Cats are mammals, in the Order Carnivora, in the Family Felidae.
From the three-pound rusty-spotted cat to the 500-pound tiger, cats of all sizes are found all over the world, except in Australia, Madagascar, Antarctica, and Greenland. All 40 species are strict carnivores, and most are solitary and elusive. Lions and tigers are the largest cats, while leopards, snow leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, and pumas are medium-sized. The remaining cats are all small, weighing less than 50 pounds. Many big and small cats are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation and poaching for fur and traditional medicine.
Until about 12,000 years ago, the lion roamed a larger area than any other mammal (besides man): Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia as far north as Siberia, and the Americas from Alaska to Peru. Climate changes and man's influence have restricted the lion to its present range of sub-Saharan Africa and India's Gir Forest.
Unlike lions, which live in prides on open plains, solitary tigers live and hunt in forests. Only six of the nine tiger subspecies survive, and one of these—the South China tiger—is down to a population of less than 50. Of the three island subspecies (Balinese, Javan, and Sumatran) the only one remaining is the Sumatran tiger, which is being bred at the National Zoo.
Bobcats have two or three kittens per litter, which are cared for only by their mothers. When the kittens are several weeks old, their mother brings them live mice so they can practice hunting, but they do not hunt for themselves until they are nine or ten months old.
The puma can kill and drag prey up to seven times its own weight. The puma, also known as the mountain lion, cougar, or, in Florida, the Florida panther, originally ranged from northern Canada to the southern tip of South America. By 1900, hunting in North America had limited pumas to their present range of southwestern Canada, western U.S. wilderness areas, southern Florida, and isolated areas in Mexico. They still occur in parts of Central and South America.
Cats were first domesticated about 4,000 years ago by the Egyptians, who worshiped felines.