Big cats is a term used to describe the larger species of wild cats, typically in reference to lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards – wild cats that roar.
However, the extended definition of big cats includes other large wild cats like cougars (also called pumas and mountain lions), the snow leopard, Amur leopard, clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard. The clouded leopard is considered a link between big cats and small wild cats.
Big Cat Species & Subspecies
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, as well as the clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard. The cougar and cheetah are members of the Felidae sub-family called Felinae.
Read more about big cat classifications.
Where Big Cats Live
Big cats can be found in Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Central America and Europe. Depending on the species, they can be found in many different habitats, including grasslands, savannahs, swamps, forests and mountain regions
Big cats, excluding the lion and cheetah, generally 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.
What Big Cats 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.
Big Cat Conservation
Many big cats are are listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN. Big cat populations have declined dramatically around the world due to habitat loss, hunting, poaching and illegal trading of their fur and body parts.