Are you a cat enthusiast and looking for interesting facts about big cats? Look no further!
It’s a well-known fact that big cats are some of the most feared animals on earth. Whether it’s their size, their jaws, or their speed, they are some of the most athletic and exciting animals to observe. Biologists around the world consider just six species of feline to be “big cats”. This includes leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, lions, snow leopards, and tigers.
Big cats are unique to other species because of their breeding patterns and social structures in the wild. They may be hard to spot in their natural habitats, but it’s an experience that rivals none other!
Most species of big cats have similar breeding and mating practices. Males tend to be mostly solitary, while females will live with other females of their species while raising their cubs. The only big cat species that live in a group or “pride” is lions, while male cheetahs often live in pairs with other males.
Big cats that live in cold climates generally will mate in the winter in order to have their young in the spring, a more favorable time of year. Cats that live in warmer climates will often mate year round.
Female big cats reach sexual maturity around 2-4 years of age. The average gestation period varies between 90 and 110 days dependent on the species. Females will usually birth their cubs in areas protected by vegetation, including dens. A female cat will typically birth 1-4 cubs in a litter; however, cheetahs can have up to 9 cubs in a litter. The cubs are born with their eyes closed and don’t often open them until they are between one and two weeks old.
Big cats are grouped into the family Felidae which includes three Genus: Genus Panthera, Genus Acinonyx, and Genus Puma.
Genus Panthera includes lions, tigers, jaguars, and leopards, and snow leopards. Of these species, only tigers, lions, leopards, and jaguars can roar, while snow leopards lack the morphology of the larynx that the other species have. Of the species included in Panthera, the snow leopard and tiger are most closely related, while lions, leopards, and jaguars evolved from the same ancestor.
Genus Acinonyx includes the cheetah, the only living species of the genus. The cheetah typically has a yellowish tan or greyish white coat covered with around 2000 black spots.
Genus Puma includes the cougar which is also referred to as the puma. They are secretive cats and while they sometimes reach sizes larger than other cats characterized as “big” cats, they are most closely related to smaller feline species.
Some species of big cats have existed on earth between 2 and 4 million years! Their populations are at risk and declining for many reasons including habitat loss, human conflict, climate change, loss of prey, and the illegal wildlife trade. Learn more about threats to big cats here.
Where can you go to see big cats?
Big cats exist on only a few continents including Africa, North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
In Africa, you may be able to spot most of the species included in the category of big cats. This includes lions, leopards, and cheetahs.
In North America and South America, cougars or pumas have the largest range of any wild land animal. Its range covers 110 degrees of latitude from the Southern Andes all the way up to the Yukon in Canada. Their distribution is a testament of their adaptability to habitats which include forests, lowlands, and mountainous deserts. Jaguars are also found in North America, primarily Mexico.
In European Russia, you may find the Persian leopard, as well as in Turkey, Armenia, and the middle east. In the Russian Far East, the Amur leopard is more common.
In Asia, you may find tigers, lions, and leopards. They exist throughout the continent but have very vulnerable populations.
There are many programs around the world that offer the opportunity to help big caths through conservation. These programs are a wonderful chance to take part in habitat restoration, rehabilitation, and more, in efforts to increase populations. While at some programs you may be able to see big cats up close, others may be tracking expeditions in the wild.