Fossils discovered deep within the Oregon Caves have been identified as the skull and a leg of an extinct ice age jaguar that was twice as big as a modern cougar.
An expert estimated the jaguar lived 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, based on the size of the skull, which measured 14 inches long, said Greg McDonald, a National Park Service paleontologist in Twin Falls, Idaho. The jaguar was probably 450 to 500 pounds, the size of a modern African lion.
A more accurate dating, based on deterioration of radioactive materials, will be done later.
The jaguar became smaller as it evolved and disappeared from North America about 10,000 years ago, he said. It now ranges through Mexico, Central America and South America.
The National Park Service hopes to obtain funds to look for more of the skeleton, which could prove to be the best specimen of its kind in North America, McDonald said.