Many cat lovers are interested in big cats as much as in their domestic pets. The wild cats, while being fearsome hunters, inspire awe and respect in all. The term 'big cats' is used to distinguish large cats, like the cheetah and the lion, from our smaller friend, the domestic cat.
Unfortunately there are some people that are interested in having big, exotic cats as a pet. This is asking for troubles, for both the owner and the animal. Big cats are no pets and are supposed to live in the wild.
While lions and tigers might be the first big cats to come to mind, there are many other varieties:
The snow leopard (Central Asia), or snow cat, is one of the most beautiful of the big cats, with its silvery spotted coat. This big cat differs from others in that it is unable to give a full roar. The snow leopard is native to the mountains of central Asia, feeding primarily on wild sheep, goats, and deer. Like the Florida panther, the species is critically endangered. It is generally not a threat to man.
Tigers (Asia) are the largest of the big cats. White tigers are a variation of the Bengal species of tiger. Tiger numbers have dwindled in the past hundred years from 100,000 in the wild to an estimated 7,000. These big cats live in many different Asian habitats, including tropical regions and the woodlands of Siberia.
Lions (Africa and India) are the second largest of the big cats. They are predatory carnivores, like most big cats and live in prides. Male lions have a mane and can weigh as much as 250 kg. Female lions weigh upto 150 kg. The life expectancy of lions is 10-14 years.
The puma cat (North and South America) can also be called a mountain lion, cougar, or panther. This is the North American big cat that puts fear in the heart of campers. The puma can be found in the western portion of the North America from Canada through Mexico. Species of puma also live throughout South America. This big cat is big enough to bring down a cow or horse. The Florida panther is one species of puma that is endangered.
Jaguars (North and South America) are some of the largest wild cats in the Americas. They are found from Texas down into South America. They can be confused with leopards, since both have spotted coats. The jaguar has a black spot in the center of the spots, and this helps to differentiate the two. The jaguar also has a larger head and stockier front legs.
At least two different types of big cats are called black panthers. Jaguars and leopards both can be solid black, and both are called black panthers. The black pigmentation of the coat is called "melanism." It can be seen in other wild cats, such as the common bobcat, as well as jaguars and leopards, although these are two of the biggest. Therefore, there is really no one species of big cats known as a black panther.
The fisher cat is a large wild mammal that lives in North America and is not a cat (despite it's name), but is related to the weasel family. It is similar to cats in that it likes to eat small rodents, but other than that, it really is not a cat. The fisher cat is an elusive animal and is rarely seen.
Many of the killer cats, or large wild cats, are on the endangered species list. One reason their numbers have dwindled is because people hunt them wherever they present a threat to man or to man's livestock. Another reason is that several decades ago, before animal species were protected, the skins from these big cats were sought after for making fashionable coats and accessories. While animal print furs are still high fashion, fake furs are all the rage, and genuine skins are no longer considered appropriate.
Wild cats inspire fear and awe in people. Their beauty and hunting skills are remarkable. However, many of them are endangered. Fortunately, people are working diligently to save the big cats.