Story Behind the Science
When you think of big cats, lions and tigers usually come to mind. But this group also includes cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, mountain lions, ocelots, bobcats and many more! Big cats are spread throughout most of the world, from Africa and Asia to Europe and the Americas.
The tiger is the largest of the big cat population, which makes up some of the most revered predators of the animal kingdom. Although respected by many, tigers specifically have suffered a decline in population of approximately 93 percent over the last century, resulting in the species’ status as an endangered animal on the International Union of the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
One century ago, hundreds of thousands of tigers would be found in every country throughout Asia. Now, only about 3,200 tigers remain in very few countries.
Three of the original eight species are currently extinct (a fourth species has gone undetected for the past 10 years and is thought to also be extinct). Other big cats like many lions, jaguars and cheetahs are considered endangered species too.
The main threats to big cats include illegal hunting for the purposes of selling and trading parts of the animals, such as their furs, bones and other body parts, some of which are used for traditional medicinal purposes. Another proven problem has been the depletion of the big cats’ natural habitat through global warming, and other environmental issues, in addition to human invasion of the animals’ territory. Because of this, big cats face conflicts with humans living nearby. Tigers, lions and others are forced to hunt farmers’ livestock because of the close proximity and lack of other food sources (also caused by human invasion of territory and other factors that have destroyed the natural forests previously occupied by big cats).
Did You Know?
- No two tigers have the same pattern of stripes because they are unique to each individual, like fingerprints are to humans.Learn More »
- Tigers are considered the largest species of big cats and can weigh up to 350 kg (approximately 775 lbs) – that’s equal to the weight of approximately 100 house cats!Learn More »
- Big cats tend to have between one and four cubs when they mate, though cheetahs can have up to nine in a single litter.Learn More »
- Lions are the only species of big cats that live in groups (called prides), although cheetah males tend to live in pairs also.Learn More »
|Compare & Contrast||Tigers||Big Cats|
|How many species?||4 (originally 8 total – 3 are extinct and 1 more may be as well)||40|
|Where do they occur?||Tigers live in forests and can survive in various environments from freezing cold habitats to tropical rainforests. They are currently found in 13 countries throughout Asia.||Big cats can be found everywhere throughout the world aside from Australia, Madagascar, Antarctica and Greenland.|
|What do they eat?||Because tigers are large carnivores, they generally eat large prey animals like deer, pigs, banteng, gaur and water buffalo. To supplement their diet, tigers also consume rodents, fish, birds, primates and other small animals.||All big cats are carnivores, so they all have relatively the same diet, eating large prey when possible and supplementing their diets with smaller prey when needed.|
|Do they have predators?||Poachers that hunt and kill tigers for their skin, meat and other parts are considered the main predators of tigers.||For most big cats, predators include poachers hunting for furs and medicines.|