The term "big cat" refers to a group of four members of the Panthera genus, including the lion, tiger, jaguar and leopard. Sometimes the snow leopard is also included in this group; additionally, some people have also included the cougar, cheetah, clouded leopard and the Sunda clouded leopard despite being outside of the genus. With the exception of the snow leopard, all of the members of the Panthera genus are able to roar, which is a trait unique to big cats.
These animals are now some of the rarest in the world, with many of them listed as endangered because they face threats including habitat destruction (mainly by humans), poaching for their fur and organs, and the spread of different diseases. But while humans are often at the root of these dangers to the big cats, we also play a role in conservation and protection, with many zoos and wildlife preserves helping protect and grow native big cat populations.
How well do you know the big cats in the animal kingdom? If you were given images of these creatures, would you be able to match them to their correct name? Or would you mistake lions for tigers, or cheetahs for leopards? The only way to find out is to take this quiz!
The Bengal tiger is a subspecies of tiger which can be found in the Indian subcontinent and is the national animal of India and Bangladesh. They are the biggest wild cats left today, and their populations have steadily increased from less than 2000 in the year 2010 to 2300 by the year 2014.
The Barbary lion was a subspecies of lion which was found throughout North Africa along the Barbary Coastal regions. They were said to be extinct by 1922 due to the bounties placed on shooting them, but many zoos claim to have these animals in their collection.
The Central American jaguar is a wildcat which is native to the Americas but mostly found across Central America. These animals, which hold cultural significance to the Mayans and the Aztecs, have been declining due to loss and fragmentation of their habitat.
The African leopard is a leopard subspecies which can be found in many different African countries, but mostly throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Depending on their location and the type of habitat that they are in, their coat colors vary from pale yellow to a deep tawny color, with black rosettes and spots.
The North American cougar is a population of mountain lion which are also the largest wild cats on the continent. They have solid tan coats without any spots and can grow to weights between 55 and 176 pounds.
The snow leopard, also called the ounce, is a large cat which can be found living in the alpine and subalpine zone in the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia. Its fur is white to gray with spots on its head and neck, which get larger as they go down to its back, flanks, and tail.
The Asiatic cheetah, which is also known as the Persian or Iranian cheetah, is a critically endangered subspecies of cheetah which can only be found in the arid regions of Iran, where human populations are low. In December of 2017, there were fewer than 50 individuals in three subpopulations.
The Eurasian lynx is a type of big cat which can be found in parts of Asia and Europe at altitudes up to 18,000 feet. The medium-sized cat is the largest of the lynx species, and although its population is stable, it suffers from habitat loss and poaching.
The Sunda clouded leopard, also called the Enkuli clouded leopard, is one of the many wild cats which is native to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Listed as vulnerable, there are fewer than 10,000 of these individuals left which have dark cloud shaped markings on their fur.
The liger is the hybrid offspring of a male lion which has been crossed with a female tiger. Unlike the tigons whose parents are from the same genus but different species, they have the ability to grow larger than their parent species, and they also have the stripes of the tiger.
A tigon, sometimes called a tiglon, is a hybrid creature which comes as a result of breeding a male tiger and a female lion. The males have shorter manes than either of the species, and they often do not surpass their parent animals in size.
The clouded leopard is a wildcat which can be found in the Himalayan foothills from Southeast Asia to China. Its furs range from dark gray to an earthy color with black blotched spots on its body.
The West African lion is a subspecies of lion which can be found not only in the region it is named after, but also northern Central Africa and parts of India. Its fur varies in color from a light buff color to dark brown, and it has rounder ears than the other subspecies.
The Siberian tiger, also referred to as the Amur tiger, is a species of tiger which can be found in Northeast China and the Russian Far East. It is considered to be the largest of the tigers and it is known for having reddish-yellow fur with black transverse stripes.
The Northwest African cheetah, sometimes called the “Saharan cheetah,” is a type of cheetah which is native to the Saharan desert and the Sahel zone. It has a shorter and lighter coat than the other African cheetahs, and there are approximately 250 mature individuals, making it a critically endangered species.
The Javan leopard is a leopard subspecies that can be found on an Indonesian island known as Java. There are less than 250 mature individuals left, and they still face threats of habitat loss and poaching due to human population expansion.
The South American jaguar is a subspecies of jaguar found in South America. Often called the biggest cat in the New World, they can weigh up to 260 pounds depending on which country they are found in and whether they are male or female.
The Canada lynx is a species of lynx native to North America, ranging from Canada and Alaska all the way down to Mexico. These nocturnal carnivores, which eat snowshoe hare almost exclusively, have dense silvery-brown fur with ruffed faces and tufted ears.
The Amur leopard is a wildcat which is native to parts of Russia and northern China. The color of their fur varies between seasons, from cream-colored in the winter to yellow-red in the summer. Because there are less than 60 individuals left in the wild, it has been called one of the rarest cats in the world.
The Malayan tiger is a subspecies of tigers which inhabit the southern and central parts of the Malayan Peninsula in Malaysia. They are smaller than the Bengal tiger and, due to development projects, they have been listed as critically endangered.
The Eastern cougar, also called the Eastern puma, is a subspecies of cougars which are presumed to be extinct. They were once found in northeastern regions of North America, and although they may no longer be here, other cougars can be found in North America.
The Northeast African cheetah is a subspecies of cheetahs which can be found in many Northeast African states. Although it is fairly large, some of them vary in size and they most closely resemble other subspecies of cheetah found in Africa.
The black panther is the melanistic color variant of any one of the big cats. The ones found in Asia and Africa are variations of the leopard and those found in America are jaguars. The usual markings on the animals are technically still present but seem hidden because of the black fur.
The bobcat is a North American cat which can be found from as far north as Southern Canada all the way to Central Mexico. In December 2018, a bobcat in Upper Valley, Vermont bit at least two people and was later found to be positive for rabies.
The Persian leopard, also known as the Caucasian leopard, is an endangered big cat which can be found in the Greater Caucasus mountain range. It can be seen in both pale and dark colors, both of which can be found in Iran.
The Asiatic lion is a subspecies of lions found in the Gir National Park in Gujarat, India. Its fur ranges in color from a tawny to sandy color with heavily speckled black. In recent years, there have been two attacks on humans, both times killing them.
The Sumatran tiger is a subspecies of tigers which can be found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is one of the smallest tiger subspecies, differing from the others due to its darker fur and broader stripes.
The Southeast African cheetah is a subspecies of cheetahs native to lowland and desert regions of East and Southern African nations. The medium-sized cat differs from the other subspecies in that it has a thicker fur coat and a white underside.
The Sri Lankan leopard, also called the Ceylon leopard, is a subspecies of leopard native to many of the habitats in Sri Lanka. The wild population lies somewhere between 700 and 950 individuals and is currently listed as endangered.
The Javan tiger was a subspecies of tigers which was found on the Indonesian island of Java, up until the 1970s. In 2017, there were reports that the animal, which was thought to have been extinct, was spotted in Indonesia.
The Transvaal lion, also called the Kalahari lion, is a subspecies of lions which can be found in grasslands and savannahs of the Transvaal region in South Africa. Most of the lions are tan in color, but some of the males have exhibited black manes.
The king cheetah is a variation of cheetah which has a rare mutation caused by a recessive allele; this gives the animal cream-colored fur with large blotchy spots, and three wide stripes which extend from its neck down to its tail.
The Iberian lynx is a species of wild cats which are native to the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. Once thought to be related to the Eurasian lynx, the Iberian lynx has a bright yellow to tawny colored coat with dark spots and tufted ears.
The Indochinese leopard is a subspecies of leopards which are found in Southeast Asia and Southern China. Threatened by deforestation and poaching, they are rarely seen outside of their protected areas, where they have a stable population somewhere between 900 and 2500 mature individuals.
The East African cheetah, sometimes called the Tanzanian cheetah, is a subspecies of cheetahs which live in the grasslands and savannas in East Africa. They have a white-yellowish to tan coat with many round black spots on their chest and neck.
The Indochinese tiger is subspecies of tigers found in Southeast Asia. There is no known difference between it and the Malayan tiger except for the area which it can be located in. Its coloration is darker than the Bengal tiger, and its stripes are narrower and shorter.
The Arabian leopard is one of the smallest subspecies of leopards and can be found near the Arabian Peninsula. Its coat color varies from pale yellow to deep golden or grey and has a rosette pattern. In an effort to increase the population, a captive breeding program was initiated in 1995.
The South China tiger is a wildcat which can be found in the region of South China. It differs from the Bengal in skull size and coat characteristics, but it is estimated to be the same height. This tiger is considered to be extinct in the wild since none have been recorded since the early 1970s.
The Indian leopard is a subspecies of leopards found on the Indian subcontinent, including in Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal. Its pale yellow to yellowish-brown coat is spotted with bigger rosettes in black, except if it is the melanistic form.
The Southern African lion is a subspecies of lions which can be found in both Southern and East Africa. The lion’s fur varies in color from light buff to dark brown, and there are occasional rare morphs which contain two recessive alleles giving rise to the white lion.