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Cats (Felidae)

Cats

(Felidae)

Class Mammalia

Order Carnivora

Family Felidae


Thumbnail description
Small to large carnivores with lithe, agile bodies and short faces with small, broad skulls. Legs short to long, with large paws. Claws, teeth and strong jaws adapted for grasping and tearing. Tail usually long. Coat soft-furred, with cryptic color, plain or patterned with spots, patches or stripes

Size
Head and body length 14–120 in (35–300 cm); tail 2–40 in (5–100 cm); weight 2.5–670 lb (1–305 kg)

Number of genera, species
18 genera; 36 species

Habitat
All major habitat types except arctic tundra and polar ice

Conservation status
Critically Endangered: 1 species; Endangered: 4 species; Vulnerable: 12 species; Lower Risk/Near Threatened: 8 species

Distribution
Worldwide except Australia, Antarctica and oceanic islands

Evolution and systematics

Felidae are part of the ailurid (cat-like) branch of the order Carnivora, which also includes the hyena, mongoose, and civet families. The earliest cat-like animals can be dated back to the lower Eocene, some 40 million years ago. Today's cat species can be traced to an ancestor named Pseudailurus, from which wild cats and saber-toothed tigers evolved in the Oligocene, some 25-30 million years ago. Saber-tooths preyed on primitive, large, slow mammals and died out 10,000-20,000 years ago, but modern cats adapted to hunt large, fast ungulates, and prospered and evolved into the 36 cat species known today.

Cat taxonomy has been subject to considerable confusion and revision. Linnaeus originally classified all cats into a single genus, Felis. Later taxonomists subdivided this into as many as 23 genera, then, more recently there was a tendency to "lump" some genera together again. Until recently many authorities recognized only four genera: Felis for all small cats, Panthera for the "big cats" (defined by their ability to roar), Neofelis for the clouded leopard, intermediate between big and small cats, and Acinonyx for the cheetah.

In 1996, the Felid Taxonomic Advisory Group (TAG) of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) published a revised taxonomy which divided Panthera into 4 genera, and Felis into 13. There are now four genera (seven species) in the Pantherinae subfamily, one genus (one species: the cheetah) in the Acinonychinae subfamily, and 13 genera (28 species) in the Felinae subfamily. The Iriomote cat (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis), once considered a separate species, is now classed as a subspecies of the leopard cat.

The Felid TAG classification is used in this account, with older genus names indicated in parentheses. Molecular research is likely to lead to further revisions to felid taxonomy.

Physical characteristics

All cat species show considerable resemblance to the domestic cat, being carnivores with long, lithe, muscular bodies, but in a wide range of sizes. Head and body length ranges from 14 in (35.6 cm) for the diminutive black-footed cat (Felis nigripes), to more than 10 ft (3 m) for a large male Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica). The weight range varies more than 300 fold, from as little as 1.7 lb (0.8 kg) for the small cat to in excess of 660 lb (300 kg) for the tiger. Males are larger and more muscular than females, but otherwise there is minimal sexual dimorphism, with the notable exception of lions (P. leo). A cat's head is short and rounded with large eyes, long whiskers, powerful jaws, specialized teeth for cutting and gnawing meat, and a rough, rasping tongue covered with horny papillae, to lick bones clean. Ears may be triangular or rounded. Legs are short to long, feet large and padded, with five toes on the front feet, four on the hind feet, and with hooked sickle-shaped claws, which in most species are sharp and retractile. Tails are furred and usually medium to long, up to 40 in (1 m) in large cats, but some species such as bobcats have short, rounded tails.

Coats are cryptically colored, pale gray to brown, with a paler underside and often with black and/or white markings on the face, tail and back of the ears. Many species are spotted, blotched, or striped, for camouflage. Melanistic (black) forms are common among several species, white forms occur rarely. Young often have different markings from the adult coloration—newborn cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) cubs have a long, white-gray mane, absent in the adult, for example. Individual cat species can show considerable variations in color, often linked to geographic location, with animals from warm, humid climates often darker than specimens of the same species living in cooler regions.

Cats have acute, binocular, color vision. The iris, which may be orange, yellow, gray, brown or green, reacts very quickly to darkness and contracts to a small point or slit in bright light. Night vision is very good, helped by a reflecting layer, the tapetum lucidum, outside the retinal receptor layer, which reflects back any light not absorbed by the receptor layer at first pass, and accounts for the eye shine we see in cats at night. Whiskers and long hairs above the eyes are sensitive to touch, which also helps the animals move around at night.

Most felids have acute hearing, especially those species with large ears, which are used like radar dishes to locate prey. The sense of smell is also very important to cats, with a major role in social interaction, maintaining territories, and advertising that females are ready to mate, though not in hunting. Scent glands are often present in foot pads, chin, cheeks and anus.

Distribution

Cats are found the world over, with the exception of Australia, the polar regions, and some oceanic islands where they are usually considered a serious pest. However, domestic cats have been introduced to almost all places settled by humans, including Australia and other islands. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to eight cat species, including the largest populations of lion, cheetah, and leopard (P. pardus). These big cats are also found in North Africa and southwest Asia, along with five other species, but their distribution has declined dramatically in this region, and only small, isolated populations remain. Tropical Asia is home to 12 species, including tiger (P. tigris), clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), leopard, and a range of small cats adapted to jungle habitats. Eurasia has seven species, including snow leopard (Uncia uncia), lynx (Lynx lynx), and Iberian lynx (L. pardinus), but their populations are also

under severe pressure. Cats are well represented in the Americas, with a dozen species, including jaguar (P. onca), puma (Puma concolor), and Canada lynx (L. canadensis).

Habitat

Cats have colonized almost all major habitat types from desert to equatorial rainforest, swamps, and high mountains. Only treeless tundra and polar ice are felid-free. Although a few species have become highly adapted to a limited range of habitats (the sand cat [F. margarita] of stony and sandy deserts, for example) most species are not habitat specialists and can be found in a range of environments.

Behavior

The social organization and behavior of cats show remarkable similarity between the majority of species. Most are truly solitary, coming together only to mate. In the closed habitat favored by many species prey is usually dispersed and too small to share, so hunting alone is more efficient. Both males and females have home ranges, with those of males generally larger and often incorporating the range of one or more females. Adult males are usually territorial, defending at least part of their range, while females may or may not be territorial. The notable exception to the typical feline social organization is the lion, which has developed a unique clan-based society, based on close bonds between related females, and involving cooperative hunting, feeding and raising young. Tigers and leopards may also occasionally hunt together. Cheetahs also differ since males may hunt in groups.

Although cats do fight over territory, physical aggression is mostly avoided. Instead cats use scent-marking and calling to advertise their home range and specific whereabouts, enabling even animals with overlapping ranges to avoid running into one another. Cats may sharpen their claws on trees, leaving visual signs of their presence. Big cats also rake their hind feet in the earth as they spray backwards onto above ground objects to leave a scent trail as they patrol. Where fights do occur, usually in contests over an estrous female, they vary in intensity, but may be very serious and even deadly. Territorial fights usually involve a sudden fast attack without preliminary display.

Most cats are primarily nocturnal, but often show activity peaks around dusk and dawn, related to increased prey activity at these times. Their secretive, nocturnal behavior means many species have not been extensively studied in the wild.

Apart from cheetah, tigers, and lions, cats are good climbers, but most climb trees for rest and safety, rather than hunting. Cats have a famous ability to land on their feet, a result of a well-developed sense of equilibrium, important in arboreal species. In treeless environments, cats may den underground,

appropriating the burrows of other animals. Most cats have an aversion to entering water, but some are strong swimmers. Tigers will chase prey into lakes, and some small cats catch fish.

Cats have a wide range of calls, include meowing, purring, panting, gasping, yowling, snorting, growling, and hissing. Small cats lack the roaring distance call of big cats, but some advertise estrous with loud wails. Close range communication involves not just vocalization, but sophisticated visual signals. Cats have a large variety of facial expressions and body language, enabling complex, often ritualized communication, which may avert dangerous physical confrontations between animals armed with sharp claws and teeth. The arched back seen in domestic and other small cats is a defensive threat posture.

Feeding ecology and diet

Cats are generally the purest of carnivores, sitting at the top of the food chain. Small cats prey predominantly on rodents, rabbits and hares, but will also take reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustacea, birds, and insects. Large cats prefer ungulates, but feed opportunistically on any available meat. Many cats will also scavenge carrion. Some species supplement a carnivorous diet with fruit, and desert lions are known to eat tsama melon (Citrullus lanatus), though this is for their water content, rather than food. Cats will also swallow grass, which helps rid the body of fur balls formed inside the intestinal tract from hair swallowed when grooming.

Cats mainly hunt at night, though the cheetah is diurnal. Most rely on stealth to approach prey before a final rush or pounce. Even the fastest cats can only outrun their prey over a short distance, as with comparatively small hearts they have very limited stamina and quickly tire.

Small prey animals are pounced on with both front paws, and killed with a specialized bite to the back of the neck, severing the spinal cord, before being eaten, starting with the head. Large, fast-running prey animals are tripped with a foreleg; slower animals grappled over the rump, back, or shoulder. The cat keeps its back legs on the ground for purchase, hooks claws into the quarry's skin, and pulls it off balance. A powerful jawlock on the prey's throat or muzzle then suffocates it.

Cats may gnaw meat from the bone, or pull it off in lumps and swallow it without chewing. Excepting the snow leopard, which eats crouched over food like small cats, all big cats eat lying down and never hold the meat with their fore paws. Whereas small cats use just their molars to pull at meat, big cats (and sometimes the clouded leopard as well) use not only the molars but the incisors and canines as well, grabbing the meat and jerking the head up. Cats have a tooth formation in the upper and lower jaws of three pairs of incisors, one pair of canines, two or three pairs of premolars, and one pair of molars. The molar is modified to a powerful shearing tooth, or "carnassial," so cats bite with the side of the mouth, not with the front. Large kills are often cached by covering with leaves, grass or dirt, or carried into trees. Species that mainly eat small prey such as rodents may feed every day, but for larger cats, feeding often means gorging on large kills for several days, then going hungry for several more days before another successful kill.

Cats are stimulated to stalk and catch prey even when satiated, which explains why even a well-fed domestic cat—or wild lion—cannot resist an easy kill. Given that waiting for suitable prey is the most time-consuming part of predation, this stimulus response ensures cats make the most of every opportunity. It also explains why a caracal or puma in a field of sheep will kill many more animals than it can eat.

Reproductive biology

Female small cats may reach sexual maturity at less than one year old, big cats at around two years, but a female may not produce her first litter until she has established a home range, which might not be until age three or four. Gestation

ranges from two months in small cats to over three months in lion and tiger. Litters may contain up to eight cubs, but two to four is usual. Small cats may reproduce yearly, larger ones at intervals of at least 18 months, unless they lose a litter, in which case they can come into estrous again within weeks. Many cats are non-seasonal breeders, but in areas with strongly seasonal climatic or prey availability conditions breeding occurs at the most favorable time of year.

Cats are polygamous. Estrus may last from one day to three weeks, depending on the species. Females have multiple estrous cycles until they conceive. They advertise their condition by scent marking, calling, and by becoming hyperactive. Local males may compete for mating rights with displays and sometimes fighting. The successful male may consort with the female for several days, courting with specific calls, by presenting his head, and by rubbing against the female. Females court the male with behavior that is alternatively inviting and defensive, increasingly taking the initiative as they come more into heat. Copulation itself typically lasts less than a minute, but may be repeated several times an hour for up to three days or even longer. Repeated copulation probably serves to induce ovulation in the female. During copulation the female lies prone on her belly, while the male mounts her. In small cats the male bites the female's neck during copulation, but big cats only grab the neck symbolically at ejaculation. Copulation ends with the female twisting to hiss and strike at the male with her paw, before often rolling onto her back. She then resumes affectionate behavior. After several days the male may lose interest and another male may take his place.

With the exception of lions, males apparently play no further part in raising young. Feline young are born blind, deaf, and barely able to crawl. They remain hidden in a den or nest for several weeks until mobile. In some species, individuals in the litter develop a teat order while nursing, with dominant kittens getting the most milk. The mother will defend her kittens aggressively, even against the odds, and will move the hiding place if disturbed, carrying cubs one-by-one by the head, nape or skin on the back. Mothers start to train cubs to hunt from a very young age, bringing back first dead then live prey for them to practice catching and eating. However, cubs may not be independent for up to 18 months or more in the case of some big cats. When the mother is ready to produce a new litter they depart, but may stay within the mother's home range for another year, or indefinitely in the case of females. Young cats play extensively, mainly developing behaviors of importance in adult predatory behavior. Longevity is commonly approximately 15 years for most species, with some individuals reported to have lived over 30 years.

Conservation status

No fewer than 25 of the 36 cat species are listed by the IUCN, and even those which are not are often subject to serious threat at local or subspecies level, or their population status may simply be insufficiently known to classify. The most immediate threat of extinction is faced by the Iberian lynx, found in only small, isolated, populations in Spain and Portugal. But not far behind are such iconic species as the tiger and the snow leopard.

While many species of cat have long been persecuted by farmers on the grounds of their real or imagined threat to livestock, the principal direct human threat to cat species in recent decades has been commercial trapping for fur. A fashion for furs in Western society in the 1960s and 1970s saw large numbers of tiger, leopard, jaguar, and snow leopard pelts appearing in shops, and small cats were also traded extensively, peaking at 600,000 pelts traded in a single year. Species such as the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and Geoffroy's cat (Oncifelis geoffroyi) were hit particularly hard.

Concern that commercial fur trading at unsustainable levels could drive some cat species to extinction was a major factor behind the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Although some countries have been slow to enforce legislation banning trade in endangered species, the international trade in spotted cat pelts has now reduced dramatically, a trend strengthened by public awareness of the impact of fur harvesting on species survival. Today's fur trade relies on three species of lynx and the Chinese leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), supplied by the United States, Canada, China, and Russia. Commercial fur trading is not currently considered a significant threat to cat species, with the possible exception of the leopard in some areas.

Illegal poaching driven by a demand for cat body parts for use in traditional Oriental medicine is still a major problem for large Asian cats such as the tiger, which could soon be driven to extinction in the wild.

Habitat loss has mostly affected cats associated with forest habitat. Deforestation, especially in tropical Asia, has made

several species vulnerable, through the absolute loss of habitat and the fragmentation of populations. Important habitats including tropical rainforest, major wetlands, and tropical montane complexes are declining globally. However, many cat species are adaptable and can survive in modified habitat. The indirect threat of human development posed by the depletion of prey species may be of more immediate concern for the conservation of some cats as well as the incidence of disease in several populations.

Significance to humans

Domestication of the cat can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, some 7,000–4,000 years ago. The distinctive upright, long-legged posture of sitting cats in Egyptian paintings suggests it was the African version of the wildcat that gave rise to today's domestic tabby. Wildcats were undoubtedly attracted to the granaries and fields of early settlement, where they performed a valuable service preying on rodents and would have grown used to human contact. African, Asian, and old Germanic tribes have also revered the cat. Mohammed called the cat his favorite animal, and the keeping of domestic cats spread across Africa and Asia with the spread of Islam.

Human fear and persecution of cats no doubt dates back to the prehistoric days of the saber-toothed tiger, which appears in cave paintings dating back tens of thousands of years. Our modern species of big cat still engender fear among communities living close by, with some justification—tigers, lions, and leopards have all been recorded as human-eaters. Human casualties are generally the result of accidental confrontations, or involve injured or sick animals, but in the Sunderbans swamps of India tigers have learned that fishermen and wood gatherers make easy prey, and several dozen people may fall victim in a single year.

A much more widespread cause of conflict with humans is predation on livestock. Although predation rates are usually fairly low, losses may be important to individual owners, especially in developing countries. Conservationists are looking at measures including culling of problem animals, improved anti-predator stock management, and paying compensation for lost livestock, to discourage large scale persecution of cats by farmers.

Cat pelts have been a symbol of status and power in cultures both ancient and modern. While international trade in the fur of endangered species has been reduced to relatively insignificant levels, domestic trade persists in some countries. Unlike animals such as fox or mink, cats killed for fur are entirely caught in the wild, and pelts are of high value compared with other species. Some conservationists have suggested that controlled harvesting, generating relatively high revenues from low level culling, could be one way of encouraging sustainable exploitation of cats.

Larger cat species have an economic value in attracting tourists to national and private reserves in Africa and India. Trophy hunting under quota is carried on in a number of African countries. In Botswana, selective hunting of "trophy" lions, usually by dominant males, is alleged to have caused social imbalance and inbreeding among prides. There has also been controversy in South Africa over "canned lion" hunts, where captive-bred lions habituated to people are "hunted" in enclosures or immediately after release.

Species accounts

List of Species

Lion
Tiger
Cheetah
Puma
Ocelot
Wild cat
Serval
Geoffroy's cat
Leopard
Jaguar
Snow leopard
Clouded leopard
Caracal
Eurasian lynx
Canada lynx
Iberian lynx
Bobcat

Lion

Panthera leo

subfamily

Pantherinae

taxonomy

Felis leo (Linnaeus, 1758), Africa. Asiatic subspecies, Panthera l. persica, once widespread in southwest Asia, now only in the Gir Forest, Gujarat, India.

other common names

French: Lion; German: Löwe; Spanish: León.

physical characteristics

Length 62–100 in (160–250 cm); tail 24–40 in (60–100 cm); weight 270–570 lb (120-260 kg). Males up to 50% larger than females. Uniform, short tawny coat, white form locally in South Africa. Black on back of ears. Spots on cubs may remain faintly visible on abdomen and legs of adults. Tufted tail. Blond to black mane in adult males, possibly serving as protection during fights, a signal of gender at distance, and an indication of fitness. Asiatic lion has less mane growth on top of head and longitudinal fold of skin running along belly.

distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding rainforest. Asiatic lion in Gir Forest, India.

habitat

Wide range, except tropical rainforest and interior of Sahara desert. Open woodland, and mixed areas of thick bush, scrub and grass are favored.

behavior

The most social of cats. Lion society is based on the pride, a group of related females and cubs. Pride size varies from two to 18 adult females depending on habitat and prey availability, but

is typically four to six. A single male or coalition of up to seven males, almost always unrelated to the females, holds tenure over the pride (sometimes several prides), excluding other males from mating. Pride membership is stable, but members often scatter in sub-groups throughout the range, especially when foraging, and individuals spend considerable time alone.

Prides are strongly territorial. Males mark territory by urine-marking and by roaring, usually at night, when the sound can travel 5 mi (8 km). They actively patrol the edges of territory, whereas females tend to stay nearer the center. Males face strong competition for pride tenure, and average tenure is only two to three years (larger coalitions last longer). Males are also highly social, and when not in tenure of a pride will form coalitions to hunt and scavenge together. Large coalitions are invariably related, but pairs and trios of males may be unrelated.

Lion density varies from 0.4 to 15 per 100 mi2 (250 per km2), linked to seasonal prey availability. A pride's home range usually varies from 8 to 200 mi2 (20 to 500 km2), but can be more than 800 mi2 (2,000 km2) in arid zones.

feeding ecology and diet

Medium to large ungulates, including buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, and waterbuck make up bulk of diet, but lions will take a wide range of prey from small rodents and birds to young rhinos, hippos and elephant. Asiatic lions prey largely on deer and livestock. Lions also frequently scavenge.

Most hunting nocturnal, but may ambush prey in daytime at waterholes in dry season. Females do most of the hunting, males tackling larger, slower prey such as giraffe or buffalo. Will hunt cooperatively, fanning out to partially surround prey, but more often only one or two lions hunt, while the remainder watch. Lions can only reach 36 mph (58 kph), so rely on stalking to within range of a short dash. They kill prey by suffocation, clamping their strong jaws on an animal's wind-pipe or muzzle.

Only one in four hunts are successful, with moonless nights best. Lions eat communally, but males take the "lion's share" of the food before lionesses are allowed to eat, then cubs last of all. In lean times, cubs frequently die of starvation. Lions need about up to 15 lb (7 kg) of food per day, but feeding is often irregular and a male may eat 110 lb (50 kg) at one time.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Breeding largely non-seasonal. Females are sexually mature at three to four years. Mating occurs about three times per hour for several days, and a female may mate with more than one pride male. Gestation around 110 days, litter size one to six. Cub mortality can be very high, up to 75% in first year if prey is scarce. Cubs start to eat meat after three months, but nurse until six months. Males leave the pride at two to four years old (earlier if forced out by a pride takeover), most females remain in the pride.

Males that take over a pride will attempt to kill young cubs (though mothers often hide them successfully), to ensure their own chance of fathering offspring during their brief pride tenure. Females show a burst of heightened sexual activity (but are infertile) for three months following a takeover, attracting other males and increasing competition for tenure, to ensure the fittest males breed. Once pride males are established, females often breed synchronously, which increases cub survival rate. Females may also rear young communally, and cubs suckle freely from lactating females.

conservation status

Classed as Vulnerable by IUCN. Panthera l. persica is Critically Endangered, with only around 250 mature animals. Lions are heavily persecuted outside of protected areas and loss of habitat and prey base is contributing to population decline. Total population may be less than 10,000 breeding individuals, with no one population larger than 1,000.

significance to humans

Lions are depicted in the art of many ancient cultures, including European cave paintings from more than 30,000 years ago. Numerous African cultures still believe in the magical and healing properties of lion body parts. The extinct Barbary lion featured in the circuses of ancient Rome.

Where lions conflict with domestic stock, they are vulnerable to poisoned carcasses and trapping and problem animals may be legally shot in some countries. Lions may also pose a threat to human life, turning man-eater if old, injured, or when prey is scarce.

Regulated trophy hunting is allowed in a number of countries, mainly in southern Africa. Preferential shooting of large trophy males is claimed to have adversely affected population dynamics in some locations, with evidence of inbreeding as a result.


Tiger

Panthera tigris

subfamily

Pantherinae

taxonomy

Felis tigris (Linnaeus, 1758), Asia. Five subspecies survive: the Bengal tiger (Panthera t. tigris) in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Nepal; the Amur tiger (Panthera t. altaica) in Russia, China, and North Korea; the south China tiger (Panthera t. amoyensis) in China; the Sumatran tiger (Panthera t. sumatrae) in Sumatra; and the Indo-Chinese tiger (Panthera t. corbetti) in China and Southeast Asia. Three other subspecies have become extinct since the 1950s.

other common names

French: Tigre; German: Tiger; Spanish: Tigre.

physical characteristics

Length 75–150 in (190–310 cm); tail 28–40 in (70–100 cm); weight 140–670 lb (65–306 kg). The largest cat, with an unmistakable reddish brown to yellow-ochre coat, with black stripes and white belly. Indian and Russian tigers are larger than island races. Males have a prominent ruff. White tigers are very rare in the wild, zoo specimens all descend from just two wild animals.

distribution

Scattered populations in India, from Bangladesh to Myanmar, and in Sumatra, China, and far eastern Russia.

habitat

Varied, including tropical evergreen and deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, tall grass jungles, and temperate coniferous and birch woodland. Dense vegetative cover, sufficient large prey species and water are all essential.

behavior

Usually solitary but not anti-social, males sometimes associate with females when feeding or resting, as well as to breed. Territorial, both males and females defending territory against intruders of the same sex. Scent-mark to advertise territorial ownership.

Ranges vary with prey density, and are larger for males which need access to females to mate with. In prey-rich parks such as Kanha, India, a female's range may be only 4 mi2 (10 km2) and a male's only 12 mi2 (30 km2), whereas in far eastern Russia females may need 160 mi2 (400 km2), and males up to 400 mi2 (1,000 km2).

feeding ecology and diet

Hunts mainly between dusk and dawn, usually alone. Prey includes deer species, wild pigs, and gaur, occasionally young elephants and rhino, and small species such as monkeys, birds, reptiles, and fish. Also carrion. Large prey are stalked from the rear, then attacked in a rush and killed with a throat hold or bite to the back of the neck. Tigers are strong and willing swimmers and will chase deer into water. Prey is dragged to cover after being killed. Hunts are often unsuccessful but large prey is taken about once a week. A tiger may eat up to 90 lb (40 kg) of meat at a time, returning to the kill for up to six days.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Females reach sexual maturity at three to four years, males at four to five. An estrous female advertises by roaring and increased scent-marking. The territorial male retains exclusive breeding rights with females in his territory, so long as he can guard it. A male which takes over territory may kill cubs fathered by another male, bringing the mother into estrus.

Mating may happen 40 times over four days. Tigers are not seasonal breeders, but mating peaks in November–April. Gestation 103 days, litter one to seven, usually two or three. Cubs are born blind and helpless and are kept in hiding for at least a month. Mortality is high, around one third of cubs not surviving their first year, mainly due to infanticide. Cubs are taken to kills at six months but are not independent until at least 18 months.

conservation status

Classified as Endangered by the IUCN. An estimated population of 100,000 a century ago has shrunk to perhaps fewer than 2,500, and the south China subspecies verges on extinction. Habitat loss, poaching for trophy skins and traditional medicines, and prey depletion due to unsustainable human hunting are the main threats. Conservation measures include preserving habitat "corridors," allowing tigers to move between increasingly fragmented populations, and habitat restoration schemes involving giving incentives to local people to protect land.

significance to humans

International legislation partially banning trade in tiger products has been only partly successful, and there is still huge demand for tiger parts for use in traditional medicine and for skins as trophies in countries such as Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Greatly reduced tiger numbers mean human deaths from attacks are now rarer, but dozens of people are still killed in some areas, especially India's Sunderbans reserve, where fishermen and wood collectors are vulnerable to humaneaters. Tigers also kill livestock, earning retaliation in the form of poisoned carcasses.


Cheetah

Acinonyx jubatus

subfamily

Acinonychinae

taxonomy

Felis jubata (Schreber, 1775), South Africa. Two subspecies, African cheetah (Acinonyx j. jubatus) and Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx j. venaticus). The king Cheetah, a mutant form with spots along the spine joined together into stripes, was formerly incorrectly described as a separate species, Acinonyx rex. Cheetahs show a very low level of genetic variation, suggesting they all descend from a very small population bottleneck 10,000 years ago.

other common names

French: Guépard; German: Gepard; Spanish: Guepardo, chita.

physical characteristics

Length 44–53 in (112–135 cm); tail 26–33 in (66–84 cm); weight 86-143 lb (39–65 kg). Slight physique, long legs, small head and deep, narrow chest built for speed. Flexible spine increases stride length, non-retractile claws give traction, and long tail helps balance the animal when running. Most claws are blunt, but prominent dew claws used to trip running prey are sharp. Coat is tawny, with small, round black spots. "Tear stripes" on face.

distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and Iran.

habitat

Savanna, dry forest. Ideal habitat includes some cover, or broken ground.

behavior

Adult females solitary except when with cubs, males solitary or in small coalitions (usually related). Females are nomadic,

ranging over areas up to 560 mi2 (1,500 km2). Some males territorial, urine marking and defending a territory of around 5–60 mi2 (12–150 km2). Other males nomadic, roaming over areas of up to 300 mi2 (780 km2). Nomads may gain territories, especially if they form a coalition, or may remain nomadic all their life. Population density ranges from 1 per 80 mi2 (200 km2) to 1 per 2.5 mi2 (6 km2) linked to prey availability and competition from other predators.

Scent marking is the most important form of communication for male and female cheetahs. Mothers and cubs communicate with chirping or yelping calls. Cheetahs also snarl, growl and hiss in anger or fear, and purr in contentment.

feeding ecology and diet

Diet mainly medium-sized antelope, also hares and small mammals. Hunt in daytime, stalking to within 100 ft (30 m) before sprinting at prey. Capable of speeds of at least 60 mph (95 kph), but cheetahs have little stamina and after 550 yd (500 m) are exhausted. Most chases last only 20–60 seconds and rarely exceed 200 yd (190 m). About half are successful. Prey killed by suffocating throat-hold. Cheetahs are often driven off kills by larger predators.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Breed year round, but mating peaks after rains. Females advertise estrous by scent marking. Gestation 90–98 days, litter size one to six (usually three or four). Cubs are kept hidden until eight weeks old, then accompany the mother and start on solid food. Weaned after 3–4 months, but dependent on mother until 14–18 months. Cubs mortality is very high—two thirds do not reach independence, more where other large predators, the main cause of infant mortality, are numerous. After independence cubs stay together for six months, then females leave to live a solitary life, while brothers stay together for life.

conservation status

Classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. African population estimated at below 10,000 breeding adults. Habitat loss, prey depletion and human persecution are the main threats. The Iranian and North African populations are Critically Endangered, with as few as 250 remaining. Cheetahs formerly ranged through the Near East into India, where they became extinct in 1950s.

significance to humans

Cheetahs are not dangerous to man, but do take livestock, especially where natural prey levels are reduced, and they are persecuted by farmers. However, in Namibia, cheetahs have benefited from the removal of lions and hyena from cattle ranches. Cheetahs do not flourish where lions are numerous, as lions prey on cubs and steal kills, so formal reserves are often not ideal for cheetah conservation. Controlled trophy hunting has been allowed to encourage farmers to conserve cheetah. Other conservation efforts include using guard dogs to protect stock.


Puma

Puma (Felis) concolor

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis concolor (Linnaeus, 1771), Brazil. Subspecies include eastern cougar (Puma c. cougar) and Florida cougar (Puma c. coryi).

other common names

English: Cougar, mountain lion, catamount, panther; French: Puma; German: Puma, Silberlöwe; Spanish: Léon, léon colorado, léon de montaña.

physical characteristics

Length 41–77 in (105–196 cm); tail 26–31 in (67–78 cm); weight 75–264 lb (34–120 kg). Slender body, large feet, and long hind legs. Silvery gray to tawny to reddish coat, unpatterned. Faint horizontal lines sometimes on forelegs. Melanistic (black) forms common.

distribution

Southern Canada to Patagonia. Pumas have a very broad latitudinal range encompassing a diverse array of habitats from arid desert to tropical rainforest to cold coniferous forest.

habitat

Very diverse, from arid desert to tropical forest to cold coniferous forest, from sea level to 19,000 ft (5,800 m) in the Andes.

behavior

Primarily nocturnal with activity peaks at dawn and dusk. Home range 13–410 mi2 (32–1,031 km2), with male range at least 100 mi2 (260 km2) and encompassing several slightly overlapping female ranges. Males make scrapes in prominent locations and along boundaries of home ranges. Population density varies from one to 17 per 100 mi2 (260 km2). Mountain-living pumas may follow ungulate prey to lower altitudes in summer. Pumas cannot roar, but have a distinctive call like a woman's scream, probably associated with courtship.

feeding ecology and diet

Diet very varied, from insects, birds and small rodents to capybara, porcupine, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and moose. Deer and other large ungulates are main prey in North America. Large kills often covered with soil and vegetation, and returned to later.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Breed year round, but in north of range most births in warmer months. In the Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile, all known births took place between February and June. Gestation 90 to 96 days, litter one to six (usually two or three). Sexually mature at 24 months, but females do not breed until they have established a territory.

conservation status

Classified as Lower Risk/Near Threatened by IUCN. Remaining eastern populations, including the Florida panther, are considered Critically Endangered. The Florida panther is down to a few dozen individuals and subject to inbreeding and severe genetic abnormality and pumas from Texas are being translocated to this state to increase the population's viability. Pumas have been eliminated from most of their former range in eastern North America by prey reduction, forest clearance and persecution. The spread of deer has led to pumas colonizing new areas such as the Great Basin Desert.

significance to humans

Pumas take calves and sheep and are persecuted by ranchers. Attacks on people, although infrequent, have increased as pumas now occur very close to settled areas in western North America.


Ocelot

Leopardus (Felis) pardalis

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis pardalis (Linnaeus, 1758), Mexico.

other common names

French: Ocelot; German: Ozelot; Spanish: Tigrillo, ocelote, gato onza.

physical characteristics

Length 26–38 in (65–97 cm); tail 11–16 in (27–40 cm); weight 18–35 lb (8.5–16 kg). Ocher to orange yellow coat in forest animals, grayer in arid scrub, striped and spotted black, white underside. Ringed tail.

distribution

Southeast Texas to north Argentina.

habitat

Varied, including tropical forest, savanna, marshes, mangroves. Needs dense cover. Tolerates disturbed habitat and human settlement.

behavior

Territorial and strongly nocturnal. An excellent climber and swimmer. Homes range of 0.8 to 12 mi2 (2 to 31 km2), depending on habitat. Population also includes significant numbers of nonbreeding transients.

feeding ecology and diet

Small mammals, birds, reptiles. Prey varies seasonally, may take spawning fish and land crabs in wet season. May follow prey odor trails.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Gestation 79–85 days, litter one to three. Young independent at one year, but may be tolerated in adult's range for another year.

conservation status

Not listed by IUCN. Hunting and trapping severely reduced populations in some parts of range, but populations may now be recovering and recolonizing.

significance to humans

Heavily exploited for fur trade from early 1960s to mid-1970s, when up to 200,000 a year were trapped. International trade fell from mid-70s and ceased in late 1980s.


Wild cat

Felis silvestris

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis (Catus) silvestris Schreber, 1775, Germany. Up to 26 sub-species have been claimed. Four groups are commonly recognized, including the domestic cat (Felis s. catus), the African wild cat group (Felis s. lybica), the forest cats of Europe (silvestris group), and the steppe cats (ornata group) of south and central Asia. European form is oldest, descended from Martelli's cat (Felis [silvestris] lunensis) 250,000 years ago. African wildcat diverged only 20,000 years ago. Domestic cat derived from African form 4,000 to 7,000 years ago.

other common names

French: Chat silvestre, chat sauvage; German: Wildkatze; Spanish: Gato montés, gato silvestre.

physical characteristics

Length 20–31 in (50–80 cm); tail 11–14 in (28–35 cm); weight 6.5–13 lb (3–6 kg). Medium brown, striped black or brown. African wild cat appears lighter built than European wild cat, because fur is thinner, and has less distinct markings and thin, tapering tail. African wild cat difficult to distinguish from domestic cat. Asiatic wild cat more grayish yellow or reddish, with small black or red-brown spots, sometimes fused into stripes.

distribution

Western Europe to India, Africa. Domestic cat introduced worldwide.

habitat

Very varied, including open forest, savanna, steppe, deserts. Absent from tropical rainforest. Mainly forest in Europe, scrub desert in Asia.

behavior

Solitary, territorial, primarily nocturnal, especially in hot environments or near human settlement. Also active in early morning and late afternoon. Home ranges from 0.8 to 3.3 mi2 (2.1 to 8.3 km2) for males, and from 0.5 to 1.5 mi2 (1.3 to 2.3 km2) for females, with males overlapping several female ranges.

feeding ecology and diet

Small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects. Rabbits or rodents are main prey items where they occur. Will cache its kills.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Gestation 63–68 days, litter one to eight (usually three to six). Kittens independent at ten months.

conservation status

Not listed by IUCN. Hybridization with domestic cats is leading to increased rarity of pure wild cats, surviving only in remote, protected areas. European wild cats eradicated from much of Europe in eighteenth century, but have re-colonized some countries. There is controversy over whether pure wild cats still exist in Europe, and over whether this really matters, given the small difference between domestic and wild cats. European reintroduction projects have had mixed results. Russian population decreasing. Other threats include habitat and population fragmentation, road kills, disease transmitted by feral cats.

significance to humans

See family account for history of domestication. Asiatic wildcats were trapped in large numbers in past, but at present there is little international trade in their pelts. Introduced feral cats have had disastrous consequences for the indigenous small mammals and ground birds of Australia and other islands.


Serval

Leptailurus (Felis) serval

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis serval (Schreber, 1776), South Africa.

other common names

French: Serval, chat-tigre, lynx tacheté; German: Serval Katze; Spanish: Serval.

physical characteristics

Length 26–39 in (67–100 cm); tail 14–16 in (35–40 cm); weight 20–40 lb (9–18 kg). Slim, long legged, tall cat, adapted to hunting in long grass. Elongated neck, small head, tall ears with very acute hearing. Pale yellow coat marked with solid black spots along sides and bars on neck and shoulders. Black servals widely recorded.

distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa. Isolated relict populations may remain in North Africa.

habitat

Well-watered long grass savanna, reed beds and riparian vegetation. Found in alpine grasslands up to 12,795 ft (3,900 m) in Kenya.

behavior

Largely crepuscular or nocturnal, but may hunt in daytime, especially in cool conditions. Home range 3.7 to 7.7 mi2 (9.5 to 20 km2) for females, 4.4 to 12.4 mi2 (11.5 to 32 km2) for males, ranges may overlap. Both sexes urine mark, and rub saliva on grass or ground. Males territorial.

feeding ecology and diet

Small mammals, especially rodents. Also birds, reptiles, frogs, fish and insects. Locates prey in tall grass or reeds by hearing. Stalks then pounces with characteristic high leap. May leap to bat birds and insects from the air.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Non-seasonal breeders, but births peak in wet season. Gestation 70–79 days, litter one to five (usually two or three). Kittens independent by 6–8 months but females may stay in mother's home range for over a year. Males are driven away.

conservation status

Not threatened.

significance to humans

Servals adapt well to agricultural development where predation on rodents benefits farmers. Occasionally kill domestic poultry, but not a significant problem. Serval pelts are traded, but more for ritual use or tourist trade than international commerce.


Geoffroy's cat

Oncifelis (Felis) geoffroyi

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis geoffroyi (d'Orbigny and Gervais, 1844), Patagonia.

other common names

English: Geoffroy's ocelot; French: Chat de Geoffroy; German: Geoffroykatze, Kleinfleckkatze, Salzkatze; Spanish: Gato de mato, gato montés, gato de las salinas.

physical characteristics

Length 18–28 in (45–70 cm); tail 10–14 in (26–35 cm); weight 4.5–10.5 lb (2–4.8 kg). Coat silver-gray to brownish yellow with uniform small black spots. Melanistic form fairly common.

distribution

Bolivia to Patagonia.

habitat

Varied. Upland forest and scrub, pampas grassland, alpine saline desert. Prefers dense, scrubby vegetation.

behavior

Strong climber and swimmer, primarily nocturnal. Home range around 4 mi2 (10 km2) for males, 1.5 mi2 (4 km2) for females. Female ranges overlap, males do not.

feeding ecology and diet

Birds, small mammals, and fish. May cache kills in trees.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Gestation 72–78 days, litter two or three. Sexually mature at 18 months (female), two years (male).

conservation status

Classified as Lower Risk/Near Threatened by IUCN. Previously described as most common of the small cats throughout its range, but fur trade in the late 1960s and early 1970s may have severely reduced the population—350,000 skins were exported from Argentina in four years.

significance to humans

International fur trade has declined, but domestic markets in some South American countries remain important. Commercial hunting largely superceded by pelts from cats killed as pests. Geoffroy's cat will take small livestock.


Leopard

Panthera pardus

subfamily

Pantherinae

taxonomy

Felis pardus (Linnaeus, 1758), Egypt. The African subspecies (Panthera p. pardus) occurs over most of the leopard's range. Six other subspecies are in small or isolated populations, most now critically at risk: the Amur leopard (Panthera p. orientalis); Anatolian leopard (Panthera p. tulliana); Barbary Leopard (Panthera p. panthera) of North Africa; south Arabian leopard (Panthera p. nimr); Zanzibar leopard (Panthera p. adersi); and Sinai leopard (Panthera p. jarvisi).

other common names

English: Panther; French: Léopard, panthére; German: Leopard, panther; Spanish: Leopardo, pantera.

physical characteristics

Length 40–75 in (100–190 cm); tail 28–37 in (70–95 cm); weight 66–155 lb (30–70 kg). Massive skull, powerful jaws, short, powerful limbs. Coat varies from pale yellow to deep gold or tawny, patterned with black rosettes. Head, lower limbs and belly spotted with solid black. Black leopards are a melanistic variation.

distribution

The most widely distributed of wild cats, found in most of sub-Saharan Africa and in south Asia, with scattered populations in North Africa, and the Middle and Far East.

habitat

Any habitat with some cover, prey, and annual rainfall above 0.3 in (50 mm), from tropical rainforest to desert, at altitudes up to 18,700 ft (5,700 m).

behavior

Highly adaptable but secretive. Males almost entirely solitary, females solitary or with cubs. Males defend territories which they declare by scent marking and roaring. The leopard's roar is a rough rasp, like a handsaw cutting wood, also used by females to attract mates or call cubs. A male's range may be anywhere from 7 to 440 mi2 (18–1,150 km2), depending on prey availability. Females have smaller ranges, 4–190 mi2 (10–480 km2), which often overlap.

feeding ecology and diet

Diet exceptionally broad, from dung beetles to eland. Medium-sized ungulates are the main target of hunts, but rodents, birds, hares, primates, and arthropods are taken opportunistically and leopards also scavenge. Leopards hunt alone, mainly at night, relying on stealth to stalk and ambush prey, rarely chasing, despite being capable of speeds up to 36 mph (60 kph). Large kills are sometimes cached in trees—the leopard is a powerful climber.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Breeds year round, but birth peaks may coincide with the birth season of main prey animals. Gestation 90–105 days, litter size one to six cubs (usually one to two). First year mortality rate up to 50%. Cubs are hidden at first, follow their mother at 6–8 weeks, and are weaned from three months, but are not independent until 18–22 months. They then disperse, but females may settle in a range overlapping the mother's. There are strong maternal bonds, and offspring often have reunions with mothers.

conservation status

African leopard is not listed by the IUCN. Four subspecies (south Arabian, Anatolian, Amur, and Barbary leopards) are Critically Endangered, the Zanzibar leopard is possibly extinct. Inbreeding, loss of prey base, and human persecution are the main threats.

significance to humans

Trade in leopard skins during the 1970s and '80s raised fears about survival of the species, but changing public opinion about fur and trade controls imposed by CITES led to a market collapse. Hunting for skin and loss of prey to the bushmeat trade continues to affect numbers in West Africa, but elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa the leopard population seems generally buoyant despite pressure from habitat degradation and persecution by farmers. Leopards take livestock where natural prey is depleted and occasionally kill humans. Trophy hunting by quota is allowed in some countries.


Jaguar

Panthera onca

subfamily

Pantherinae

taxonomy

Felis onca (Linnaeus, 1758), Central America.

other common names

French: Jaguar; German: Jaguar; Spanish: Tigre, tigre real, yaguar.

physical characteristics

Length 44–73 in (112–185 cm); tail 18–30 in (45–75 cm); weight 125–250 lb (57–113 kg). Similar in appearance to leopard. Massive head and strong canines. Yellowish brown coat, marked with dark rosettes around small black spots. Black spots on belly, pale chest. Melanistic (black) forms common. Tail ringed black near to tip.

distribution

Patagonia to southwest United States.

habitat

Dense forest, swamps, open grassland, deciduous forest. Strongly associated with water.

behavior

Solitary, mainly nocturnal, but often active in daytime. Can roar, but more commonly heard grunting or coughing when hunting, snarling or growling when threatened. Excellent swimmer. Territory 10–60 mi2 (25–150 km2), linked to prey availability.

feeding ecology and diet

Deer, peccaries, tapirs, monkeys, birds, rodents, fish, frogs. Mainly hunts large prey, but takes smaller items opportunistically. The only big cat which regularly kills prey by piercing skull with canines. Massive head and strong canines enable jaguars to crack open tortoises and turtles.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Gestation 95–110 days, litter one to four. Cubs independent after 18–24 months. Females sexually mature at two to three years, males at three to four.

conservation status

Classified as Lower Risk/Near Threatened by IUCN. Now virtually eliminated from much of drier northern range in the United States, and pampas scrub of Agrentina and Uruguay. Deforestation and fragmentation of forest habitats pose a threat in central America.

significance to humans

Jaguars takes cattle as a significant portion of their diet in some parts, and are heavily persecuted by cattle ranchers. Commercial trade in skins has become insignificant since CITES trade ban of 1975.


Snow leopard

Uncia (Panthera) uncia

subfamily

Pantherinae

taxonomy

Felis uncial (Schreber, 1775), Persia.

other common names

English: Ounce; French: Panthére des nieges, léopard des nieges, once; German: Schneeleopard, Irbis; Spanish: Leopardo nival, pantera de las nieves.

physical characteristics

Length up to 51 in (130 cm); tail 31–39 in (80–100 cm); weight 77–120 lb (350–55 kg). Highly adapted to extreme conditions. Well-developed chest muscles, short forelimbs, thick tail to keep balance. Enlarged nasal cavity warms air passing into body. Thick coat up to 5 in (12 cm) long, with dense, woolly underfur. Coat color smoky gray, tinged yellow, with dark gray rosettes and black spots. Molts twice a year.

distribution

Central Asia, from Himalayas to Mongolia and south Russia.

habitat

Alpine steppe, grassland, scrub, open conifer forest, from 3,000 to 18,000 ft (900–5,500 m). Steep, broken terrain preferred. Can endure temperatures of −40°F (−40°C) to 104°F (40°C).

behavior

Solitary. Home ranges 12–25 mi2 (20–40 km2) in good habitat, up to 400 mi2 (1,000 km2) in Mongolia. Male and female ranges overlap, but animals avoid one another except when female in estrous. Paths marked with scrapes, feces and scent-sprays.

feeding ecology and diet

Ibex and blue sheep are main prey. Also goats, deer, livestock, including young yak, sheep and horses. Marmots and hares in summer. Stalks to within 40 yd (36 m) before rushing.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Mating season January–March. Females scent mark and make long wailing calls to advertise estrous. Gestation 98–104 days. Litter one to five (usually two to three), born in spring or early summer in a rocky den. Cubs dependent until 18–22 months.

conservation status

Classified as Endangered by the IUCN. Population estimated at below 2,500 breeding adults. Extremely rare in much of range and many reserves have unviably small populations. Prey population hunted out in many areas.

significance to humans

Hunted for fur and for bones and body parts, used as substitutes for tiger bones in traditional medicine. International trade in pelts now virtually ceased, but domestic trade may still be a problem. Predation on livestock locally significant.


Clouded leopard

Neofelis nebulosa

subfamily

Pantherinae

taxonomy

Felis nebulosa (Griffith, 1821), China.

other common names

French: Panthére longibande, panthére nébuleuse; German: Nebelparder; Spanish: Pantera longibanda, pantera nebulosa.

physical characteristics

Length 24–43 in (60–110 cm); weight 24–44 lb (11–20 kg). Silvery gray to tawny coat, marked with distinctive cloud-shaped ellipses of darker color, edged in black, sometimes with black spots. Large black ovals on limbs and underbelly, two black bars on back of neck. Tail black-ringed, long and large, up to 24–35 in (60–90 cm). Short legs. Very long, sharp canine teeth.

distribution

South China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Indochina, Sumatra, and Borneo.

habitat

Tropical rainforest, dry tropical forest, mangrove swamps, and tall grassland.

behavior

Very secretive, mainly nocturnal. Excellent climber, uses trees mainly for resting, not hunting. Swims well. Density one per 2.5–9 mi2 (4–14 km2).

feeding ecology and diet

Birds, primates, small mammals, porcupines, deer, and wild boar.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Gestation 90–100 days, litter size one to five (usually three). Cubs probably independent by nine months. Both sexes sexually mature at two years.

conservation status

Classified as Vulnerable by IUCN. Population estimated at less than 10,000 breeding adults. Deforestation is most serious threat. Status unclear in many range countries.

significance to humans

Widely hunted illegally for pelt, teeth and bones for decorative use and in traditional medicine.


Caracal

Caracal (Felis) caracal

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis caracal (Schreber, 1776), South Africa

other common names

English: Desert lynx; French: Caracal: German: Caracal, Wüstenluchs; Spanish: Caracal, lince africano.

physical characteristics

Length 22–35 in (55–90 cm); tail 9–13 in (22–34 cm); weight 35–48 lb (16–22 kg). Uniform tawny brown to brick-red coat. Short face, large ears with black backs and 2 in (5 cm) black tufts. Dark facial markings on cheeks and above eyes, edged with white. Very long legs, with high hindquarters and big feet.

distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia from Arabia to northern India, and Russia.

habitat

Dry savanna and woodland, especially scrubby, arid habitat. Rarely in evergreen and montane forest.

behavior

Solitary, territorial. Predominantly nocturnal, but also seen in daytime. Agile climber. Home ranges of males 12–26 mi2 (31–65 km2), females 1.5–12 mi2 (4–31 km2).

feeding ecology and diet

Rodents, hares, hyraxes, small antelope and deer, and birds. Can take antelope up to size of young kudu, suffocating them with a throat bite. May (rarely) cache kill in tree. Can leap high to knock birds out of the air.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Breeds year round, gestation 62–81 days, litter one to four. Kittens begin eating meat after 4–6 weeks, weaned at 4–6 months.

conservation status

Not listed by the IUCN. Population stable or expanding (in South Africa and Namibia local removal of jackals by farmers may benefit caracal).

significance to humans

Once trained in India and Persia to catch game birds and deer. Thousands are killed because of predation on small livestock, especially in southern Africa. However, caracals quickly recolonize farmland. Hunting for skin and bushmeat may be a threat in west and central Africa.


Eurasian lynx

Lynx (Felis) lynx

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis lynx (Linnaeus, 1758), Sweden.

other common names

French: Lynx; German: Luchs; Spanish: Lince.

physical characteristics

Length 32–51 in (80–130 cm); tail 2–7 in (5–19 cm); weight 17–68 lb (8–31 kg). Light grayish brown coat with dark spots, striped or unpatterned. Black-tipped tail, long, black ear tufts, two tassels on throat. Paws large are padded with thick fur, acting as "snowshoes."

distribution

Western Europe to Siberia, central Asia to Himalayas.

habitat

Cold coniferous forest and thick scrub in Europe and Siberia. Rocky hills and mountains of Central Asian deserts.

behavior

Most active at dawn and dusk. Population density varies considerably with prey availability but may reach 46 per 100 mi2 (250 km2) in optimal conditions. Male home range typically 100 mi2 (260 km2), female range 66 mi2 (168 km2). Males visit borders of territory regularly, females spend most time in core areas. Males may share range with just one female and offspring.

feeding ecology and diet

Rodents, hares, blue sheep, deer. Take prey up to four times their own size, including red deer and reindeer. Larger ungulates most often killed in winter, when snow restricts their movement. Forage over wide areas.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Gestation 60–74 days. Litter one to five.

conservation status

Considered Lower Risk/Near Threatened by IUCN. Very widely distributed but locally rare in many places. In Europe almost eradicated from all but the north and east, but populations have been reintroduced in several parts of Western Europe. Main threats are destruction of ungulate prey base, hunting pressure, and deforestation.

significance to humans

More than 5,000 may be trapped for fur in Russia in some years. Russia and China have set export quotas. Impact of furtrapping difficult to quantify. Stock losses have been a problem with lynx reintroductions to Western Europe, but are compensated by government or environmental groups.


Canada lynx

Lynx (Felis) canadensis

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis Lynx canadensis Kerr, 1792, Canada. Probably descended from Eurasian lynx, which migrated into North America during glacial period.

other common names

French: Lynx du Canada; German: Kanadaluchs; Spanish: Lince del Canada.

physical characteristics

27–43 in (70–110 cm); tail 2–6 in (5–16 cm); 11–37 lb (5–17 kg). Reddish-brown to gray coat, with "frosted" appearance. Flared facial ruff, black ear tufts, long hind legs. Large, spreading feet act like snowshoes.

distribution

North America, especially Canada and Alaska.

habitat

Boreal forest.

behavior

Male home range 1.6–90 mi2 (4–225 km2), female range 1.6–43 mi2 (4–107 km2). Population densities fluctuate dramatically with prey cycle. In good quality habitat varies from 7–93 per 100 mi2 (250 km2). Male ranges usually include female range and may overlap with other males. Males are unusually tolerant of independent offspring.

feeding ecology and diet

Very close predator-prey relationship with snowshoe hare. Lynx population peaks one to two years after the cyclic 10-year peak in hare numbers. Lynx density can differ by 15-fold between highs and lows of cycle. Breeding rate and success dips as hare numbers decline, but reproduction increases as hare population recovers. Also preys on small rodents, birds and deer. May travel up to 750 mi (1,200 km) in search of patches of hare abundance.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Births mainly in May–June. Gestation 63–70 days, litter one to eight, largest when prey is abundant. Kittens independent at 10 months. Females may breed from ten months old if prey is abundant, usually in second year.

conservation status

Not listed by the IUCN. Locally endangered, but generally populations are healthy. Displaced in some areas by bobcat.

significance to humans

Easily trapped, but trapping for fur is now controlled to avoid seriously depleting populations during vulnerable parts of the hare cycle. Demand for pelts is declining.


Iberian lynx

Lynx (Felis) pardinus

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis pardina (Temminck, 1827), Portugal.

other common names

English: Pardel lynx; French: Lynx d'Espagne; German: Pardelluchs; Spanish: Lince Iberico.

physical characteristics

Length 25–39 in (65–100 cm); tail 2–8 in (5–19 cm); weight 11–28 lb (5–13 kg). Light brown coat marked with black spots on body, tail and limbs.

distribution

Spain and Portugal.

habitat

Woodland and scrub with areas of open pasture.

behavior

Primarily nocturnal, activity peak at dusk. Active in daytime more in winter. Male home range averages 7 mi2 (18 km2), female 4 mi2 (10 km2) in Coto Doñana National Park. No overlap between ranges of same sex animals, but male's range encompasses females' ranges.

feeding ecology and diet

Mainly rabbits, some birds, and deer.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Gestation 60 days, litter two to three. Births peak in March–April. Kittens independent at 7–10 months, but may remain in natal territory until two years. Females may breed at one year, but only if territory has been acquired.

conservation status

Critically Endangered. Population estimated at 1,200 adults and subadults, with only 200 breeding females. Populations small, isolated and majority considered unviable. Illegally trapped and shot, habitat lost to cultivation, and rabbit prey decimated by myxomatosis.

significance to humans

Persecuted for skin and meat for thousands of years. Spanish government placed bounty on species in early twentieth century. Now protected but illegally killed as livestock predator.


Bobcat

Lynx (Felis) rufus

subfamily

Felinae

taxonomy

Felis rufa (Schreber, 1776), New York State.

other common names

French: Lynx rous; German: Rotluchs, Luchskatz; Spanish: Lince, lince rojo, gato montés.

physical characteristics

Length 24–42 in (62–106 cm); tail 5–8 in (13–20 cm); weight 13–37 lb (6–17 kg). Heavily built with short tail. Light gray to reddish brown coat barred and spotted with black, white belly, black tip to tail. Ruff around face. Ears with short tufts.

distribution

Southern Canada to northern Mexico, mainly United States.

habitat

Varied. Rocky scree, broken terrain, conifer and mixed forest, thickets, swamps, and desert scrub.

behavior

Active day and night, but peak activity at dusk and dawn. Males home range 0.25–130 mi2 (0.6–326 km2), typically overlapping smaller ranges of several females. Density 1–38 adults per 10 mi2 (25 km2).

feeding ecology and diet

Rabbits and hares, rodents, deer, and large birds.

reproductive biology

Polygamous. Gestation 50–70 days, litter one to eight (usually two to three). Birth peaks in April–May. Females generally breed from second year, males from 18 months. Kittens independent from one year.

conservation status

Not listed by the IUCN. Populations generally healthy, but some concern over sustainability of heavy trapping.

significance to humans

In recent years the most heavily trapped and traded of cat species. Demand for fur rose in the 1960s and 1970s, especially after CITES restricted trade in other cat furs. Over 90,000 cats were killed annually at the peak, but trade is now declining due to lower demand and a European Community ban on import of furs caught by leghold traps. Bobcats occasionally raid poultry, but are not generally treated as pests, except in Mexico, where they kill sheep.

Common name / Scientific name / Other common names Physical characteristics Habitat and behavior Distribution Diet Conservation status
Bay cat Catopuma badia English: Bornean bay cat; Spanish: Gato de BorneoMay occur in two different colors: chestnut red or gray. Dark, rounded ears, whitish stripe running down ventral side of body. Head and body length 20.9–27.6 in (53– 70 cm), weight 6.6–11 lb (3–5 kg).Dense primary forests and areas of rocky limestone. Also seen in highland areas and near rivers. Nocturnal.Borneo.Includes small rodents and birds, carrion, and even monkeys.Endangered
Asiatic golden cat Catopuma temminckii Spanish: Gato dorado asiáticoColoration is dense, coarse, from golden brown, to red, to grayish brown. Underparts are white. Patter of black and white streaks marking face. Head and body length 28.7–41.3 in (73– 105 cm), tail length 16.9–22 lb (43–56 cm).Dry deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, and occasionally open habitats with rocky areas. Predominantly nocturnal, usually terrestrial, but capable of climbing trees. Litters of one to two offspring.Southeast Asia, from as far north as southern China, west to Nepal, east of Fukien in China, and south to Sumatra.Carnivorous. Diet consists of wild hares, small deer, birds, lizards, and other small animals. They have been known to kill sheep, goats, and buffalo calves.Not threatened
Chinese desert cat Felis bieti Spanish: Gato del desierto chinoColoration is yellowish gray in summer and darker brown in winter. Horizontal stripes on sides of body and legs, brown streaks across each cheek. Tail striped with 5–6 gray bands, black tip. Yellowish brown ears, tips specked with long hairs. Head and body length 26.8–33.1 in (68–84 cm), tail length 11.4–13.8 in (29–35 cm).Datong and Daban mountains around Xining, at elevations ranging from 9,190 to 13,450 ft (2,800–4,100 m). Preferred habitat is mountainous areas where cover is available, usually in the form of sparse trees and shrubs. Typically occupy alpine meadows and scrub, although they may occur marginally in deserts. Primarily nocturnal, not social, travel in packs. Males and females live separately.Southern Mongolia, central China.Rodents, such as mole-rats, pikas, and white-tailed voles. They also have been known to catch birds, including pheasants.Vulnerable
Jungle cat Felis chaus English: Swamp lynx; Spanish: Gato selváticoColoration is sandy gray to tawny brown, no distinctive markings. Tail has several dark rings, tipped in black. Head and body length 19.7–29.5 in (50–75 cm), tail length 9.8–11.4 in (25–29 cm).Wide variety of habitats, typically wet grasslands and reed thickets near stagnant or slowly flowing water. Solitary animals, active day and night. Competitors include leopards, wolves, red dogs, and hyenas.Volga River Delta and Egypt to Sinkiang and Indochina, Sri Lanka.Hares and other small mammals, ground birds, snakes, lizards, and frogs.Not threatened
Sand cat Felis margarita Spanish: Gato del desiertoColoration is pale sandy to gray straw in color. Back is darker, belly is white. Two reddish streaks on face. Tail has two or three rings and black tip. Head and body length 17.7–22.5 in (45–57.2 cm), tail length 11–13.7 in (28–34.8 cm).Desert biome, which include extremely arid conditions, especially involving loose soil (sand dunes). Two to four young per litter, no more than two litters annually. Solitary and nocturnal.Desert zones from Morocco and northern Niger to Soviet central Asia and Pakistan.Prey on rodents, hares, birds, and reptiles.Lower Risk/Near Threatened
Black-footed cat Felis nigripes Spanish: Gato de patas negrasColoration from dark ochre to pale ochre, covered with bold pattern of round dark brown to black spots, two stripes on each cheek, stripes on forelegs. Closely resembles house cat in shape. Average male length 16.7–19.7 in (42.5–50 cm), female 13.3–14.5 in (33.7–36.8 cm), average weight 2.2–4.4 lb (1–2 kg).Dry country of South Africa. Solitary, nocturnal, strong territorial system. One to three kittens born per litter.Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa.Mainly small prey, including various rodents, spiders, insects, and birds.Vulnerable
Jaguarundi Herpailurus yaguarondi Spanish: YaguarundíTwo color morphologies; 1. Coloration is gray, except for two white spots beside nose on upper life, and possibly some white on belly; 2. Coloration is reddish brown, except for white on throat and lips. Short legs, long body, long tail. Head and body length 23.6–27.6 in (60–70 cm), tail length 11.8–23.6 in (30–60 cm), weight 8.8–19.8 lb (4–9 kg).Lives near water, sleeps in natural dens under banks, in tall grasses, or in caves. Reproduce year round, producing typically two to three offspring per litter. Solitary, except when mating or raising young. Usually nocturnal, but can be diurnal.Southern Arizona and southern Texas, United States, to northern Argentina.Prey on many different animals, including frogs, rabbits, small deer, insects, reptiles, and fish; birds are its prey of choice. Willing to enter water to catch fish.Not threatened
Common name / Scientific name / Other common names Physical characteristics Habitat and behavior Distribution Diet Conservation status
Little spotted cat Leopardus tigrinus English: Tiger ocelot; Spanish: TigrilloColoration of upperparts is light to rich ochre with rows of large, dark spots. Underparts paler and less spotted. Tail has 10 to 11 rings and black tip. Head and body length 15.7–21.7 in (40–55 cm), tail length 9.8–15.7 in (25–40 cm).Forests. Habits in wild are not known. One or two young per litter.Costa Rica to northern Argentina.Usually consumes small rodents, frogs, rabbits, and birds of choice.Lower Risk/Near Threatened
Margay Leopardus wiedii Spanish: Gato tigreColoration tan, from grayish to cinnamon. Underparts are white. Dark brown spots for longitudinal rows. Petite, small, and slender. Head and body length 18.2–31.1 in (46.3–79 cm), tail length 13–20.1 in (33.1–51 cm), weight 5.7–8.6 lb (2.6– 3.9 kg).Tropical and subtropical forests. Active during day and night. Asocial, with temporary pair bonds formed during the breeding season. Home range size 5.8–16.6 mi2 (15–43 km 2).Northern Mexico and possibly southern Texas, United States, to northern Argentina and Uruguay.Terrestrial and arboreal mammals, birds and their eggs, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods, and fruit.Not threatened
Pampas cat Oncifelis colocoloColoration ranges from yellowish white and grayish yellow to brown, gray brown, silvery gray, and light gray. Bands of yellow or brown run from back to flanks. Two bars run from eyes to cheeks. Coat is long, tail is bushy, face is broad, ears are pointed. Head and body length 22.3– 27.6 in (56.7–70 cm), tail length 11.6– 12.7 in (29.5–32.2 cm).Open grassland in some areas, but also humid forests and mountainous regions. Nocturnal. Litters contain one to three young.Ecuador and Mato Grosso region of Brazil to central Chile and Patagonia.Mainly small mammals, especially guinea pigs and ground birds.Lower Risk/Near Threatened
Andean cat Oreailurus jacobita Spanish: ColocoloCoat is soft, fine, silvery gray with irregular brown or orange yellow spots and transverse stripes. Underparts are white and have black spots. Bushy tail, ringed with black to brown, lightly tipped. Head and body length 23.6 in (60 cm), tail length 13.8 in (35 cm).Arid and semiarid zone of Andes at elevations up to 16,400 ft (5,000 m). Nothing is known about the reproductive or social behavior of this species. They are most likely solitary.The Andes of southern Peru, southwestern Bolivia, northeastern Chile, and northwestern Argentina.Small mammals, such as chinchillas and viscachas.Endangered
Pallas's cat Otocolobus manul Spanish: Gato de PallasColoration is from light gray to yellowish buff and russet, frosted appearance. Two dark streaks across each side of head, four rings on dark-tipped tail. Long, dense coat. Massive body, short legs, short, broad head. Head and body length 19.7–25.6 in (50–65 cm), tail length 8.3–12.2 in (21–31 cm), weight 5.5–7.7 lb (2.5–3.5 kg).Steppes, deserts, and rocky country up to elevations over 13,120 ft (4,000 m). Usually nocturnal, but can be diurnal. Dens in caves, crevices, or burrows dug by other animals. Five to six young per litter.Caspian Sea and Iran to southeastern Siberia and Tibet.Pikas and other small mammals.Lower Risk/Near Threatened
Leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis Spanish: Gato de bengalaUpperparts pale tawny, underparts white. Body and tail covered with dark spots, tail is ringed toward tip, head is small, muzzle is short, ears are long and rounded. Head and body length 17.5–42.1 in (44.5–107 cm), tail length 9.1–17.3 in (23–44 cm), weight 6.6–15.4 lb (3–7 kg).Many kinds of forested habitat at both high and low elevations. Mainly nocturnal, but often seen during the day. One to four offspring per litter.Ussuri region of south-eastern Siberia, Manchuria, Korea, Quelpart and Tsushima Islands (between Korea and Japan), eastern China, Taiwan, Hainan, Pakistan to Indochina and Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo, and several islands in the western and central Philippines.Hares, rodents, young deer, birds, reptiles, and fish.Not threatened
African golden cat Profelis aurata Spanish: Gato dorado africanoColoration ranges form chestnut to fox red, fawn gray brown, silver gray, and blue gray to dark slaty. Underparts are white. Body covered with dark brown or dark gray dots, may vary. Long legs, small head, large paws. Head and body length 24.3–40 in (61.6–101.6 cm), tail length 6.3–18.1 in (16–46 cm), weight 2.1–6.3 lb (5.3–16 kg).Deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, and more open habitats at times. Usually terrestrial, no confirmed breeding season, one or two offspring per litter.Senegal to Kenya and northern Angola.Hares, small deer, birds, lizards, and domestic livestock.Vulnerable

Resources

Books

Nowell, Kristin, and Peter Jackson. Wild Cats: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (IUCN). Gland: IUCN, 1996.

Sunquist, M., and F. Sunquist. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Periodicals

Biswas, S., and K. Sankar. "Prey Abundance and Food Habit of Tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) in Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India." Journal of Zoology 256 (2002): 411–420.

Daniels, M. J., M. A. Beaumont, P. J. Johnson, D. Balharry, D. W. Macdonald, and E. Barratt. "Ecology and Genetics of Wild-living Cats in the North-east of Scotland and the Implications for the Conservation of the Wildcat." Journal of Applied Ecology 38, no. 1 (2001): 146–161.

Funston, P. J., M. G. L. Mills, and H. C. Biggs. "Factors Affecting the Hunting Success of Male and Female Lions in the Kruger National Park." Journal of Zoology 253 (2001): 419–431.

Gros, Paule M. "The Status and Conservation of the Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus in Tanzania." Biological Conservation 106, no. 2 (2002): 177–185.

Ogutu, J. O., and H. Dublin. "Demography of Lions in Relation to Prey and Habitat in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya." African Journal of Ecology 40 (2002): 120–129.

Riley, Shawn J., and R. A. Malecki. "A Landscape Analysis of Cougar Distribution and Abundance in Montana, USA." Environmental Management 28 (2001): 317–323.

Rodriquez, A., and M. Delibes. "Population Fragmentation and Extinction in the Iberian Lynx" Biological Conservation 109, no. 3 (2003): 321–331.

Organizations

Cheetah Conservation Foundation. P.O. Box 1380, Ojai, CA 93024 United States. Phone: (805) 640-0390. Fax: (805) 640-0230. E-mail: [email protected] Web site: <http://www.cheetah.org>

Florida Panther Society. Rt. 1, Box 1895, White Springs, FL 32096 United States. Phone: (386) 397-2945. E-mail: [email protected] Web site: <http://members.atlantic.net/oldfla/panther/panther.html>

International Snow Leopard Trust. 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103 United States. Phone: (206) 632-2421. E-mail: [email protected] Web site: <http://www.snowleopard.org>

IUCN Cat Specialist Group. Thunstrasse 31, Muri b, Bern, 3074 Switzerland. Phone: 41 (31) 951 9020. Fax: 41 (31) 951 9040. E-mail: [email protected] Web site: <http://lynx.uio.no/catfolk>

Mountain Lion Foundation. P.O. Box 1896, Sacramento, CA 95812 United States. Phone: (916) 442-2666. Fax: (916) 442-2871. E-mail: [email protected] Web site: <http://www.mountainlion.org>

Other

African Lion Working Group (IUCN). <http://www.african-lion.org>

Asiatic Lion Information Centre. <http://www.asiatic-lion.org>

Big Cats Online. <http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/agarman/bco/ver4.htm>

Carnivore Conservation. <http://www.carnivoreconservation.org>

Tiger Information Center. <http://www.5tigers.org>

WorldLYNX. <http://lynx.uio.no/jon/lynx/lynxhome.htm>

Ann and

Stephen B. Toon

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