The “big cats”, a term that refers to the 4 largest cats – tigers, lions, jaguars and leopards – are extremely unique animals. Covered in beautiful fur, these cats can do something that no other animal can – roar. And it is this special blend of beauty and tenacity, tranquility and aggression that make these animals “royal”, king of their domains.
While I definitely wouldn’t want any of these animals wandering in my house or my neighborhood streets, they are absolutely amazing animals to observe and admire from afar.
The largest of this family, tigers are instantly recognizable due to their unique black stripes on a deep orange fur. Once popular in Africa and Southeast Asia, today tigers are extremely endangered, as poaching and environmental destruction has depleted the tiger population. These fierce hunters are large, fast and athletic killing machines, topping the food chain of their region. They are known to hunt on their own, as each tiger marks his or her territory and they live solitary lives. One very interesting fact about tigers is that they are good swimmers, and they enjoy bathing in lakes and ponds to cool off during the hot summer days. Sadly, nowadays there are only roughly 5,000 wild tigers in the world, mostly in Asia. In addition, there are a few hundred white tigers, mostly found in India and its region. White tigers are Bengals with a pigmentation defect that causes their fur to be white, however the strips still appear black. This unique white tiger is considered one of the rarest and most beautiful animals on earth.
Known as “king of the jungle”, lions boast the loudest roar of all the big cats. However, while the lion’s mane may seem like a crown fitting for king, lions don’t even live in the jungle, they mostly live in grasslands and plains. Unlike other cats, this big cat is very social, as a group of lions, known as a pride, usually consists of related female lions, their cubs and a few male lions. Like the tiger, lions are extremely endangered due to poaching, destruction of their homes and male lion rivalries, and today, they can be found in sub-Sahara Africa and India. What is interesting about this royal cat is the fact that the females do all the hunting while the males lay around all day waiting for their food to come. I guess the male lion realizes that he’s dubbed king and acts accordingly…
The jaguar, a beautifully spotted, large and fast big cat can be found mainly in the rain forests and jungles of South and Central America. The jaguar is very similar to the tiger in many ways, as they too live solitary lives, enjoy swimming and their hunting approach is “stalk and prey”, due to the fact that they hunt alone. And like the tiger, the jaguar does most of its hunting during the night. Also, while this species is not nearly as endangered as lions or tigers, they too are declining in numbers. Like all other big cats, the jaguar is an apex predator, meaning that in the wild, they are always the hunter and never the hunted. An interesting note – black panthers in the Americas are actually jaguars with a dark colored genetic condition, known as melanism.
These spotted animals are extremely similar to jaguars, and most people probably can’t even tell the difference. However, while jaguars inhibit the Americas region, leopards are found mostly in Africa. Also, leopards are smaller and faster than jaguars, and their spots are smaller and more closely together. Like the jaguar, black panthers found in Africa are actually melanistic leopards. The most unique trait of the leopard is its adaptability, as even though they prefer forests and savannas, they can strive in woodlands, grasslands and even the freezing forests of Russian terrain. Like most cats, leopards are solitary animals and they hunt by themselves. Also they are known to be superior climbers and extremely agile.
The “big cats” rule their domain and sit atop the food chain of the wild, yet they are endangered species’ and their numbers are declining. So take advantage before it’s too late and go observe these majestic creatures, because there truly is something royal and unique about these animals.