Why cat-like creatures vanished from North America for 6 million years

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LOOKING out over an expanse of scrubby sagebrush, it is hard to imagine that the high desert in eastern Oregon was once home to large creatures that resembled sabre-toothed cats. The land here is mostly dry and grassy, punctuated by sharp hills. There isn’t a lot to crouch behind while waiting to ambush prey, and little in the way of trees to climb or sharpen claws on: in some places, the only sign of plant life is a layer of lichen on the rust-coloured slopes. But it wasn’t always like this. “These animals made their home here as early as 35 million years ago, when this part of Oregon was covered in dense jungle,” says Nick Famoso, a palaeontologist at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon. “It was such a…

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