Meet The Giant Polar Bear-Lion Hybrid - One Of The Largest Carnivores To Ever Roam The Planet

The top 10 most common fears include aversions to quite a few creatures from the animal kingdom. In fact, arachnophobia (the fear of spiders) is the single most commonly reported fear. It's followed by ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes) and cynophobia (the fear of dogs). While it doesn't crack the top 10, the fear of sharks is also common. Bears, however, are rarely mentioned in the discussion of our worst fears.

That would likely change if more people knew about Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, the terrifying hunter and scavenger that roamed the African plains 22 million years ago. The animal has been described as a combination of a lion and a bear, but it actually belongs to a now-extinct order of mammals called hyaenodonts. The Simbakubwa kutokaafrika was the largest of that order - larger than a modern polar bear.

Size is one thing, but the Simbakubwa was also an apex predator. The fierce creature was a hypercarnivore, which is defined as an animal that gets over 70% of its diet from meat. Although the Simbakubwa may be one of the most frightening, beautiful animals, it's likely that the very qualities that made it so vicious are also what led to its extinction.

  • It Had Three Sets Of Meat-Slicing Teeth

    The Simbakubwa had enormous and terrifying front teeth. In fact, its canines were as big as bananas. While most carnivores are known for their vicious-looking front teeth, the real power comes from teeth farther back in the mouth. These back teeth are what the carnivore uses to chew its food, and they are sharp and serrated for the purpose of tearing through the toughest meat.

    Even among carnivores, the Simbakubwa was something special. While most carnivores have a single set of back teeth, the Simbakubwa had three. This is likely because it hunted large herbivores and went through a lot of meat.

  • It Was 8 Feet Long And Weighed Over 3,000 Pounds

    One of the most reliable ways of estimating the size of an animal is through the study of its teeth. Using certain formulas, scientists are able to accurately calculate the size of terrestrial carnivores. These methods provided shocking results when applied to the Simbakubwa.

    According to one sample studied, the Simbakubwa was roughly 8 feet long and 4 feet tall, and weighed as much as 3,000 pounds. 


  • It Stalked And Ambushed Its Prey

    Unlike contemporary lions, the Simbakubwa wasn't suited for the open savannah. Instead, it preferred patchy forest environments characterized by sparse tree clumps. Like most large carnivores, the Simbakubwa was more accustomed to stalking its prey and chasing them over short distances before overpowering them.

    Scientists have deduced this from an examination of the Simbakubwa's ankles, which indicate the animal was better suited to springing suddenly from hiding than running for long periods of time. 

  • It Ate Mastodons And Early Relatives Of The Hippopotamus
    Photo: Charles R. Knight / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    It Ate Mastodons And Early Relatives Of The Hippopotamus

    In the Miocene era, the Simbakubwa munched on large herbivores like mastodons and early relatives of the hippopotamus. However, the Simbakubwa wasn't the only predator to hunt these large herbivores. 

    Packs of large hyenas would work together to take down mastodons, similar to the way wolves and lions hunt their prey today.

  • It Was An Early Form Of Apex Predator

    An apex predator is an animal with no predators of its own. Nothing preys on a shark or a crocodile. When the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct, however, it left a vacuum at the top of the food chain. Massive herbivores dominated the landscape, and it was inevitable that something would arise to replace the dinosaurs.

    The hyaenodonts became the apex predators of Africa, and the Simbakubwa was the most fearsome of all. With no predators to fear, it ruled over the rest of the wildlife

  • It Was Neither A Bear Nor A Lion

    As scientists used fossils to learn more about the Simbakubwa, science reporters generally referred to the creature as some variation of a polar bear-sized lion. While this may be the quickest way to communicate its size and ferocity, it isn't at all accurate. Genetically speaking, the Simbakubwa has very little to do with either lions or bears.

    The Simbakubwa comes from an order of mammals called hyaenodonts. The animals are named for their large canine teeth, which are somewhat similar to those of a hyena. The hyaenodonts ranged from rodent-sized scavengers to the enormous Simbakubwa. When Africa collided with Asia and Europe, the hyaenodonts had trouble adapting and ultimately went extinct, despite their great diversity.