"The Great Hunter of the Pampas": Legendary Saber-Toothed Tiger on Show at Argentine Museum
"It was a hunting animal, a killing machine."
Argentina's Bernardino Rivadavia Museum of Natural Sciences opens an exhibition to present ferocious saber-toothed tigers, or Smilodon, which inhabited the Pampas around 30,000 years ago.
More than 10,000 years ago, enormous mammals such as giant sloths, precursors of armadillos known as glyptodons, and prehistoric elephants roamed South America's Pampas region.
These outsize herbivores had one thing in common: they were prey for the ferocious saber-toothed tiger, or Smilodon, a carnivore with huge canines whose fossilized prints were recently discovered for the first time in Argentina's capital Buenos Aires.
Now Argentina's Bernardino Rivadavia Museum of Natural Sciences has opened an attractive exhibition called "The Great Hunter of the Pampas," which presents the legendary feline predator in its ancient habitat.
To celebrate the 207th anniversary of its founding, the museum is showcasing the latest findings on the enormous tiger, believed to weigh up to 550 kilos, or twice the size of today's largest cat, the African lion.
The temporary exhibition features a physical reconstruction of the Smilodon, complete with paw prints and other details that have long been a mystery, such as what its coat looked like.
Experts were able to recreate the animal based on an "original skeleton of the Smilodon, which we have in the department's collection," Marcelo Minana of the museum's paleontology department, told Xinhua.
"Fortunately, our familiarity of existing animals allows us to get more faithfully closer to such aspects, for example, as its coloring, eyes and soft tissues, which are the parts that are not preserved in fossils," he said.
After measuring and studying the dimensions of the bones and working together on the presumed behavior of the animal, researchers wanted to highlight the creature's fierce nature and imposing strength, that "it was a hunting animal, a killing machine," said Minana.
A team of experts worked on the show, including Federico Agnolin, a paleontologist from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council and one of the authors of the exhibit's findings; Laura Chornogubsky, associate curator of the Vertebrate Paleontology Department; and Martin Ezcurra, a specialist in vertebrate paleontology.
The saber-toothed tiger "inhabited the Pampas around 30,000 years ago," said Chornogubsky. "What can be seen in the exhibit are various replicas of the skeleton, as well as an original skeleton and some reconstructions of the head and the body."
Recreating a prehistoric animal calls for close collaboration between different areas of expertise, and "requires an artist, and knowledge and scientific exchange on how its anatomy and musculature should be," said Chornogubsky.
"What we wanted to show here is the whole process (through) both isolated skulls and replicas, as well as the complete original skeleton, as part of an action scene where the tiger is hunting a sloth," she said.
According to Agnolin, "one of the most important discoveries" in saber-toothed tiger research took place when "Smilodon's footprints" were found in Argentina "for the first time in the entire world."
"Though it roamed over a large portion of the Americas, it is the first time that we have found footprints. And what do footprints provide us that bones do not?" he asked.
They "give us an idea about the animal's life," he said.
The footprints show that the animal "had front quarters that were much more powerful than its hindquarters. That tells us a little bit about how the animal hunted," he added.
"This disproportion between the front part and back parts of the body shows us that the Smilodon threw itself on its prey, toppling them over with its forelimbs, and put an end to them there," said Agnolin.