Home Extinction Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction – Extinction Facts, Date, Year, Causes

Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction – Extinction Facts, Date, Year, Causes

Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction – Extinction Facts, Date, Year, Causes
A Smilodon angles to get a better bite on a sloth at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SWITEK.

Let me take you back to Ice Age, 1.8 million years ago when the whole world was witnessing surprisingly huge yet wonderful beasts. Giant sloths, American lions, rhinoceroses, saber tooth tigers are just a few. No wonder they had roamed the North and South America before even humans moved here. Sadly perhaps currently there are less than half of those giant species surviving in the wild. But saber tooth tigers aren’t one of these fortunate living creatures—they just didn’t make it.

Archaeologists believe that saber tooth cats would still be here if humans hadn’t arrived on the scene. If the starvation didn’t cause saber-toothed cats to vanish off the earth then what did? What about the animals that went extinct before humans showed up? When did saber tooth tigers become extinct? During Ice Age? Why? Perhaps it’s time to dig out some facts. The article is an attempt to answer all these lingering questions so we know precisely if humans are behind saber tooth tiger extinction as they’ll likely could.

Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction Facts

saber tooth tiger extinction
A Smilodon angles to get a better bite on a sloth at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN SWITEK.

When Did Saber Tooth Tigers Become Extinct?

Until recently scientists have long assumed that the saber tooth tiger extinction began as early as 300,000 years ago. Later, many paleontologists followed the same theory and thought that this was the time when saber tooth tiger actually became extinct. However, this theory has been rejected in 2002 when scientists unearthed jawbone one that was hidden underneath the bottom of North Sea.

Scientists are pretty sure that the saber tooth tiger (Smilodon fatalis) had lived much longer than we previously anticipated. These big cats have been around hundreds of thousands of years longer—as recently as 28,000 years ago.

Saber-toothed cats were the biggest of all terrestrial carnivores inhabiting Late Pleistocene epoch still the cat had died out in the Quaternary period—during which many other megafaunal species had disappeared too. The last of the Smilodon had vanished off some 10,000 years ago. While the cause(s) of the saber tooth tiger extinction is still under debate paleontologists proposed quite many theories in an attempt to describe the big cat’s extinction.

saber tooth tiger extinction
This jawbone from the scimitar cat Homotherium was recovered from the North Sea.

Why Did Saber Tooth Tigers Become Extinct? – Top Four Most Probable Reasons for the Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction

While many theories have been proposed to get to the root cause of saber tooth tiger extinction scientists do believe that the probable causes of their disappearance in the ice age could be; the climate change, human activity, lack of prey, or maybe the combination of all three.

“The popular theory for the Megafaunal extinction is that either the changing climate at the end of the last Ice Age or human activity – or some combination of the two – killed off most of the large mammals,” said Larisa DeSantis, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt.

  • Disappearance of Megaherivores
  • Harsh Climate During the Ice Age
  • Did the Rise in Temperature Possibly Cause the Extinction?
  • The Hyperdiseases Transmitted from Aboriginal Humans to Saber-toothed Tigers

i.) Disappearance of Megaherbivores—The Primary Prey of Saber-toothed Tiger

Many theorists proposed that the humans were probably involved in driving Smilodon to extinction in the first place. According to these scientists, humans killed megaherbivores on a massive scale eventually rendering the entire saber tooth tiger population redundant in their native habitat.

Paleontologists have found the evidence of human involvement in wiping out saber-toothed tiger. The fossils unearthed showed signs of embedded arrows as well as cut marks inside the cave paintings. Evidences such as this probably answers to the lingering questions about the saber tooth tiger extinction.

Not only did the human hunting cause the Smilodon to disappear—the great migration of African people could have contributed just as well. As humans traveled miles they became more skillful in hunting animals. Furthermore, the animals that later became the victims of human killing didn’t appear to have fear of humans. This fearless approach led them closer to humans and eventually extinction.

The theory of human-involvement didn’t get too much applause for it had many drawbacks. One, humans never relied exclusively on megaherbivorous animals for they are the most adaptable species inhabiting earth. Second, there doesn’t seem to have any convincing argument in favor of human-driven-killing of mammoths, bisons, and mastodons.

saber tooth tiger extinction
The Pleistocene world was filled with megafauna like woolly mammoths and saber-tooth cats.
(Wikimedia Commons)

ii) Harsh Climate Change During an Ice Age

At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists tried to link saber tooth tiger extinction to the harsh climate change and other interglacial changes during the last ice age. However these findings just didn’t turn out to be veritable for it had quite many flaws. For instance, all those faunas that existed prior to the Pleistocene were very different from those that inhabited post terminal Pleistocene period especially with respect to their overall distribution and population explosion.

Nonetheless modern paleontologists also proposed that the climate change in America, Australia or Europe wasn’t really that dramatic as it was in Southeast Asia. That is, in Southeast Asia the climate change likely caused the extinction of numerous herbivores.

iii) Did Rise in Temperature Cause the Extinction?

Yes, it probably did! The most probable cause of ice age disappearance is likely to be the rise in temperature one that increased by 6 °C in the global annual temperature. The rise in temperature might have possibly led to the decline of the whole ice age much less saber-toothed cats.

iv) The Hyperdiseases May have Probably Caused the Extinction

During the Pleistocene period many aboriginal humans which used to travel with animals were believed to be infected with virulent diseases. Scientists believe that the massive ice age extinction is strongly linked to these disease. All these virulent disease were then transmitted from domestic animals to the more susceptible population of native mammals, eventually causing extinction.

All in all, humans played a key role (as they always do) in the extinction of saber tooth tigers because most carnivorous as well as megaherbivores were already there in large numbers before humans migrated to Eurasia or North America.

Saber Tooth Tiger Extinction – Video


DeSantis, L. R. G.; Schubert, B. W.; Scott, J. R.; Ungar, P. S. (2012). “Implications of diet for the extinction of saber-toothed cats and American lions”. PLoS ONE. 7 (12): e52453. Bibcode:2012PLoSO…752453Ddoi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052453. PMC 3530457 . PMID 23300674.

Meachen-Samuels, J. A.; Van Valkenburgh, B. (2010). “Radiographs reveal exceptional forelimb strength in the sabertooth cat, Smilodon fatalis”. PLoS ONE. 5 (7): e11412. Bibcode:2010PLoSO…511412M. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011412. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 2896400 . PMID 20625398.

O’Keefe, F.R.; Fet, E.V.; Harris, J.M. (2009). “Compilation, calibration, and synthesis of faunal and floral radiocarbon dates, Rancho La Brea, California”. Contributions to Science. 518: 1–16.

Demes B, Jungers WL, Selpien K (1991) Body size, locomotion, and long-bone cross-sectional geometry in indriid primates. Am J Phys Anthropol 86: 537–547.

Anto´n M, Galobart A´, Turner A (2005) Co-existence of scimitar-toothed cats, lions and hominins in the European Pleistocene. Implications of the post-cranial anatomy of Homotherium latidens (Owen) for comparative palaeoecology. Quaternary Science Reviews 24: 1287–1301.


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