Lonely Planet Writer

Australian marsupial lions could climb trees say researchers

New scratches found in a cave in Western Australia suggest that the marsupial ‘Australian lion’ could climb trees and rocks and was therefore a serious threat to humans.

The skeleton of a marsupial lion
The skeleton of a marsupial lion Image by Gavin Prideaux/Flinders University

The extinct and oddly shaped Australian marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, has long been known to scientists as one of the continent’s most fearsome predators that existed 50,000 years ago.

Weighing up to 100 kilos, with a powerful jaw and large claws, the Australian lion preyed on rhinoceros-like herbivores, kangaroos, and even humans. But the debate has always existed as to whether the marsupial lion could climb.

Now the debate has been fuelled by markings found inside the Tight Entrance cave near the Margaret River. The claw marks were tested and clearly proven to be those of a marsupial lion and not of a Tasmanian devil, another predator of similar appearance.

The scratchings were found by researchers at Flinders University, who are arguing that they prove the marsupials were skilled climbers and that they raised their young in caves. The scratchings are clearly those of juveniles.

“[Our findings indicate] the [marsupial] lions were running up and down these rock piles to get out of the cave, and they weren’t using the lower-gradient, longer route,”  associate professor Gavin Prideaux told the BBC. “We can be confident now and say that they could climb.”

A recreation of the marsupial lion
A recreation of the marsupial lion Image by Australian Museum

Prideaux goes on to explain how this meant that they presented an even greater threat to humans. “If they could climb really well in the dark, underground, there’s no reason they couldn’t climb trees.”

As if Australia wasn’t already awash with the most terrifying animals, the finding would seem to suggest that there may well have been another dangerous  species we’ve thankfully managed to avoid through evolution.