List of the Wild Cat Species of the World

Updated on May 9th, 2017 to reflect new taxonomic decisions made by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group’s Cat Classification Task Force.

Wild Cat Species Silhouettes

So how many different species of wild cats are there in the world? That depends on who you ask. The answer ranges from 37 to 42 species. The reason for this is that cat taxonomy is incredibly difficult and genetic analysis is still shedding light on the matter. Just in early 2017, the Sunda Leopard Cat was determined to be its own species from the Leopard Cat — now called the Mainland Leopard Cat. So, to clear things up, I put together the most accepted list of the 40 wild cat species in the world. This list will undoubtedly change in the future, especially as genetic analysis reveals that current species are actually multiple different species, but I’ll be sure to update it when that happens. The list is organized by the eight different feline lineages. Finally, the underlined common names are links to pictures I have of that species.

Common Name Latin Name Lineage
1. Lion Panthera leo
2. Leopard Panthera pardus
3. Jaguar Panthera onca
4. Tiger Panthera tigris Panthera Lineage
5. Snow Leopard Panthera uncia
6. Clouded Leopard Neofelis nebulosa
7. Sunda Clouded Leopard Neofelis diardi
8. Asiatic Golden Cat Catopuma temminckii
9. Borneo Bay Cat Catopuma badia Bay Cat Lineage
10. Marbled Cat Pardofelis marmorata
11. Caracal Caracal caracal
12. African Golden Cat Caracal aurata Caracal Lineage
13. Serval Leptailurus serval
14. Geoffroy’s Cat Leopardus geoffroyi
15. Guiña Leopardus guigna
16. Southern Oncilla Leopardus guttulus
17. Northern Oncilla Leopardus tigrinus Ocelot Lineage
18. Andean Cat Leopardus jacobita
19. Colocolo Leopardus colocola
20. Margay Leopardus wiedii
21. Ocelot Leopardus pardalis
22. Iberian Lynx Lynx pardinus
23. Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx Lynx Lineage
24. Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis
25. Bobcat Lynx rufus
26. Mountain Lion Puma concolor
27. Jaguarundi Herpailurus yagouaroundi Puma Lineage
28. Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus
29. Mainland Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis
30. Sunda Leopard Cat Prionailurus javanensis
31. Fishing Cat Prionailurus viverrinus
32. Flat-headed Cat Prionailurus planiceps Leopard Cat Lineage
33. Rusty-spotted Cat Prionailurus rubiginosus
34. Pallas Cat Otocolobus manul
35. European Wild Cat Felis silvestris
36. African Wild Cat Felis lybica
37. Chinese Mountain Cat Felis bieti
38. Sand Cat Felis margarita Domestic Cat Lineage
39. Black-footed Cat Felis nigripes
40. Jungle Cat Felis chaus

The currently listed subspecies that are sometimes listed as their own species.

Common Name Latin Name Sometimes Classified As
Pampas Cat Leopardus colocolo pajeros Leopardus pajeros
Pantanal Cat Leopardus colocolo braccatus Leopardus braccatus
Iriomote Cat Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis Prionailurus iriomotensis

 

Wild Cat Book Review: Wild Cats of the World, by Luke Hunter 2015

Wild Cats of the World, written by Luke Hunter, published by Bloomsbury Natural History, copyright 2015

Wild Cats of the World, written by Luke Hunter, published by Bloomsbury Natural History, © 2015 – cover photograph by Kjetil Kolbjornsrud

Going along with everything wild cat related I wanted to offer up my personal reviews on books about wild cats, for two reasons. One, I own most books written on wild cats. Two, if you are interested in learning more about wild cats, it’s nice to know which books are worth buying. So without further ado, my first review: The Wild Cats of the World, by Luke Hunter, 2015.

This jumping serval is part of the opening spread in Luke Hunter's Wild Cats of the World Book

This jumping serval is part of the opening spread in Luke Hunter’s Wild Cats of the World Book – photograph © FLPA

Organization

This book serves as a guide to the entire wild cat family (Felidae), looking at each individual species known to science. At the time of publication that is 38, including the recently discovered Southern Tigrina. It first looks at the evolutionary history of this mammalian family and gives you insights into what species are most closely related and how eight different lineages (groups of closely related species) have evolved. The book then goes directly into the species descriptions which cover 87% of the book. It concludes with a chapter on the conservation of wild cats.
Book Review Star System five out of five

What Information is given about the Wild Cat Species

Chinese Mountain Cat species pages in Luke Hunter's Wild Cats of the World Book - drawings by Priscilla Barrett, photograph by Tashi Sangbo

Chinese Mountain Cat species pages in Luke Hunter’s Wild Cats of the World Book – drawings by Priscilla Barrett, photograph by Tashi Sangbo

Each of the 38 wild cat species has the following topics covered: taxonomy and phylogeny, description, distribution and habitat, feeding ecology, social and spacial behavior, reproduction and demography, and status and threats. Each of those topics goes into great detail without being overbearing. For example, it states that leopards are known to feed upon over 200 species of prey without listing you all 200 species. Yes, there are books that list all the species — to be reviewed later. I would describe the text as data driven, but readable to non-scientists.
Book Review Star System five out of five

Visual Impact

Each species is introduced by a beautiful full body drawing, along with a range map, and skull drawing. After the introductory drawing are some of the most unique photographs I have seen published of wild cats (full disclosure: I took some of the pictures in this book — but I am definitely talking about the pictures in general!). A few things that really stood out to me. Most of the images are of wild cats in the wild, which is generally not the case for many books on wild cats. Additionally, there are many images which I have never seen published before. Finally, there are an incredible amount of behavioral pictures, also a rare feat!

Additionally, the drawings by Priscilla Barrett of behaviors that have not yet been captured on film are incredibly beautiful and insightful into the lives of these secretive animals. With a total of over 400 photographs and drawings, this book is simply beautiful to look at.
Book Review Star System five out of five

Who is this book for?

The amazing quality of this book is that it is equally appropriate for children learning about the different wild cat species for the first time as well as seasoned biologists who want to know the latest information on the cat species.

Would I recommend buying this book?

This book is a must have if you are at all interested in wild cats. You can get your copy here.

Can you say gorgeous? This lion picture is part of the opening spread in Luke Hunter's Wild Cats of the World Book

Can you say gorgeous? This lion picture is part of the opening spread in Luke Hunter’s Wild Cats of the World Book © FLPA

Most Endangered Cats in the World

Updated on May 9th, 2017 to reflect new taxonomic decisions made by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group’s Cat Classification Task Force.

Being cat obsessed, I always want to find out more about these amazing animals. So recently I was searching for the most endangered cats in the world. I ended up finding conflicting results (I think this is partially due to the fact that listing certain species is ‘sexier’ than others and that some addressed subspecies while others did not). So I decided to do my own research. It took some time, looking up every subspecies of wild cat, but it was well worth it.  And now, in honor of Endangered Species Day, which was this last Friday I decided to put together a list of the ten most endangered felines in the world. Now a list depends on the parameters set and since the exact numbers of breeding individuals for many subspecies or even species is not known, I will deal only with the numbers that are known.

This is the overall list of the most endangered wild cats in the world, including subspecies and species.

1. Balkan Lynx (Lynx lynx balcanicus)

Balkan Lynx SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size1: 20-39
Population Trend: Decreasing


2. Asiatic Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus)

Asiatic Cheetah Silhouette

Status: Critically Endangered
Population Size2: Less than 40
Population Trend: Decreasing


3. Arabian Leopard (Panthera pardus nimr)

Arabian Leopard SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size3: 45-200
Population Trend: Decreasing


4. Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis)Amur Leopard Silhouette

Status: Critically Endangered
Population Size4: Less than 60
Population Trend: Increasing


5. Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)

Iberian Lynx SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size5: ~ 156
Population Trend: Increasing


6. Javan Leopard (Panthera pardus melas)

Javan Leopard SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size6: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


7. Barbary Serval (Leptailurus serval constantina)Barbary Serval SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size7: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


8. Northwest African Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki)

Northwest African CheetahStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size8: Below 250
Population Trend: Decreasing


9. Sunda Tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica) – This subspecies includes the formerly accepted Javan Tiger and Sumatran Tiger subspecies, together lumped into the Sunda Tiger since the reclassification of 2017.9

 

South China Tiger SilhouetteStatus: Critically Endangered
Population Size10: 342-509
Population Trend: Decreasing


Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)

Sri Lankan Leopard
Status: Endangered
Population Size11: 700-950
Population Trend: Decreasing

There are a few really interesting things to note when looking at this list. One thing for example is that all but two of these subspecies and species’ population numbers are decreasing (the exceptions being the Amur Leopard and Iberian Lynx). This downward trend is really not a great sign for the survival of these cats in the long run.

Another interesting thing is that seven out of the ten cats are larger cats (though not all of them are classified as Big Cats). Larger animals require larger areas to contain enough prey to sustain themselves. As their habitat is constantly disappearing so do their numbers decrease. The only plus side of this is that if we can protect these large cats, so do we protect lots of habitat not only for them but many other animals as well.

Another thing to note is that only one species (not subspecies) has made the list, the Iberian Lynx. It proves how threatened of extinction this animal really is. Some tiger and lion subspecies have gone extinct due to humans in recent times, but if the Iberian Lynx was to disappear for good, it would be the first cat species to go extinct since the Saber-toothed Cat, which died out 11,000 years ago.

On a personal note, in creating this list, it was amazing was to discover the Balkan Lynx, a subspecies of Eurasian Lynx I had never heard of, and it is the most threatened cat of extinction!

Sources:

  1. Balkan Lynx Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/68986842/0
  2. Asiatic Cheetah Population (2016): Cat News, Special Issue, Number 10, Autumn 2016: Cats in Iran
  3. Arabian Leopard Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  4. Amur Leopard Population (2014): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  5. Iberian Lynx Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12520/0
  6. Javan Leopard Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0
  7. Barbary Serval Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/11638/0
  8. Northwest African Cheetah Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/221/0
  9. Sunda Tiger Reclassification (2017): Cat news, Special Issue, Number 11, Winter 2017: A revised taxonomy of the Felidae
  10. Sunda Tiger Population (2008): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15966/0
  11. Sri Lankan Leopard Population (2015): http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15954/0

 

African Leopards in Gabon

Getting a picture of African Leopards in Gabon is not the same as anywhere else on the African continent. Unlike South Africa or Kenya, in Gabon you can’t sit in a safari vehicle and hope it emerges from the brush. This is the rainforest. Think super dense seven foot understory plants that make it impossible to see anything, times ten. Finding a leopard is nearly impossible. The biologists studying these cats deal with it on a daily basis. Phillip Henschel and Laila Bahaa-el-din brave, and I mean brave (to be explained soon) these challenges.

Does this look dense enough?

Tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

How about now?

Tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

We are in Lope National Park in Gabon where Laila has been conducting her research for the past three months. Phil was nice enough to pick me up from the airport and bring me here along with all of the equipment. Being in their company makes me feel confident that we will get a picture of the big cat, these two know what they are talking about.

On the first evening, we do a quick drive around in the savanna habitat bordering the rainforest. This isn’t Phil or Laila’s first time to the rodeo and it doesn’t take long before they spot Leopard tracks along the road.

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) tracks on dirt road next to tire marks, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) tracks on dirt road next to tire marks, Lope National Park, Gabon

My confidence grows, later that night they show me video footage they got with trail cameras that show leopards along river banks. Even more reason to think that this may be possible.

The next day, we load up the backpacks with two digital SLR camera traps and head into the forest. The first sign that this wasn’t going to be easy was when we stopped at the forest edge to listen for African Forest Elephants. If these guys see, smell, or feel you (through vibrations in the ground), make sure you have your running shoes on — they will charge you. They are not the bluff charging kind either; instead they are the full barreling through the rainforest until you are way gone or beneath their feet kind. An encouraging thought. While we take our first steps I wonder how Phil and Laila are staying so calm with this constant threat looming, but somehow they continue on.

We first check one of Laila’s camera traps, deployed along a path.

"<yoastmark

No cats came up on the computer screen. It’s time to move on. We drop into a creek bed. After walking for a bit we notice a ton of leopard prints in the soft sand. A very good sign. We had previously decided to put the camera on a log spanning across the river (due to the cats wanting to avoid the water if at all possible) so we start looking for a suitable log. After a few hundred meters we find the perfect one. Not only are there foot prints all around it, there are scratch marks on it. Phil, also a master tracker, assures me its a leopard marking site.

This means it’s quite likely for the animal to return to this exact spot, so we don’t waste any time and set up the first camera. Another hundred meters and we find another log, this one with some leopard scat on it (which Phil immediately smells, measures, and photographs….crazy Phil), and we place the second camera on that bridge.

African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) biologist Phillip Henschel measuring leopard scat diameter, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) biologist Phillip Henschel measuring leopard scat diameter, Lope National Park, Gabon

In the next two days we place cameras along trails that have had leopards come by in the past (based on Laila’s camera trapping efforts). I was already dreaming of cat pictures galore.

Reality hit when we checked four of the cameras after ten days. No cats on any of them, instead other mammals visited (some of them making us people seem frighteningly very very small).

Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) mother and baby in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) mother and baby in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Ogilby's Duiker (Cephalophus ogilbyi) in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Ogilby’s Duiker (Cephalophus ogilbyi) in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

Black-legged Mongoose (Bdeogale nigripes) crossing over log bridge at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

Black-legged Mongoose (Bdeogale nigripes) crossing over log bridge at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) bull in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) bull in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

There were only three weeks left, I was starting to get really nervous about whether or not we would get a feline on one of the cameras. It was time to check the two log cameras, we get to the first camera and bam!!! Right off the bat there is a leopard picture, then another, and another.

"<yoastmark

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river at night, Lope National Park, Gabon

There are a couple of interesting things to note about the leopards in these pictures. One you can clearly see the size difference between the female and the male. Two, their eyes are not cloudy due to the flashes (which I always position so that the eyes look good), instead the clouding of the cornea, also called keratopathy, which leads to partial blindness is caused by Fire Ants that have stung the leopards in the eyes (which must be incredibly painful, if you have ever felt a fire ant bite). Luckily, both leopards look to be in good physical condition, apparently not completely hampered by their partially lost vision.

On to the second bridge. Another leopard photo, one that made me back away from the camera as I was reviewing the images. The leopard seemed to be coming right out of the camera.

"<yoastmark

The picture has a weird look to it, the leopard almost doesn’t look real due to the cloudy eyes. In my opinion, as the leopard is also covered with engorged ticks, it exemplifies what a tough world these guys live in. Constantly having to deal with ectoparasites just can’t be fun. I don’t even want to imagine the parasites within their bodies.

After seeing the pictures, I was of course elated, jumping up and down, and simply being extremely excited. I could not have asked for more, or so I thought, until this image showed up two weeks later:

African Leopard (Panthera pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) male crossing log bridge over river in tropical rainforest, Lope National Park, Gabon

It’s one of my favorite camera trap images because of the lighting, composition, the habitat, and the way the tail swirls around.

A picture like this is not just a set it up and get it kind of situation. Instead it is a culmination of a lot of factors. Building and getting the cameras into a country takes a lot of time, coordination, patience, bureaucratic paperwork, persistence, and sometimes just luck. Then comes the ecological research on the species. How does the animal move about its habitat? How many individuals occupy a certain area? Will more than one cat use the same path? What direction is the cat most likely to move in? I read everything and anything I can about a species before I try and photograph it.

Most importantly, only through extensive field experience by the researchers can these questions be answered. After figuring out the location for the camera, it’s time to decide on the exposure for the camera, and where and how to set the flashes. It’s not easy by any means, but every time I get a picture like the one above, I know it’s worth it.

These pictures were only possible due to Laila and Phil. Thank you guys, it was a true pleasure working together! Being able to call you my friends is something I cherish and I look forward to seeing both soon!

Bad News for West African Lions

A male lion in Pendjari National Park during Panthera's survey of the W-Arly-PendjariComplex, located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger – 2012Credit: Philipp Henschel/Panthera

A male lion in Pendjari National Park during Panthera’s survey of the W-Arly-PendjariComplex, located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger – 2012 Credit: Philipp Henschel/Panthera

Survey

Felid biologist Phillip Henschel’s paper was just published after conducting six years of thorough presence and absence surveys of Lions in West Africa. The results are bleak. West African Lions are only found in five countries with a total population of less then 5oo individuals. More specifically of those 500, less than 250 mature individuals exist. This would categorize them as critically endangered if they were considered their own species.

Before the study took place, 21 protected areas within western Africa were said to have lions. Once Phil showed up, he realized most of these areas were paper parks. This means a park on the map, with no infrastructure or on the ground staff. The presence surveys of these fake parks showed they were devoid of lions. In fact, he only found signs of their presence in one area in Senegal, two areas in Nigeria, and in a larger protected spanning Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Lion status in West African protected areas within lion range

Lion status in West African protected areas within lion range

Having less than 20 mature lions in three out of the four areas does not bode well for those populations to survive in the long term. Moreover, these areas are not anywhere near each other which prevents possible movement from one population to another.

It was recently determined through DNA studies that West African Lions are very different from their East and South African cousins. They are far more related to the extinct Barbary Lion, that occupied northern Africa, and the Asiatic Lions holding on in India. This study at least provides the conclusive evidence of their dire situation. Fro here, conservationist can make informed decisions on the next steps.

Next Steps

The greatest need is providing protection for the remaining animals. The West African Lion only has a chance if governments receive financial aid to increase enforcements within the park. And by increasing the infrastructure in the parks. The cat conservation organization Panthera is leading that charge. You can donate to them here.

Dr. Henschel trains park rangers in lion survey techniques -- Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria Credit: Gilbert Nyanganji/WCS Nigeria

Dr. Henschel trains park rangers in lion survey techniques — Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria Credit: Gilbert Nyanganji/WCS Nigeria

If you would to to read the full scientific paper, click here here.