Big Cats

Photos of Lion, Leopard, Cheetah

In Africa the term big cats refers to three main felines, Lion, Leopard and Cheetah. All three sadly are on a decline in all parts of Africa due to mainly loss of habitat that leads to various factors including reduction of prey, human wildife conflict and low genetic viability


Lion (Panthera leo) is always at the top of the food chain were ever it occurs. Lions mainly inhabit bush and savana south of the sahara, in the past( about 120 years ago) a population of the Barbary lion lived in the mountains and deserts of the Barbary Coast of North Africa, from Morocco to Egypt, however it is now extinct in the wild though few individuals occurs in Zoos around the world, the Barbary lion is a very large lion as compared to other subspecies lion. However recent genetic studies do not show any difference genetically

The lion has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996 because populations in African countries have declined by about 43% since the early 1990s.

Some facts about lions

  1. The lion roar is the loudest of the three and can be be heard for over 8 kilometers
  2. Lions are the only members of the cat family that live in prides, the pride can have up to 30 individuals
  3. Female lions are the main hunters, the males guard the pride and look after the young ones.

Lions in History and culture

One of the most widely recognised animal symbols in human culture, the lion has been extensively depicted in sculptures and paintings, on national flags, and in contemporary films and literature. Lions have been kept in Zoos ( menageries ) since the time of the Roman Empire and have been a key species sought for exhibition in zoological gardens across the world since the late 18th century. Cultural depictions of lions were prominent in Ancient Egypt, and depictions have occurred in virtually all ancient and medieval cultures in the lion’s historic and current range.


Leopard (Panthera pardus) has the largest distribution of all wild cats, occurring widely in Africa, the Caucasus and Asia, although populations are fragmented and declining. It is considered to be extirpated in North Africa.[3] It inhabits foremost savanna and rainforest, and areas where grasslands, woodlands, and riverine forests remain largely undisturbed.[7] In sub-Saharan Africa, it is still numerous and surviving in marginal habitats where other large cats have disappeared.

It is a very powerful and stealth predator, also probably the most beautiful of the three.

Some fun facts about leopards

  1. Leopards spend most of their time on the ground. Leopards use trees as the perfect escape point from predators; to keep their kills out of the reach of scavengers, and to get the best vantage point.
  2. Leopards can see seven times better in the dark
  3. Leopards have rosette spots on the body and solid black spots on the legs, head and sides.


Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). This feline is built for speed, the fastest land animal, estimated to be capable of running at 80 to 128 km/h (50 to 80 mph) with the fastest reliably recorded speeds being 93 and 98 km/h (58 and 61 mph), this sleek and beautiful cat has one of the most prominent, distinguishing features that makes it easily identifiable in the wild: dark ‘tear marks’ which run from the corner of its eyes down the sides of the nose to its mouth.

In 2016, the global cheetah population was estimated at around 7,100 individuals in the wild; it is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Three distinct Subspecies occur in Africa Southeast African cheetah (A. j. jubatus), Northeast African cheetah (A. j. soemmeringii), Northwest African cheetah (A. j. hecki)  the other subspecies Asiatic cheetah (A. j. venaticus) is found in Pakistan. The king Cheetah however, is a variety of cheetah with a rare mutation for cream-coloured fur marked with large, blotchy spots and three dark, wide stripes extending from the neck to the tail. This rear cheetah only occurs in the Southeast african subspecies (A j jubatus)

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