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Big Cats

Revered for their beauty and vitality, the five species of big cats include tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars, and snow leopards. Despite the cats’ reputation for ferocity, these majestic predators face more danger than they pose: All are endangered, due mainly to habitat loss, poaching, and dwindling populations of their prey. WCS conservationists with the Great Cats program are working on the ground to protect the big cats and safeguard their habitats from the Himalayas to the Horn of Africa.

amur leopard

Amur Leopard

Leopards are highly adaptable cats, and all nine subspecies of leopard were once common throughout most of Africa and Asia. Today, however, the Amur leopard is considered the world’s rarest cat, with just 25 to 40 individuals remaining in a sliver of habitat along the Russian-Chinese border.



The cheetah is the fastest land mammal on Earth, capable of running 64 miles per hour. These cats range widely and need large areas of undisturbed land with sufficient wild prey to survive. Suitable cheetah habitats, however, are becoming increasingly scarce.



The jaguar has a powerful, compact body built for stealth and sudden attacks. Revered by cultures throughout the Americas, jaguars face mounting challenges as humans convert their habitat for other uses.


Simba, the Swahili word for lion, means king. This majestic cat once roamed throughout Africa and Asia. Asiatic lions are almost extinct, and in Africa, lions face a shaky future.

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard

Snow leopards are well adapted to the harsh habitats of Asian mountain ranges, with long tails to help keep balance on steep terrain and thick coats. Poachers continue to hunt this cat for its lush fur.



Tigers were once abundant throughout Asia. Today, numbers of this solitary, striped cat hover in the low thousands. Hunters target this endangered species for its stunning pelt and other body parts.

From the Newsroom

Big Cats in CrisisDecember 11, 2012

WCS recently celebrated a groundbreaking achievement: collaring snow leopards for the first time in Afghanistan. USA Today reports on this effort--documented by National Geographic--and the larger challenges facing big cats around the world.  

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