The world of the Big Cats – What You Need To Know?

The True Big Cats had started to evolve during the long reign of the Sabre Toothed Tigers, but did not become what we would call a typical cat (Felis habilis also in Cat Latin) until about 20 to 40 million years ago in the Late Eocene and Early Oligocene.

Two main branches developed: the Saber-tooths and the true cats (Felis neanderthalis and Felis erectus, respectively in Cat Latin).

The first of these had evolved gigantic, curved canine teeth, used for killing their prey. They became specialized as medium-sized ambush-killers of smaller prey They include the big cat animal often referred to in popular writing as the Saber-toothed Tiger.

The last of the Saber-tooths is thought to have died out 12,000-15,000 years ago.

These big cat populations spread out across the Bering land-bridge to North and then South America, with the small cats of the New World and Old World evolving in a parallel way over a period of some millions of years.

Around 55 million years ago the miracle of evolution produced a special little mammal called miacis. With a cat-like body and carnassial teeth, miacis was one of the first genuine carnivorous mammals. After 15 million years, and a few brief evolutionary changes, miacis evolved into several new carnivores including the Genet-like & Civet-like hoplophoneus and dinictis.

After another 10 million years, hoplophoneus underwent further evolution that produced extremely large canines. This change would eventually lead Hoplophoneus to evolve into a branch of saber-toothed cats. While hoplophoneus was evolving into saber-toothed cats, dinictis was evolving into an even closer link to today’s digitgrade big cat, pseudailurus. After a few million more years, pseudailurus began the final evolutionary changes that would produce today’s three major Feline sub-families Acinonychinae, Felinae, Pantherinae.

The world of the Big Cats   What You Need To Know?

Aside from producing Cheetahs, little is known about the evolution of the Acinonychinae sub-family. Felinae cats appear to have started out as just a few individuals that included the Ocelot. These first Felinae later evolved into all modern small cats including the domestic cat’s ancestor, felis sylvestris (800,000 years ago). The newest and final sub-family, Pantherinae, includes the large roaring cats such as Leopard, Jaguar, Tiger, and Lion. Astonishly, Felines have changed very little since the final evolutionary branching. There appears to be a direct correlation between Feline evolution and their prey.

As prey grew, so did Felines, as prey moved into open areas, so did Felines. Feline success and the lack of extreme change can be attributed to their main dietary staple, meat! Unlike herbivorous animals that run the risk of completely dying out during drastic changes in climate, Felines are able to adapt to many other types of fresh meat sources. During harsh times such as the last ice age, Feline numbers dwindled, but they survived when others species didn’t.

The surviving modern members of the cat family have been divided into three sub-families:

- The Small Cats (Sub-family Felinae; 30 species)

- The Big Cats (Sub-family Pantherinae; 5 species)

-The Cheetah (Sub-family Acinonychinae: 1 species)

These 36 species of modern cats are found over a vast range from Asia, through Europe and Africa to the Americas. However, they are under pressure from human intervention almost everywhere and it is highly likely that a number of them will have become extinct before the end of the twenty-first centure.

All modern Felines share the same basic features, including large eyes, sensitive whiskers, robust jaw and teeth structures, retractable claws, and a similar array of vocalizations. Feline eyes, which are three times more sensitive than human eyes, maintain an increased horizontal-viewing plane that is extremely accurate at judging distance and picking up minute movements across far lengths.

Contrary to popular belief, all cats, including Cheetahs, have retractable claws. Cheetahs just lack the larger sheath to contain them.

Vocalization among all Feline species is similar. All Felines hiss, growl, meow and purr. Although evolution took away the Pantherinaes ability to purr constantly, they were given a truly awesome roaring capability. While purring is a bonding mechanism commonly used between females and cubs to quietly exchange soothing reassurance, it can also signal nervousness, apprehension, or discomfort.

Wild Felines are indigenous to every continental landmass with exception only to Australia and Antarctica. Although Australia has no indigenous Wild Felines, it maintains a large population of Feral Cats introduced by early merchants and settlers. Though not the Big Cat, Australia has embraced the house hold cat. Which in its house hold environment, is fine. When gone feral, has had an impact on the small wild life.

The Big Cats of the world are revered for their grace and beauty. The ability to make us fear and worship them. It is our responsibility to look after these magnificent creatures; now and in for the future.