Big cats is a term used to describe the larger species of wild cats, including the lion, tiger, cheetah, jaguar, cougar, leopard, Amur leopard, clouded leopard, Sunda clouded leopard and snow leopard.
The Big Cat Family
Big cats are all members of the Felidae family (a biological classification), along with small wild cats and domestic cats. There are two Felidae sub-families, the Pantherinae and the Felinae.
The lion, jaguar, tiger and leopard are members of the subfamily Pantherinae and the genus Panthera. They are the only wild cats that roar. The snow leopard is also a member of the Pantherinae sub-family (genus Uncia), as well as the clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard (genus Neofelis).
The cougar and cheetah are members of the Felidae sub-family called Felinae.
Big Cat Species & Subspecies
You can find a complete list of all of the big cat species and subspecies, along with their IUCN status here.
Where do big cats live?
Big cats inhabit Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Central America and Europe. Big cat populations have declines dramatically around the world due to habitat loss, hunting, poaching and illegal trade in their fur and body parts. Depending on the species, they can be found in many different habits, including grasslands, savannahs, swamps, forests and mountain regions
What do they eat?
All big cats are carnivores (meat eaters). Their diet varies depending on the cat and location. Big cat prey includes hoofed animals like deer, boar and wild pig; rabbits, birds, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, fish and even insects. Some big cats will also eat vegetation.
Most big cats, excluding the lion and cheetah, lead a solitary life. Lions live in prides, a group of lions that include females related to each other and their offspring, as well as some adult males. Adult male cheetahs will live and hunt with brothers in pairs or larger groups of male siblings. Sometimes lone male cheetahs will join up with these groups.
Big Cat Facts
- The cougar has many names, including puma, mountain lion and panther
- It is the second heaviest big cat (the jaguar is the heaviest)
- Cougars can be found throughout Central, North and South America
- The cougar is more closely related to smaller wild cats (and even domestic cats) than the lion.
- There are over 30 different subspecies of cougar
Read more about the cougar.
- Lions are the second largest wild cat in the world.
- Female lions generally live longer than male lions.
- Female lions also do most of the hunting
- A lion’s roar can be heard up to five miles away.
- Tigers are the largest wild cat in the world.
- Every tiger has a different tiger stripe pattern.
- Tigers are extremely good swimmers.
- More tigers are now kept as pets than live in the wild.
Read more about tigers.
- Cheetahs are the fastest land animal in the world.
- Cheetahs generally hunt during the day, unlike lions and leopards.
- Cheetahs don’t see very well at night, but during the day can spot prey up to 3 miles away.
- The number of Cheetahs in the wild have declined 90% in the last century.
Read more about cheetahs.
- The word jaguar means “he who kills with one leap”
- The jaguar is the largest cat in North and South America.
- The jaguar is the third largest wild cat species.
- Jaguars like to swim in streams.
Read more about jaguars.
- A leopard can carry extremely heavy prey up to 100 lbs. – approximately twice its weight.
- Leopards can be found in more places throughout the world than any other wild cat
- Leopards climb trees with speed and agility.
- They will often sit on a shady tree limb during the day to keep out of the sun.
Read more about leopards.
Snow Leopard Facts
- A snow leopard can leap as much as seven times the length of their own body – around 50 feet.
- The snow leopard’s wide, furry feet act as snow shoes.
- A snow leopard can kill prey three times its weight.
- Snow leopard populations are on a dramatic decline due to poaching.
Read more about snow leopards.
Amur Leopard Facts
- The Amur leopard is a solitary and nocturnal wild cat.
- The Amur leopard is also known as the Manchurian leopard, Far Eastern leopard and Korean leopard.
- The Amur leopard is dangerously close to extinction, with less than 30 living in the wild.
- The Amur leopard has a long, thick coat of hair that grows almost an inch long during the summer.
Read more about the Amur leopard.
Clouded Leopard Facts
- The clouded leopard is considered an evolutionary link between big cats and small wild cats
- Clouded leopards have long canine-like teeth and short, sturdy legs.
- Clouded leopards are extremely good climbers.
- Clouded leopards sleep in trees during the day and go hunting at night.
Read more about clouded leopards.
Sunda Clouded Leopard Facts
- The Sunda clouded leopard has been recognized as a separate species since 2006.
- The clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard are the smallest big cats.
- The Sunda clouded leopard can be found in Borneo and Sumatra.
- Both the clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard are usually only seen at night.
Read more about the Sunda clouded leopard.