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Big Cats: Lions and Tigers and Jaguars, oh my!

Big cat refers to the large wild cats that are native to the Asia, Europe, Africa, South America. The term is used to distinguish the larger species from smaller species. Generally speaking big cats are considerably bigger than the small domestic or wild cats. But size is not the only distinguishing feature.

Another classifying method used is the big cats have the ability to roar. The roar comes from a specially adapted larynx and hyoid apparatus. Air will pass through the larynx to the lungs, making the cartilage walls of the larynx vibrate, therefore producing sound. The most robust roar comes from the lion, due to them having the longest larynx. Only four cats have the ability to roar. They are jaguars, leopards, lions, and tigers. Small cats have an ossified hyoid making them unable to roar.

Some scientist definition of big cats includes only the four species in the genus Panthera: the tiger, lion, leopard, and jaguar. Members of this genus are the only ones able to roar, and this is sometimes considered a distinguishing characteristic, However, today they have been expanded to include the Snow Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Cheetah, and Cougar.

They have another interesting difference, the shape of pupils. The larger felines have round pupils and small cats, with the exception of the lynx, have slit like pupils.

Aside from the Snow Leopard, the large felines eat lying down. All other cats eat in a sitting position. All species of wild cats are interestingly similar despite their size differences. They are a true illustration's of nature's masterpiece's. With grace and elegance, they are master predators and hunters whose power is larger than their size might suggest. All felines are carnivores and efficient predators.

The larger felines are some of the Earth's most powerful predators, but despite being such formidable animals, msot are currently endangered in the wild. Unfortunately the principal threats to them are man. Habitat destruction and poaching being the main two areas for their demise in the wild. In the United States, approximately 19 states have banned ownership of big cats along with other exotics as pets, and the Captive Wildlife Safety Act bans the interstate commerce (sale & transportation) of these animals. Even with this in effect there are still an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 big cats kept privately in the United States. Mostly in private homes and non-accredited roadside zoos.

One very big myth is that big cats (small cats too) are being depleted in the wild by being captured for the pet and breeding trade. This is just not true. They are normally bred in captivity NOT taken from the country of origin. Please do not fall prey to the lies of the extreme animal rights activist.