Our big cats are very endangered. Although if they found you, they would probably eat you (!), that’s nature. There are officially five big cats, and the definition is that they roar (though snow leopards don’t, more on that later). Related to domestic felines, all big cats are endangered.
Meet The 5 Big Cats (most roar!)
At Home With Cats Around the World is a fun educational guide to cats big and small. From the domestic tabby to lions and leopards, to cheetahs and cougars, welcome to the world of cats!
- Who is the fastest feline?
- Who spends most time sleeping?
- Which cat has the loudest roar?
Lions live in Africa and northeast India, in prides of up to 30, with females mostly doing the hunting. Male lions (with their magnificent manes) roar at anyone they feel like roaring at (the biggest larynx of all big cats, their roar can be heard from miles away). Like domestic cats, lions are not greedy and will hunt every few days and only hunt again when hungry (or feeding cubs). The rest of the time, lions are usually sleeping (around 16 to 20 hours a day).
Little Lion shows young readers what different members of the lion family get up to, and how they develop survival skills to use later in life. This charming celebration of lions shows just how extraordinary these animals are, and is a reminder to care for our planet and its creatures.
Tigers are one of the most endangered wild animals (less than a few thousand) whose populations have plummeted due to hunting, habitat loss and powdered bone used in ‘traditional medicine’. Known for their stripes to help them hide while hunting, in the wild they eat termites, goats and deer, although they are strong enough to kill elephant calves. Found in the Himalayas and Asian forests/swamps , they are often found in rivers cooling off, and like swimming.
The ‘man-eating tiger’ is a bit of a myth. They do kill around 85 humans a year (if they were targeting us, they would kill 85,000 humans yearly based on a weekly hunt). This suggests they only kill due to hunger and disappearing habitats. And it’s usually old infirm tigers that kill humans, as we are easier to chase and kill than wildebeest.
Jaguars are native to the rainforests of Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize. They also like swimming and have the strongest bite of any big cat relative to size (their name means ‘he who kills with one leap’). They have ‘rosette’ tan-orange fur and mostly live alone, marking territory with poop or clawing trees.
Leopards are the lazy spotted big cats you see in trees, with their long dangling legs as they sleep off meals. Happy in forests, woodlands, mountains and desserts in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Zambia, they are very solitary, so little is known about them.
One documentary gave fascinating insight: after killing a baboon to feed herself, the adult carried the orphaned baby up a tree to stop it being attacked by hyenas, turning into a surrogate mother (the baby did die within a day or two and in another case, a leopard who did the same had a cub who killed the baby). Alas these are the laws of the wild, but it shows how complicated animal emotions are.
Snow leopards are severely endangered, only found in Asia (mostly China) and live a very solitary life. They have black-white rosettes and long tails to insulate their body, plus special ‘snow shoes’ to adapt to heavy snow and bitter cold. The only big cat to not roar, they only hunt once a week (mostly for goats and sheeps) meaning their own predators are humans protecting livestock (or poachers for their fur and use in traditional medicine).
Purring Big Cats (that do not roar!)
Cheetahs are the fastest sprinters (twice as fast as Usain Bolt in 3 seconds) but over longer distances, ostriches take the biscuit! They don’t have retractable claws (rather feet a bit like our ‘running spikes’ to grip the ground) and their tails act like rudders, to stop them falling over when running. They bark and purr and have black ‘teardrops’ from their eyes to mouth, to reflect the sun’s glare, when hunting.
Caracals are found in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Not a common name, but you’d know them by sight, for their tufted ears. They hunt most creatures (their strong back legs mean they can leap high into the air to grab birds from the air with their thick claws).
Lynx bobcat by Jan Purves
Lynxes are found mostly in Europe (mostly in icy Siberia of Russia). Like snow leopards, they have special paws adapted to move around in snow. Their reddish-brown coats turn to silver-grey in winter. They also have tufts of hair (this time black on the ear tips).
Bobcats are only slightly bigger than domestic cats, native to North America and Mexico. Their tracks are easy to spot as the higher fifth ‘toe’ leaves no imprint. Related to lynxes, their only predators are mountain lions and wolves, and they also keep away from humans (a good idea, as their pelts make them a risk for hunting). Their massive paws help them to climb trees, to escape from predators.
Ocelots are native to southern US and Central America, and have stunning fur coats of many colours (gold, white, cream, with dark spots and stripes). These cats are more fussy eaters, mostly preying on smaller creatures, and spend time swimming and climbing to hide their prey.
Clouded leopards are native to Asia and China. Smaller than most big cats, they are able to climb head-first down trees, and mostly hunt at night, preying on gibbons and other tree-dwelling creatures.
Pumas are solitary big cats native to North and South America. They can be red or grey with thick fur, to protect against cold. Very agile, their excellent eyesight and pointed ears make them good hunters (including livestock, but it’s rare for pumas to attack humans).
Panthers are kind of black versions of leopards, although people compare them more to jaguars. These nocturnal hunters are found worldwide. And although they look pure black (due to a recessive gene) if you look closely, you’ll see that they too have the same rosette patterns, though they are hidden in the dark colours. The Indian leopard Bagheera in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book was a black panther.
Cougars are ‘mountain lions’ in North and South America. The world’s fourth-largest big cats are very solitary, but sometimes you can hear them as at night they sound like ‘screaming females’. Cougars are responsible for planting over 90,000 trees each year, as they poop out the herbivores they eat, scattering the remains across wild land.
How to Help Endangered Big Cats
A Day in the Life of Big Cats is a beautifully illustrated story by a wildlife ecologist, who follows lions, cheetahs, tigers, panthers, mountain lions and snow leopards over the course of one day.
- Sponsor removal of deadly snares. These are common in Asia, killing more big cats than guns. Often made from bike cables, half of all tiger and leopard deaths are due to snares. The charity that funds snare removal has invented PoacherCam which detects (human) movement, to alert law enforcement officials via wireless networks.
- Eat sustainable soy. Some big companies tear down rainforests (home to jaguars) to grow soy for the livestock industry and soy for vegans. Oumph! makes vegan meats from European soy, to protect rainforests. Keep vegan meats away from pets, due to toxic ingredients like mushroom, onion, garlic etc.
- Help farmers protect livestock. Big cats are often killed by humans protecting flocks. Ewaso Lions is a program where trackers inform herders of areas to avoid, then if a lion does kill a cow or goat, warriors sit for hours to those affected on how to avoid it happening again. Masai teenager Richard Turere used an old car battery and light bulbs to invent a ‘moving light’ to deter lions from his family’s livestock farm in Nairobi National Park.
- Furs for Life hands out thousands of synthetic furs for tribal gatherings, to help 5000 remaining South African leopards being killed for ceremonies. If you run a shop, sign up to Fur Free Retailer, and place the free ‘fox logo’ in your window, to show you don’t sell fur (DNA tests on ‘fake fur trim’ found some to be real). Donate fur coats to wildlife shelters, where they are cut up to make ‘surrogate comforting mums’ to orphaned baby creatures.
- Traditional Medicine usually uses herbs, but some versions use powdered bone from tigers, lions and other endangered species, in the false belief they cure illness, impotence and hangovers. Always ask for written proof of ingredients, if you use this type of medicine.
- Never buy foods with palm oil. Greenpeace says ‘sustainable palm oil’ is a term with no legal clout, just self-policed by industry that won’t pay extra for local rapeseed oil. Full of saturated fat, its use is harming old growth forests (home to tigers, rhinos and orangutans) that are torn down to make cheap plantations for junk food, exported to the west. Just make proper meals from local seasonal ingredients. Also buy palm-oil-free soaps (free from ‘sodium palmate’).
- Buy sustainable wood and paper. If you can’t find recycled, then at least ensure it’s FSC-certified, to protect old-growth forests.
- Live a simple zero-waste, as much as you can. The less we buy and the less we do, the better life is for all creatures, as this helps prevent habitat loss and climate change.
- Support sanctuaries, not zoos. Most children spend 20 seconds viewing each animal (entertainment, not education). Born Free say the best way to help is to help those who care for rescued animals in the wild, and fund anti-poaching controls and education. Report concerns of zoos to Freedom for Animals & Born Free (also inform police, tour operator and local welfare).
Buy an Organic Hoody, Save a Tiger!
Four Paws has four sanctuaries worldwide offering long-term care for tigers who can’t be released back into the wild. Help their work with purchase of organic cotton t-shirts and hoodies from their online store (all made with green energy and you can send them back freepost at end of life, and they’re made into new items for which you get store credit).
Why Do People Go Trophy Hunting?
Trophy hunting lets people pay thousands to kill big cats within ‘canned areas’, often using bows that don’t give immediate death. It’s still legal to hunt big cats in many parts of the world. Join Born Free’s Get the Ban Done campaign, to ask MPs to stop dithering and sign a bill, to make it illegal to import trophy hunted animals to the UK.
One company says ‘capturing all the species will lead to great hunting memories’. It beggars belief to know what is going on in the mind of someone who kills animals for fun. One hunter in Zimbabwe shot 32 elephants in 15 minutes. And around 60 lions have been killed by British hunters, since poor Cecil went to pastures new. Cecil was not killed outright and took hours to die, the dentist paying £32K for the hunt. Apparently he has since shot one of the world’s rarest sheep, paying $80K to do so.
Psychologists have said the reason usually for trophy hunting is simply ‘showing off’ that they have lots of money and can shoot dangerous animals. So if they can’t import parts back to their home country, ‘there’s no point’. President Trump relaxed laws on trophy hunting while in office (he doesn’t hunt but his sons do – TV presenter Lorraine Kelly was visibly upset when she saw one son posing with the tail of an elephant he had cut off, after killing it). Joe Biden has a better track record on animal welfare, but appears not to have done much since elected.
Dan Piraro once said trophy hunting (killing animals in a canned area with no escape) is akin to shooting pensioners in old people’s homes, who can’t run away. The higher the price appears to be how more ‘difficult it is’ to kill the animal. One anti-hunting protestor suggested the most impressive hunt would be if you put the hunter in the same enclosure without a gun, and then see if he emerges victorious with a ‘trophy’.