Wild Cats Species Guide to Jaguars, Leopards, Cheetahs, Tigers, Lions and Pumas
Jaguars are the biggest of the wild cats on the American continent. The overall body size and coloration of the cat often relates to its location - those found in dense forested areas of the Amazon Basin are often only half the size of those found in more open terrain.
Jaguars range centers on the north and central parts of the South American continent. This wild cat is predominantly a forest dweller with the highest population densities centering on the lowland rain forests of the Amazon Basin.
They have a brownish/yellow base fur color marked with dark rosette markings with small dots or irregular shapes within the larger rosette markings.
Coloration of dense forest dwelling cats is often darker than those found in grassland and scrub forest. As with the darker coloration of rainforest leopards, the darker coats give better camouflage in the low light condition on the forest floor and offers the dark coated cat greater success in hunting and a greater chance of survival.
Unlike many other wild cats, this big cat has no rivals, no other predator can compete with this powerful cat. The main periods of hunting vary depending on location - in some areas which are close to human habitation it appears that the cat is most active at night.
The prey is extensive, taking full advantage of the diversity and dense concentration of animal species found in the rainforest areas. Its prey ranges from large animals such as cattle, horses, Marsh deer, Brocket deer, down through various species of Peccary, larger rodents, reptiles, monkeys and fish.
Its powerful jaws kill by piercing the skull of the prey with one bite. Where possible, the cat will inhabit areas close to water - it is an expert in catching fish and will often tackle turtles and large caiman, dragging them from he water to hide the carcass in the dense undergrowth. Equally at home as a climber, they will hunt monkeys in the lower branches of the large rain forest trees. In much of its range where man lives close by, this cat now has to compete with the human hunter and poacher who takes many of the same species.
During the sixties and seventies, around 18,000 of these animals were killed every year for their coat. Due to environmental pressure the fashion for animal furs has declined. Today the major threat comes from deforestation which is drastically affecting their prey base as well as fragmenting the cats population into more isolated pockets. It is estimated that there are now only 15,000 left in the wild and conservation is centering on the establishment of protected ‘National Park’ areas which may serve to reduce the decline of their natural habitat.
The leopard has a rosette-patterned coat and extremely long, dark tail. The largest of these wild cats growing to a length of 5 feet with an additional tail length of 3 feet. The base coloration of the coat varies greatly depending on location, ranging from golden/yellow in open grasslands, through yellow/cream in desert areas to deep gold in mountain and forest regions.
All black leopards, sometimes called Black Panthers, are born in the same litter and have the rosette markings, but these are masked by the darkness of the fur. It has been observed that the black panther is generally found in the dense, wet forested areas of India and south east Asia, where the black color gives advantages to the Black Panther in hunting.
The leopard is a versatile hunter and generally nocturnal, however the female raising young hunts during the day. The type of prey taken by the leopard is dependent largely upon its locale - in the open grasslands of Africa where roaming herds of large to medium sized herbivores are common the leopard will take young eland and wildebeest, impala and gazelle. Also, the leopard will also hunt small animals such as hares, rock hyrax and reptiles.
Amazing Cats The leopard commonly saves its prey high in the boughs of trees away from packs of scavenging hyenas. The powerful limb and neck muscles enable it to carry a fully grown male antelope or even young giraffe, often weighing up to three times its own body weight, high into the tree tops.
Once common in all parts of Africa apart from the deserts of the Sahara, it has now gone from most parts of northern Africa. Subspecies of the leopard in the Middle East are almost extinct, as is the Persian leopard. In south East Asia and India its numbers have dwindled mainly due to hunting for its prized fur and through loss of natural habit due to the spread of the human population. The Korean Leopard, also known as the Amur Leopard is extremely rare in the wild, suffering extensively from habitat loss.
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Cheetahs have long streamlined, muscular bodies and long, thin and powerful legs, giving these wild cats great speed. Cheetahs can reach speeds in excess of 60 mph and can outrun most animals over short distances. Its paws are narrow and hard padded and have slightly retractable claws, giving it extra grip in its high-speed pursuits.
Cheetahs do not roar, but purr and make other sounds ranging from high pitched yelps and barks to longer chirruping sounds.
Their hunting technique has been adapted to suit its speed and agility and unlike many other wild cats it hunts mainly by day. It will follow its prey from a distance, commonly a herds of gazelle, impala or antelope, selecting old, injured or young animals, whose speed will be impaired. Once selected, they will give chase and with its superior speed bring down its prey on the first attempt.
Their powerful jaw muscles enable the cat to grip its prey, without pause, for several minutes and it uses this to suffocate its catch by clamping the windpipe.They hunt alone and in groups, usually comprising of adult male relatives. Such hunting groups usually have much larger territories than the lone female hunter who stays close to her young.
Cubs, born between 2 and 4 to the litter, have a poor survival rate, commonly falling prey to lions or hyenas. After approximately 18 month following and learning from their mother, the young is ready to fend for itself.
The Asian is almost extinct and can only be found in a few remote areas of Iran and Afghanistan.
In Africa, with exploitation in hunting, their range has been reduced dramatically - now only the grasslands and plains of east and central Africa are home to its dwindling numbers.
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The male Siberian or Amur Tiger, with a total body length in excess of 10 ft and weighing up to 300 kg is the largest and most powerful member of the cat family!
The tiger's fur ranges from orange to brownish yellow with a white chest and belly is covered with broken vertical black/dark brown stripes.
The length of the fur is longer in the Amur tiger, which inhabits the colder forested regions of eastern Russia and northern China.
Males of all sub-species also exhibit longer fur in the form of a ‘ruff’ around the back of the head, especially pronounced in the Sumatran.
In general the tiger is a forest dweller but can also be found in grass land and swamp margins beyond woodland areas - they are never far from a source of water, are strong swimmers and have a particular love of bathing in pools and lakes in hotter regions.
These wild cats are nocturnal hunters although in protected areas away from human intervention the animal is often active during the day.
They prefers larger prey, such as wild boar, buffalo and deer, but also hunts fish, monkeys and various small mammals.
They are often regarded as cautious hunters, stalking as close as it can to the rear its prey before making the final charge. As in common with many cats, they will save their food supply, hiding it under loose vegetation, returning to feed over several days.
Although, with the exception of mother and cubs learning to hunt, it is generally a solitary hunter and they will often share its food with others of its family group.
This wild cat, more than any of the big cats, have earned a reputation of a ‘man-eater’ . In the Sundarbans Reserve in the swamp lands along the coast of the Bay of Bengal it has been reported that they have attacked fishermen in their boats - however such unprovoked attacks are very rare.
Confrontation mainly occurs when humans stray into reserved areas to collect firewood or food and, more often than not, it is by old or injured tigers unable to compete for normal prey.
Although popular in some zoos, ‘White Bengals’ are extremely rare in the wild - the last sighting of a White Bengal in its natural habitat was near Rewa in Central India back in 1951.
This male was captured by the Maharaja of Rewa and named Mohan - it is this animal that most in captivity today are related. It is not a true albino - it is simply has less dark colored pigment in its coat. The coat is not pure white but has brown stripes and blue eyes.
This beautiful cat was once found throughout most of southern, eastern and central Asia, and the Middle East. Today at least three of the subspecies -Caspian in the Middle East and west central Asia - Balinese and Javan from the islands of Bali and Java are now extinct.
Of the remaining five subspecies the most numerous is the Bengal with a population of between 3,500 and 4,000.
The Indian government has played a big part in the conservation of the Bengal - in the early 1970's they established a project and opened a number of reserves in which to protect the animal. However poaching of the animal for its furs and other body parts is still a major threat.
The Chinese species, outlawed by the communist government of the 1960's as a threat to the peoples food source and the Siberian, suffering from the destruction and loss of its natural habitat, are nearly extinct. Without intervention it is probable that these two subspecies will disappear forever from their natural habitat!
Lions are powerfully built, muscular wild cats. Their fur is short and uniform in color, ranging from gray/buff to reddish brown with the exception of the undersides, which are white. The back of the ears and tip of the tail are dark brown or black. The most distinctive feature of the male is its mane - a ruff of thick, long fur.
The color of the mane varies from a light brown to almost black and covers the sides of the face, neck and in some animals extends to the abdomen. The adolescent male begins to grow its mane at about 18 months and it continues to grow until the cat reaches about five years of age. A fully developed male can grow up to 10 feet in length!
The territory of the pride is fixed and varies in size depending on the availability and distribution of prey. In larger territories, which can be as much as 200 square miles, prides are often split into smaller groups.
The lion is unusual amongst the cat species because it lives in organized social groups called a prides. The pride can consist of as many as thirty to forty, the majority are females and their offspring. It is common for the females within the pride to be closely related and this family bonding is often extended through communal caring of the young.
The lion cannot sustain high-speed pursuit of prey for long periods of time so lionesses hunt by ambush, with the hunting group chasing the prey toward lions lying in wait who then give chase over short distances.
The prey consists of medium to large herd animals such as antelope, gazelle and wildebeest.
Once the prey is taken, the males of the pride to eat first even though they take no part in the hunting process.
When a male reaches maturity it leaves its natural pride and goes in search of another pride for which it must fight for the right to join.
Older or injured males are ousted by the young incoming male, who then takes up residence in the pride.
Wild CatsThis big cat is found in eastern and southern Africa and is commonly protected in reserves, although hunting unfortunately is common.
The Asiatic species , once to be found throughout India, the Middle East and Southern Asia, is today only to be found in the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, eastern India, where the population is estimated to be only 290.
Species of the African cat are endangered and the Barbary and Cape have sadly become extinct.
Pumas, also known as Cougars, Panthers and Mountain Lions, have a range that stretches from Canada down the western states of North America and throughout most western parts of the South American continent.
In the north of its range and in higher mountainous regions, the pumas coat is longer to provide additional protection against the extremes in temperature.The color of the fur varies from slate gray, through yellow buff to light reddish brown. The puma has a small, broad head with small rounded ears, a powerful body with long hind legs and tail tipped with black.
The puma can be found in varying habitats from the mountain forest, up to around 16,000 feet to lowland swamp and grasslands. In mountainous regions, where the cat follows its migrating prey as summer turns to winter, this wild cat can often trek in excess of 100 square miles.
The cougar marks the boundaries of its territory with tree scrapes and sprays of urine to warn against other cougar.
The cougar hunts alone, day or night, and saves its food in dense undergrowth, returning to it over several days. Comparable in size to the Leopard, the cougar is big enough to tackle larger prey such as domestic cattle and horses, wild deer, sheep, rodents, rabbits, and beaver. In hunting the cougar uses the strength of its powerful hind legs to lunge at its prey with single running jumps that can reach in excess of 40 feet !
Cougars have been greatly reduced by hunting and trapping. One species, the Florida Panther can only to be found around the state of Florida and has become endangered with as few as 50 surviving in the wild. The existing population is unlikely to survive for much more than 30 years without intervention.
Although protected areas have been established, problems relating to the close proximity of human habitation are hampering conservation efforts - road-kills along the major highways, hostility of private land owners and puma eating prey contaminated with pollutants and pesticides.Please support the World Wildlife Federation and other concerned charities.
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