The African Golden Cat, the Caracal aurata, is a highly elusive and enigmatic feline species shrouded in mystery. These cats are native to the dense forests of Central and West Africa, and they are prized for their distinctive golden coats, which are highly sought after by poachers. Despite their iconic beauty, African Golden Cats face …
Welcome to Big Cats.
The term “big cats” is typically used to refer to any of the five living members of the genus Panthera, namely the Lion, Leopard ( African and Snow Leopard), Jaguar, and Tiger. Of these, all besides the snow leopard are famous for their ability to roar.
In addition to these Big Cats, we have decided to cover other loved cats of global interest; namely the African Leopard, Cheetah, Lynx, Cougar, and Caracal, and the above-mentioned ‘Big Cats’ due to an interest in visiting and encountering these cats in the wild.
There are 38 species of cats on the planet. Five of them, known as the big cats, are among the planet’s most beloved and recognizable animals.
Most big cats are members of the genus Panthera. Small and medium cats, including housecats, are members of Felis. Cheetahs, which do not have retractable claws, are in their genus called Acinonyx.
Have we piqued your interest? If so, read ahead or jump to the headline of your favorite big cat!
Our Best Articles On Big Cats
- African Golden Cat
- The Tail of the “Man-Eater of Mfuwe”
- The Man-Eaters of Tsavo
- Caracal Cat
- The 4 Best Places to See Jaguars
- The 6 Best Places to See Cheetahs
- The Best Places to See Lions
- Tiger Safari
- Best Places to See Lynx
- Best Places to See Leopards in Africa
- Lion Walk
The Best Places to See Big Cats
Big cats are found worldwide in habitats as varied as mangrove swamps in India to wooded forests in the western U.S.
The formidable alpha predator. Fabled and Fierce; Lions are big and strong. Male animals grow up to 2.5 meters long, about 1.2 meters high, and weigh more than 200 kg. And, like in most species of wild cats, females are smaller and lighter.
|Lifespan: 10 – 14 years (Adult, In the wild)|
|Speed: 80 km/h (Maximum, In Short Bursts)|
|Scientific name: Panthera leo|
|Mass: Male: 190 kg (Adult), Female: 130 kg (Adult)|
Lions were periodically found in Europe too, but have long since become extinct in these regions. Now endemic to the extensive Africa Savanna and Gir national park of India. The population of lions has rapidly plummeted within the last century. Numbers of over 200 000 lions in the 1900s now stand at 20-30 000.
A stark reminder of this can be demonstrated by the number of lions in captivity rather than in their natural habitats. A sad reality. And therefore, an important reason to practice responsible Eco-tourism when encountering lions in the wild.
Today lions only live south of the Sahara in South and East Africa. They are in smaller populations in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic (Chad), Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A small population of the subspecies Panthera leo goojratensis lives in the Indian protected area Gir.
The lion has disappeared from its original range that was globally extensive to now exist at a 6th of that coverage. Today, the big cats roam approximately less than 1.7 million square kilometers of that total area.
It is estimated that not even 25,000 lions are left in Africa, catapulting them into a status of vulnerability on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Where to see Lions in Africa:
We have found some of the most incredible destinations to set your sights on for a lion safari in Africa!
Our Top Three Lion destinations In Africa:
Take a look for yourself!
#1 Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The annual migrations in the oldest Tanzanian park are the reason for the presence of wild cats that bring avid animal lovers from across the world to witness the remarkable spectacle that is guaranteed.
#2 Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Famed as the greatest destination to witness the Wildebeest migration, the Maasai Mara National reserve offers up a magnitude of natural wonder to bestow upon its guests, a home to many a pride of lions.
#3 Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta in the world. It is also famous for its nature and wildlife sightings. It’s known for its sprawling, captivating grassy plains, which flood seasonally, becoming a lush animal habitat.
Hooked on an adventure to see lions? For more of the best places to encounter lions, look at our lion blog.
Lion Walk: Can you walk with big cats?
Are you looking for a lion walk? Walking with lions is an experience of a lifetime. Read on if this is a dream of yours!
We have found some of our favorite walking safari tours to experience! All are highly recommended and safe to partake in.
- Volunteer Encounter (Antelope Park or Victoria Falls)
- Lion Encounter (Victoria Falls)
- Wildlife Encounter (Victoria Falls)
- Mauritius Attractions (Mauritius)
- Absolute Zambia Safaris
Walking with Lions indeed can be a fantastic experience. When practiced with caution ( a safe following distance), it benefits both the animal and tour group involved. Our recommendations are chosen carefully according to research based on visitor ratings, sustainability aspects, and the quality of the tours.
Is this something you would consider? If you’re not quite ready for a walking safari, many other safari options are available to see lions in person.
If you want to read more about walking with the king of the savanna, look at our Lion walks blog for a comprehensive guide!
Leopards are graceful and powerful big cats closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars. They live in sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, Central Asia, India, and China. However, many of their populations are endangered, especially those outside Africa.
Arguably one of the most elusive big cats to see, found throughout Africa and even compared and contrasted to the Jaguar of South America, which bares a striking resemblance to the untrained eye.
|Speed: 58 km/h (Running)|
|Scientific name: Panthera pardus|
|Lifespan: 12 – 17 years|
|Mass: Male: 31 kg (South Africa’s coastal mountains population), Female: 23 – 27 kg (Somalia population)|
|Height: Male: 60 – 70 cm (Adult, At Shoulder), Female: 57 – 64 cm (Adult, At Shoulder)|
Follow us on tour through the continent where humans can see and spot Leopards – Africa!
The loss of habitats, poaching, and conflicts with farmers have all contributed to a decline in global numbers. Leopards have already disappeared from large parts of their original range, especially from North, East, and West Africa and the Middle East, East, and Southeast Asia. In southern Africa, too, stocks are declining. Although, many of the best places to see Leopards are still in Africa.
Seeing a leopard is known to require some luck and a little strategy.
Leopard sightings are higher at night due to the cat’s nocturnal nature in most of its geographical range. However, location is just as essential and therefore, we have sought after some of the best and most likely destinations to spot the African leopard!
Look at some of our Best Places to see big cats and, importantly, the leopard in Africa!
1. Kruger National Park, Sabi Sands Game, and Madikwe, South Africa
Our top picking for the highest probable sightings is the Sabi Sands Gae park which borders the Kruger National Park.
Londolozi, located in the Sabi Sand Private Reserve, is one of several areas with the highest density of leopard population – with more than 50 leopards living in 100 square kilometers. Exciting right? We’re ready to set our sights on the Sabi Sands!
2. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia (Leopard Favorites)
The South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia, located in the breathtaking Luangwa Valley, is the southernmost of Zambia’s three most significant national parks. The area is also known as the Valley of the Leopard – a proper name as it has one of the highest leopard populations in Africa. If you’d like to read more about what the South Luangwa National Park offers, you can visit our blog featuring the wildlife and nature of Zambia, a must-visit in one’s lifetime!
3. Maasai Mara and Samburu, Kenya
An already mentioned favorite of ours! Known for the numerous big cats attracted by the sheer number of wildebeests and zebras arriving at the northernmost point of their Great Migration journey.
In summary, Africa offers many opportunities to spot the African leopard. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg. We hope we’ve inspired you further to research the beautiful places that home the leopard!
Aah, the beauty of the leopard… Learn more about the Best Places to Spot Leopards in Africa.
It’s estimated that between 3,500 and 7,000 snow leopards exist in the wild, dispersed across 12 Central Asian countries. An indisputably breathtaking animal, the snow leopard is a privilege to see!
Snow leopards are very rare to spot in person! There are estimated to be very few of them left in the wild, spread over the highest altitudes of Central Asia, including the high Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. Still, it is difficult to obtain an accurate population count or track their movements due to their nature.
Unfortunately, they are vulnerable due to their changing habitats and at risk from increased conflict with humans as their environment suffers due to climate change. They encroach on urban areas, seeking food. They are also subject to poaching because their pelts are in high demand on the black market.
Luckily, there exist incredible relief efforts to save them. Conservancy programs have been working to protect the snow leopard for many years, and it is now possible to support sustainable tourism that generates income for conservation. One can go on a snow leopard trek in Hemis National Park, Ladakh, searching for this most mysterious of big cats.
The best places to see them:
#1 Hemis National Park, Ladakh, India
Hemis National Park is believed to have the world’s densest population of snow leopards. The park is home to a number of species of endangered mammals, including the snow leopard. The park is bounded on the north by the banks of the Indus River and includes the catchments of Markha, Sumdah and Rumbak and parts of the Zanskar Range.
Before embarking on a trip to discover the snow leopard, ensure you support responsible travel to reduce the rate of threat to the leopard.
The cheetah is a large cat, endemic to African savanna regions and central Iran. It is the fastest land animal, capable of running at 80 to 128 km/h, and as such, has several adaptations for speed in its agile build.
|Speed: 93 km/h (Maximum, In Short Bursts, Running)|
|Mass: 21 – 72 kg (Adult)|
|Scientific name: Acinonyx jubatus|
|Conservation status: Vulnerable (Population decreasing|
|Height: 70 – 90 cm (Adult, At Shoulder)|
Cheetahs live in various environments and can be located in dry forests, grasslands, open plains, and desert regions. Cheetahs once lived across most of Africa, as well as in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. However, their population has become restricted to small numbers in highly fragmented populations.
Only approximately 7000 cheetahs remain today. Almost half of these live in Southern Africa. Namibia has the world’s largest population, but the increasing conflict between cheetahs and farmers is due to human encroachment on former wilderness areas for development and resource extraction, threatening the remaining population. Therefore Cheetahs are classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The best places to see cheetahs would be on an African wildlife Safari. We’ve put together the top 3 places where you can see cheetahs in their natural habitat: Supporting only responsible tourism when encountering the highly threatened species is vital.
#1 South Africa
There are many places where you can expect to see big cats like cheetahs in South Africa:
Kruger Park holds approximately 200 cheetahs, making sightings rare but still possible and accommodating a range of other big cats and the big 5. It will therefore be an all-round thriving destination for big cat sightings!
Botswana has many reserves, parks and open plains where you can find cheetahs in their natural habitat.
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the border between South Africa and Botswana offers one of the highest chances to see the Cheetah in action! This is mainly due to the park’s high cheetah population and ideal terrain.
Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is undoubtedly one of Africa’s best places to spot cheetahs. On our top lists for multiple animal sightings, it seems! Don’t miss out on all that Kenya has to offer its visitors!
A unique animal to see. The fasted wild cat and Africa’s most endangered cat, therefore encounter with care and respect for this beautiful feline!
For more facts about the cheetah, visit our very own Cheetah guide!
The jaguar has been a symbol of power, ferocity, and valor for centuries in South American culture and mythology; believed to embody contempt.
|Mass: 56 – 96 kg (Adult)|
|Height: 63 – 76 cm (Adult, At Shoulder)|
|Conservation status: Near Threatened (Population decreasing)|
|Scientific name: Panthera onca|
If you have ever wondered where to see this fabled and phenomenal big cat, we have the locations right here for you!
Jaguars exist in 18 countries in Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina. Despite this broad range, jaguars have been eradicated from 40 percent of their historic range and are extinct in Uruguay and El Salvador. While the rare individual has been spotted in the US, there has not been evidence of a breeding population in the US in more than 50 years.
Panthers: Did you know that jaguars and leopards can be “melanistic” in their coat coloring and when this occurs, they may be known as panthers or black panthers?
They are more common than one would think! However, they have evolved to be more elusive than the light-colored jaguars due to their need for camouflage when hunting predominantly at night.
The jaguar is listed as “Near Threatened” IUCN Red List due to the damage to their natural habitat, which is subject to mass deforestation.
Jaguars often live near lakes, rivers and wetlands and prefer to avoid open forests and grasslands. They are most common in the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil.
Best places to see Jaguars
Sightings of jaguars can be limited to National Parks, Sanctuaries & Reserves: jaguars can be located in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize, Peru’s Manú National Park, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico, and Brazil’s Xingu National Park. We have covered a few of these locations below:
The jaguar can be located throughout protected areas within this extensive range of South America.
#1 Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize
Cockscomb is the world’s first reserve explicitly created to protect jaguars. Designated in 1986, comprising of primarily tropical moist forest on the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains in central Belize, Brazil.
#2 Caiman Ecological Reserve, southern Pantanal, Brazil
Though sightings are more common in the north, jaguars thrive through much of the Pantanal, 80% of which is in Brazil, the rest shared between Bolivia and Paraguay. Probably the highest possibility to sight jaguars here!
#3 Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the world’s greenest countries, literally and figuratively. This is because almost a quarter of its land is protected in national parks or private reserves, over half of its land is covered with trees, and it’s home to 5% of the Earth’s biodiversity. A beautiful destination to spot the jaguar! Want to find even more places to see South America’s jaguar? Have a look at our Jaguar blog.
- Latin America natural World Safaris: Jaguar Safari In Brazil
- Tusk Photo Tours: Wildlife photography tours and Safaris
- Steppes Travel: Pantanal wetlands ( Brazil) holidays
Visit one of the best places to see jaguars that we have recommended. Embrace South American culture, biodiversity and wildlife in one trip of a lifetime!
Valued as a symbolic icon of natural heritage. The tiger, one of the largest land mammals in the world, has always intrigued and amazed those lucky enough to encounter them in their natural habitat. The body length can vary between 2,5 and almost 3 meters, Making the tiger the largest of the big cats!
|Lifespan: 10 – 15 years (In the wild)|
|Mass: Male: 90 – 310 kg (Adult), Female: 65 – 170 kg (Adult)|
There are six subspecies of tigers: Most Commonly, the Bengal Tiger/the most accessible and visited Tiger.
Valued as a symbolic icon of natural heritage. The tiger, one of the largest land mammals in the world, has always intrigued and amazed those lucky enough to encounter their species in wildlife. The body length can vary between 2,5 and almost 3 meters in length.
India holds the largest population of sacred tigers, and they have been the highest priority for the World Wildlife Fund ( WWF) India. In addition, Project Tiger was initiated in 1973 as an essential conservation program.
To add, project Tiger has impressively been responsible for forming more than 25 reserves for tiger monitoring and conservation and has been credited for the increase in tiger population by almost three times the initial population.
Where to see them
- Bandhavgarh National Park
- Ranthambore National Park
- Kanha National Park
- Jim Corbett National Park
- Satpura National Park:
- Nature Safari India
The tiger is endangered and desperately needs funding for conservation relief efforts!
WWF-India’s work for tiger conservation aims to maintain and restore tiger habitats and critical corridors while protecting the tiger and its prey base in the tiger landscapes within India, eventually leading to an increase and stabilization in tiger populations across the country. Links down below for donations and adoption details!
Want to learn more about this special big cat? Click here to find the Tiger Safari tour guide.
A nomadic, nocturnal, and solitary animal is only socialized during the rutting season, in the first months of the year. They tend to hibernate until warmer temperatures accommodate them and practice relatively nocturnal lifestyles.
|Lifespan: Bobcat: 7 years|
|Scientific name: Lynx|
|Height: Eurasian lynx: 55 – 75 cm, Canada lynx: 48 – 56 cm, Iberian lynx: 60 – 70 cm|
|Mass: Bobcat: 8,6 kg, Eurasian lynx: 18 – 30 kg, Canada lynx: 8 – 11 kg, Iberian lynx: 13 kg|
|Length: Bobcat: 69 cm, Eurasian lynx: 80 – 130 cm, Canada lynx: 76 – 110 cm, Iberian lynx: 85 – 110 cm|
Interesting facts about the Lynx include: They can smell a rodent from 75 meters away and the origin of their name is derived from a Greek term meaning ‘bright eyes’. The Iberian lynx was established as a species 1.8 million years ago in one of Europe’s main glacial refuges: the Iberian Peninsula.
It is, therefore, a jewel of the Iberian Mediterranean mountain. An evolutionary intrigue to study! Whereas the Eurasian lynx is one of the most widespread cat species. Its European distribution area reached from the Pyrenees in a wide belt to the Ural Mountain, predating the modern era as an evolutionary sound species.
Parque Nacional y Natural de Doñana
Located in the southwest of Andalusia and mostly belonging to Huelva, this National Park includes the highest population density of Lynx in Spain. Transit for many migratory birds before flying to Africa. The area of Raya Real in Coto del Rey is a route through the vegetation of the Park.
You can visit its official website, where you will find guided tours.
The Iberian experience
The Iberian Lynx experience, with “Untravelled Paths” offers a guided tour in the direction of Andalusia for 4 nights.
The lynx is a beautiful animal worth seeing in the wild. The lynx’s life can be known by some as a lone wonder. The cat of prey is also called “brush ear” due to its appearance.
A beautiful cat to witness in its natural habitat. A feat of remarkable evolutionary resilience! We hope the species continues to adapt and evolve to exist for many more eras to come!
Want to learn more about the Lynx? Click here.
Cougar ( Puma)
The Cougar Puma concolor probably has as many different common names as they do geographical regions: Puma, Mountain Lion, Florida Panther, Painter, Mexican Lion, Catamount and Red Tiger to mention only a few.
Many subspecies of the Cougar have previously been debated, although recent genetic studies have indicated that the current subspecies should be reduced to six.
|Height: 60 – 90 cm (Adult, At Shoulder)|
|Speed: 64 – 80 km/h (Running)|
|Lifespan: 8 – 13 years (In the wild)|
|Scientific name: Puma concolor|
|Mass: Male: 53 – 100 kg (Adult), Female: 29 – 64 kg (Adult)|
|Length: Male: 2,4 m (Adult), Female: 2 m (Adult)|
Cougar Facts 101: These cats are commonly called Puma in Latin America, and either Cougar or Mountain Lion in the north. Because of their immense range, there is a wide variation in coat color, from a buff or sandy brown to reddish brown, to light silver and slate grey.
The cats have ranged from Central and South America to North America where they have been identified as smaller. They have the most extensive range of native land mammal in the western hemisphere. Occurring from Canada south to Patagonia and thriving in almost every type of habitat. That includes forests, high mountains, deserts and even urban settings!
Unfortunately, the population has decreased over the last century but optimistic estimates suggest there may now be as many as 30,000 individuals in the USA.
Where to see the Cougars?
They can be seen extensively but we have isolated two places with a high-density of population.
#1 Pumas in Torres del Paine National Park
The pumas of Patagonia are bolder than their northern counterparts, probably because they’ve been the top predators in this South American region for some 10,000 years. They take what they want – including thousands of sheep each year. As a result, hundreds or even thousands fall victim to retaliatory killings by farmers, says Panthera’s Mark Elbroch, though the exact number of deaths is unknown. Hunting pumas is illegal on the Chilean side of the Andes, but there’s still a bounty on them in Argentina.
Panthera is launching a project in the region to mitigate the conflict. One factor in the pumas’ favor is that ecotourists will pay big money to see them, especially around Chile’s spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, where sightings have become quite reliable.
#2 Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, has North America’s highest mountain lion concentration. Look for tracks along the 5.6-mile stretch of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail from Sombrio Beach to Parkinson Creek.
Is the cougar an animal you would be interested to see?
The caracal is a medium-sized wild cat native to Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and India.
|Conservation status: Least Concern|
|Mass: 12 kg (Adult|
|Scientific name: Caracal caracal|
|Length: 74 cm (Adult)|
|Trophic level: Carnivorous|
Caracals have been worshiped as beautiful wild cats for centuries in Egyptian mythology. Their regal, striking ears distinguish their trademark.
Fun Facts: Caracals have extraordinary ears that contain over 20 muscles in each ear. They oscillate to detect the sounds of their prey from meters away, and the tufts may enhance every sound or be used for communication via twitches and other movements.
These beautiful wild cats are, however, incredibly elusive and are not commonly a subject of tourism or encounters. We, therefore, do not recommend trying to encounter one in the wild and instead promote awareness about the often misunderstood cat.
Learn more about caracals at the Cape Town-based Urban Caracal project. Dr. Laurel Serieys founded this passion project to identify and follow Caracals in the cape, aiming to obtain more information about them and learn how to protect their elusive population from urban encroaching threats.
The project has also acted as a means to mediate human-animal conflict. Have a look at the great work the project has done.
Summary of Big Cats and Where to See them
Have you fallen in love with the possibility of witnessing the majesty of big cats in their natural environment?
Follow our guides to breathtaking destinations that will launch you and your wildest dreams, across the globe, in search of encounters with all the world’s big cats!
If you enjoyed this article about big cats but would like to read up individually about all the featured cats, you can look at our separate blogs. Enjoy, and let us know what you think in the comment section below!
Are you ready to witness the tale of this remarkable beast? Embark on a journey with us as we delve into the past and reveal the story of the Man-eater of Mfuwe. Brace yourself to be astonished, inspired, and perhaps a bit intimidated. Do you ever dream of standing before the king of the jungle, …
The man-eating lions of Tsavo, also known as the Tsavo Lions or the Ghost and Darkness, were two male African Lions that famously went on a killing rampage along the railway line between Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya. During their nine-month reign of terror, they killed an estimated 28 to 135 victims, making them one …
If you’re an animal lover, you can’t ignore these bossy miniatures packed with attitude. The Caracal cat is a wild cat that belongs to the cat species and which almost looks like a mini lion. It is a medium-sized wild cat that lives in the Middle East, India, and Africa’s desert regions. These cats are …
Are you looking for the 4 best places to see jaguars? The word “Jaguar” is derived from the indigenous Latin American word ‘ Yaguar’, which can be translated into, ” he who kills in just one leap”. The jaguar is representative of power, ferocity, and valor; believed to be the embodiment of contempt. Some viewed the jaguar …
Welcome to The 6 Best Places to See Cheetahs. If you have been dreaming of encountering wild cheetahs in their natural habitat, then look no further than our Complete Guide to Encounter Wild Cheetahs. Have a look at our newest article to meet this enigmatic feline and find out more about where you can find …