Small Big Cats – The term big cat, while not a biological classification,is used informally to distinguish the larger felid species from smaller ones.
One definitionof “big cat” includes four members of the genus Panthera: the tiger, lion, jaguar, andleopard.
Members of this genus are the only cats able to roar.
A more expansive definitionof “big cat” also includes the cougar, cheetah, and snow leopard.
Despite enormous differences in size, the various species of cat are quite similar inboth structure and behavior, with the exception of the cheetah, which is significantly differentfrom any of the big or small cats.
All cats are carnivores and efficient apex predators.
Their range includes the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
RoaringThe ability to roar comes from an elongated and specially adapted larynx and hyoid apparatus.
When air passes through the larynx on the way from the lungs, the cartilage walls ofthe larynx vibrate, producing sound.
The lion’s larynx is longest, giving it the most robustroar.
ThreatsThe principal threats to big cats vary by geographic location, but primarily are habitatdestruction and poaching.
In Africa many big cats are hunted by pastoralists or government’problem animal control’ officers.
Over the past few months Problem Animal Control lionhunts in Zimbabwe have been offered to American hunters, even though according to ZimbabweNational Parks there are no such hunts currently available.
Certain protected areas exist thatshelter large and exceptionally visible populations of lions, hyenas, leopards, and cheetahs,such as Botswana’s Chobe, Kenya’s Masai Mara, and Tanzania’s Serengeti.
Rather, it is outsidethese conservation areas where hunting poses the dominant threat to large carnivores.
In the United States, 19 states have banned ownership of big cats and other dangerousexotic animals as pets, and the Captive Wildlife Safety Act bans the interstate sale and transportationof these animals.
The initial Captive Wildlife Safety Act was signed into law on December19, 2003.
To address problems associated with the increasing trade in certain big cat species,the CSWA regulations were strengthened by a law passed on September 17, 2007.
The bigcat species addressed in these regulations are the lion, tiger, leopard, snow leopard,clouded leopard, cheetah, jaguar, cougar, and any hybrid combination any of these speciesthat results from breeding of these big cats.
Private ownership of these big cats is notprohibited by this law but the law does make it illegal to transport, sell, or purchasethem in interstate or foreign commerce.
Although these regulations seem to provide a stronglegal framework for controlling the commerce involving big cats, international organizationssuch as the World Wildlife Fund have encouraged the U.
to further strengthen these laws.
The WWF is concerned that weaknesses in the existing U.
regulations could be unintentionallyhelping to fuel the black market for tiger parts.
Conservation An animal sanctuary provides a refuge foranimals to live out their natural lives in a protected environment.
Usually these animalsanctuaries are the organizations which provide a home to big cats whose private owners areno longer able or willing to care for their big cats.
However, use of the word sanctuaryin an organization’s name is by itself no guarantee that it is a true animal sanctuaryin the sense of a refuge.
To be accepted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Serviceas a bona fide animal sanctuary and to be eligible for an exemption from the prohibitionof interstate movement of big cats under the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, organizationsmust meet the following criteria: Must be a non-profit entity that is tax exemptunder section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue CodeCannot engage in commercial trade in big cat species, including their offspring, parts,and products made from them Cannot breed big catsCannot allow direct contact between big cats and the public at their facilitiesMust keep records of transactions involving covered catsMust allow the Service to inspect their facilities, records, and animals at reasonable hoursSpecies Family FelidaeGenus Panthera Tiger, Panthera tigris AsiaLion, Panthera leo Jaguar, Panthera oncaLeopard, Panthera pardus Snow Leopard, Panthera uncia Genus AcinonyxCheetah, Acinonyx jubatus Genus PumaCougar, Puma concolor EvolutionA 2010 study published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution has given insight into the exactevolutionary relationships of the big cats.
The study reveals that the snow leopard andthe tiger are sister species, while the lion, leopard, and jaguar are more closely relatedto each other.
The tiger and snow leopard diverged from the ancestral big cats approximately3.
The tiger then evolved into a unique species towards the end of the Pliocene epoch,approximately 3.
The ancestor of the lion, leopard, and jaguar split from otherbig cats from 4.
5 Ma the jaguar diverged from the ancestor oflions and leopards.
Lions and leopards split from one another approximately 2 Ma.
The earliestbig cat fossil, Panthera blytheae, dating to 4.
95 MA, was discovered in southwestTibet.