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“Big cats” is a term commonly used in reference to large wild cats. The list of big cats below contains some basic information on each of the wild cats considered a big cat, including the smallest of the big cats, the clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard.
Big cats, small wild cats and domestic cats are members of the felidae family, which is a biological classification. A member of the felidae family is called a felid. There are two sub-families of felidae, the Pantherinae and the Felinae. (There was once a third family, the Machairodontinae, also known as the saber-toothed cats.)
The Pantherinae includes the genus Panthera, which is made up of four species: tigers (Panthera tigris), lions (Panthera leo), jaguars (Panthera onca) and leopards (Panthera pardus). A fifth species, the Longdan tiger (Panthera zdanskyi) once existed in China but is now extinct. The Panthera (tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards) are the only cats that roar.
Members of the Panthera genus (tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards) make up half of the big cats. Uncia is another Pantherinae genus. The snow leopard (Uncia uncia or Panthera uncia) is currently the only big cat classified in this genus The third Pantherinae genus, Neofelis, includes the clouded leopard and the Sunda clouded leopard.
Felinae, the second subfamily of Felidae, includes small and medium-sized wild cats, as well as two big cats, the cougar and cheetah.
Felids came into existence on this planet 25 million years ago. The various species once roamed throughout the word in large numbers. Today, many face extinction due to habitat loss and poaching. The list of big cats (below) contains links to organizations involved in their conservation, including research, education, rescue and sanctuary work. There is also information on their status as an endangered species.
The Big Cats List
The world’s fastest land animal. Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubalus) once ranged throughout India, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and the middle east, but due to diminishing populations, most cheetahs can only be found in the eastern and southern parts of Africa. Today there are less than 10,000 cheetah’s left in the world. Find groups working on cheetah conservation.. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Vulnerable.
- Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus):
- Northwest African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki)
- Eastern Africa cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus raineyii)
- Southern Africa cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus jubatus)
- Central Africa cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii)
The clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is found in Asia, from the Himalayas (Nepal and India) to China. Physical characteristics include a dark grey fur with black spots, blotches and mottled stripes. There are two living subspecies of clouded leopard (the third subspecies, Neofelis nebulosa brachyura is considered extinct.): Find groups working on clouded leopard conservation.
Clouded Leopard Subspecies
- Neofelis Nebulosa nebulosa
- Neofelis nebulosa macrosceloides
Also called the puma, mountain lion, Florida panther, red tiger and catamount. Over 30 subspecies of cougar (Puma concolor) have been documented. Six subspecies have been recognized. Found throughout the Americas. Find groups working on cougar conservation. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Least Concern.
- North American cougar (P. c. couguar)
- Northern South American cougar (P. c. concolor)
- Southern South American puma (P. c. puma)
- Argentine puma (Puma concolor cabrerae)
- Costa Rican cougar (P. c. costaricensis)
- Easter South American cougar (P. c. anthonyi)
Jaguars (Panthera onca) roam throughout Central and South America in forests located near rivers and lakes. They are very similar in appearance to leopards, but generally larger. There are several subspecies of jaguar. Find groups working on jaguar conservation. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Near Threatened.
- Mexican jaguar (Panthera. o. hernandesii)
- Centeral American jaguar (Panthera. o. centralis)
- Arizonan jaguar (Panthera. o. arizonensis)
- Central Texas to Southeastern Mexico jaguar (Panthera o. veraecrucis)
- Goldman’s jaguar (Panthera o. goldmani) (Yucatan/Belize/Guatamala
- Panthera onca onca (Venezuela/Amazon) Panthera onca palustris (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay)
- Peruvian jaguar (Panthera o. peruviana)
Found worldwide in habitats across Africa, India, Asia, the Middle East and Malay peninsula. Leopard subspecies include the Persian leopard, the Arabian lepoard, the Sri Lankan leopard and the Javan leopard. Find groups working on leopard conservation. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Threatened.
- Indian leopard (Panthera p. fusca)
- African leopard (Panthera p. pardus)
- Javan leopard (Panthera p. melas)
- Arabian leopard (Panthera. p. nimr)
- North Chinese leopard (Panthera. p. japonensis)
- Persian leopard (Panthera. p. saxicolor)
- Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera. p. kotiya)
- Indochinese leopard (Panthera. p. delacouri)
- Anatolian leopard (Panthera p. tulliana)
- Balochistan leopard (Panthera. p. sindica)
- Amur Leopard (Panthera p. orientalis) Also known as the Far Eastern leopard, Korean leopard and Manchurian leopard) One of the rarest big cats and dangerously close to extinction, with less than 30 Amur leopards left in the wild. Named for the Amur River located in eastern Mongolia. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Critically Endangered.
The lion (Panthera leo) once roamed throughout southeastern Europe, the Middle East and parts of India. While a small population still remains in India, the species now occupies habitats in various parts of Africa. Find groups working on lion conservation. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Endangered.
- Asiatic lion (Panthera l. persica) - also called the Gir lion, Indian lion, Persian lion, Eurasian lion. The Asiatic lion is only found in Gujarat, a state in India. This highly endangered species was almost hunted to extinction. Only 13 lions existed in 1907 when an Indian prince banned hunting the cats. There are currently less than 500 Asiatic lions in existence.
- West African lion (Panthera l. senegalensis)
- Congo lion (Panthera l. azandica)
- East African lion (Panthera l. nubica) (Masai lion)
- Southwest African lion (Panthera l. bleyenberghi) (Katanga lion)
- Southeast African lion (Panthera l. krugeri) (Transvaal lion)
- Barbary lion (Panthera l. leo) (EXTINCT)
- Cape lion (Panthera l. melanochaita) (EXTINCT)
The snow leopard is nearly extinct, with remaining populations located in the mountains of Asia. Find groups working on snow leopard conservation. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Endangered.
The Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neoflis diardi), also called the Sundaland clouded leopared is found in Sumatra and Borneo. Studies show a continuing decrease in population. The leopard’s local name means “tree branch tiger.” Photo credit: Spencer Wright (North Walsham, England). Find groups working on Sunda clouded leopard conservation.
The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest of all big cats. Less than 3,200 tigers exist in the wild today. At one time, there were 9 subspecies. Three subspecies are now extinct. Find groups working on tiger conservation. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species: Endangered.
- Indochinese tiger (Panthera t. corbetti)
- Bengal tiger (Panthera t. tigris)
- Sumatran tiger (Panthera t. sumatrae)
- Malayan tiger (Panthera t. jacksoni)
- South China tiger (Panthera t. amoyensis)
- Bali tiger (EXTINCT) (Panthera t. balica)
- Javan tiger (EXTINCT) (Panthera t. sondaica)
- Caspian tiger (EXTINCT) (Panthera t. virgata)
Big Cats by Region
Big Cats in Africa
Cheetahs, leopards and lions.
Big Cats in Asia
Asiatic cheetahs, Amur leopards, Sunda clouded leopards, clouded leopards, Asiatic lions, snow leopards and tigers.
Big Cats in North America, Central America and South America
Cougars, leon, jaguars and tigres.