Washington, Dec 30 (ANI): Scientists have discovered the oldest fossil of a new species of prehistoric cheetah in China, which suggests that the animal originated in Asia, not in North America.
According to a report in National Geographic News, researchers found a nearly complete fossil cranium of the new species, in China's Gansu Province, is similar in size and shape to modern cheetah skulls.
"But some of its teeth are extremely primitive," said study co-author Ji H. Mazak of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.
This "mosaic of anatomical features" suggests the Chinese cheetah, called Acinonyx kurteni, represents an early stage in cheetah evolution, he added.
The varied traits also indicate that skull and dental characteristics considered unique to cheetahs evolved gradually, according to the study.
Cheetah fossils throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and even North America have been found between 3.2 million and 2,000 years old.
The newly studied fossils were dated to the late Pliocene, between 2.15 and 2.55 million years ago.
Two prehistoric cheetah-like species of North America are believed by some scientists to be distant cousins of giant cheetahs of ancient Europe.
This possible relationship has led some researchers to speculate that the earliest cheetahs may have originated in North America and traveled across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Siberia.
But, Mazak said that the new finds challenges this theory, suggesting instead a Eurasian-African origin of the cheetah lineage.
For instance, the primitive dental features would have been more developed in the Chinese fossil if cheetahs had come from North America.
Thus, the study supports the theory that the big cats originated in the Old World, not North America. (ANI)