From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Big cats
Mains level : NA
We often get confused to differentiate between Cheetah/Bagh/Sher/Puli. The cheetah, which is being re-introduced to India from Africa, is not to be confused with the leopard, which too has spots that look somewhat similar.
How are all Big Cats differentiated?
[A] Genus Panthera
- This is the genus of large wild cats that can roar but can’t purr.
- Among them, the lion, the leopard, and the jaguar are more closely related, while the other strand has the tiger and the snow leopard.
- The snow leopard is an exception to the rest of the group in that it can’t roar.
(1) Tiger (Panthera Tigris)
Size: 75-300 kg | IUCN status : Endangered
- Jim Corbett’s “large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage”, the solitary and strongly territorial tiger is the largest of all wild cats and also the earliest Panthera member to exist.
- Primarily a forest animal, they range from the Siberian taiga to the Sunderban delta.
- The national animal of India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and South Korea, the tiger was voted the world’s favourite animal ahead of the dog in a 2004 Animal Planet global online poll.
(2) Lion (Panthera Leo
Size: 100-250 kg | IUCN status: Vulnerable
- Native to Africa and Asia, the lion is the most social cat, and lives in groups called prides.
- They prefer open forests such as scrubland, and adult males have a prominent mane.
- The lion is arguably the most widely recognised animal symbol in human culture — be it the Ashoka pillar in Sarnath, the main entrance to Buckingham Palace, or the 20th Century Fox and MGM logo.
(3) Jaguar (Panthera Onca)
Size: 50-110 kg | IUCN status: Near Threatened
- The largest cat in the Americas, the Jaguar has the strongest bite force of all wild cats, enabling it to bite directly through the skull of its prey.
- Melanistic (black) Jaguars are common and are often called black panthers.
- Jaguar was a powerful motif in the Mayan and Aztec civilisations.
(4) Leopard (Panthera Pardus)
Size: 30-90 kg | IUCN status: Vulnerable
- Similar in appearance to the Jaguar with a rosette patterned coat, the leopard was described by Jim Corbett as “the most beautiful of all animals” for its “grace of movement and beauty of colouring”.
- The most adaptable of all big cats, they occupy diverse habitats at all altitudes across Africa and Asia.
- Like black jaguars, melanistic leopards are called black panthers.
- In some African cultures, leopards are considered to be better hunters than lions.
(5) Snow leopard (Panthera Uncia)
Size: 25-55 kg | IUCN status : Vulnerable
- The ghost of the mountains, this smokey-grey cat lives above the snow line in Central and South Asia.
- The most elusive of all big cats, it cannot roar, and has the longest tail of them all — which comes in handy for balance while hunting along the cliffs, and also gives warmth when wrapped around the body.
- The snow leopard is the state animal of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh.
[B] Genus Puma
- Closely related to the domestic cat, this genus has only one extant species, the cougar.
Cougar (Puma concolor)
Size: 40-100 kg | IUCN status: Least Concern
- The cougar is the second-largest cat in the Americas. (The Jaguar is the largest.)
- Cougars are also called ‘mountain lion’ and ‘panther’ across their range from the Canadian Yukon to the Southern Andes.
- Concolor is latin for “of uniform colour”. The Incas designed the city of Cusco in the shape of a cougar.
[C] Genus Acinonyx
- This is a unique genus within the cat family, with only one living member, the cheetah.
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
Size: 20-70 kg | IUCN status: Vulnerable
- The fastest land mammal, the cheetah is the only cat without retractable claws — the grip helps it accelerate faster than any sports car (0-100 km/hr in 3 seconds).
- Cheetahs are not aggressive towards humans, and they have been tamed since the Sumerian era.
- They don’t breed well in captivity — picky females play hard to get.
- Cheetahs are not really big, and they hunt during the day to avoid competing with other big cats.
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