In the “Lord of the Rings” series, author J.R.R. Tolkien invented the fantastical “warg,” a wolf-like beast with sharp teeth that lived in the Misty Mountains.
Little did Tolkien know that such a creature, perhaps one even more terrifying than a warg, actually existed. This newly discovered but now extinct carnivore lived
about 22 million years ago in what is now Kenya. It was larger than a polar bear, the largest land-based carnivore alive today; it weighed up to 3,300 lbs. (1,500 kilograms),
measured 8 feet (2.4 meters) long from snout to rump and stood 4 feet (1.2 m) tall at its shoulders. The creature had very sharp, powerful teeth, and is considered
a hypercarnivore meaning it got almost all its calories from meat. Researchers are calling the newfound meat eater Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, Swahili for “big lion from Africa.”
But it was much larger than a modern lion, said study co-researcher Matt Borths, curator of the Division of Fossil Primates at the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina.
“Part of the reason we named it ‘big lion’ in Swahili is because it would have played a lion-like role in its ancient ecosystem,” Borths told Live Science in an email.
When it was hungry, S. kutokaafrika didn’t hold back. “Animals that might have been on the menu were anthracotheres (hippo relatives that were lankier than
their modern cousins), elephant relatives and giant hyraxes (today, hyraxes look like grumpy rabbits, but in the past they filled zebra and antelope niches in Africa).”
Besides looking like a warg, S. kutokaafrika would seem weird by today’s standards, Borths said. “Compared to modern carnivorous mammals, its head would have looked
a little too big for its body, like a very toothy Funko Pop figure,” he said. Borths came across the fossil remains of S. kutokaafrika in a museum drawer. He happened to be
at the Nairobi National Museum, where he was studying the evolution of hyaenodonts, a group of extinct carnivorous mammals that lived in Africa, Eurasia and
North America during the Miocene epoch, which lasted from about 23 million to 5 million years ago. “I thought I had gone through all the meat-eaters from
about 20 million years ago,” Borths said. “Then, during a lunch break, I decided to open a few other drawers to learn about carnivores from the last ice age, and there was