ago as is currentl y thought.

Sources: Vratislav Mazak, in Zeitschrift fur Saugetierkunde 35 (1970): 359-362; Michel Rousseau, in Archeologia 40 (May-June 1971): 81-82; Michel Rousseau, in Mammalia 35 (December 1971): 648-657; Karl Shuker, Mystery Cats ofthe World (London: Robert Hale, 1989), pp. 90-91.

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