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What is the 4th biggest cat?

Top 10 largest “big cats” in the world

‘Big cat’ is a term used for the large members of the cat family, Felidae. Big cats are ambush hunters and are often at the top of the food chain in an ecosystem. Based on the typical size, the following are the top 10 largest big cats in the world.

Top 10 largest big cats in the world

  1. Tiger
  2. Lion
  3. Jaguar
  4. Cougar/Puma/mountain lion
  5. Leopard
  6. Snow Leopard
  7. Cheetah
  8. Eurasian Lynx
  9. Sunda Clouded leopard
  10. Clouded leopard

1. Tiger (Panthera tigris)

Tiger is the largest of all big cats. Only found in Asia, Tiger has two subspecies – the Continental Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) and the Sunda tiger (Panthera tigris sondaica). The Siberian Tiger (a continental Tiger population) is the largest among all Tigers. Adult male Siberian Tigers typically weigh 200-300 Kgs (441-661 lbs) while adult females weigh 100-150 Kgs (221-331 lbs). The Royal Bengal Tiger found in India and Bangladesh is also a continental Tiger. Some sources say that the average weight of the Bengal Tiger is more than that of the Siberian Tiger.

Tigers live a solitary life and are very rarely seen in groups. Tiger is the national animal of India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and South Korea.

An image of a TIger, the largest of all big cats

2. Lion (Panthera leo)

The lion is the second largest big cat. Found in Africa and India, Lion has two recognized subspecies- (1) Panthera leo leo found in Central and West Africa, and in India, (2) Panthera leo melanochaita found in Southern and Eastern Africa. The size of Lions varies from region to region but the largest specimens easily weigh over 200 Kgs (441 lbs).

Lion has the loudest roar among all big cats. Its roar can be heard from as far as 8 kilometers (5 miles). Unlike Tiger, Lion is a social animal and lives in groups called Pride.

An image of a Lion, the second largest big cat

3. Jaguar (Panthera onca)

An image of a Jaguar, the third largest big cat

Jaguar is the third largest big cat. Found in Central and South America, and rarely in the US, Jaguar typically weighs 56–96 Kgs (124–212 lbs). In the rainforests of the Amazon, there is often a fight between the Jaguar and Anaconda for the spot of the apex predator. The former seems to dominate the latter. Moreover, Jaguars have been seen preying on the Anaconda many times.

The jaguars of Central America are much smaller in size compared to the South American Jaguars.

4. Cougar/Puma/Mountain lion (Puma concolor)

Cougar big cats

The Cougar cat is found in both North and South America. In many regions, its habitat overlaps with the habitat of the Jaguar. Cougars weigh typically in the range of 50-70 Kgs (110-154 lbs). They grow bigger in size at higher latitudes. Near the equator, they are relatively smaller.

Though Cougars and Jaguars have comparable sizes, Jaguars have a greater biting force and physical strength. Jaguars also prey on larger animals as compared to Cougars.

5. Leopard (Panthera pardus)

Leopard big cats

Among all the cats, Leopard probably has the largest habitat range. Leopard is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Leopards look similar to Jaguars but are smaller in size and have smaller Rosettes with no central dots. The typical weight range is 40-70 Kgs (88-154 lbs).

6. Snow leopard (Panthera uncia)

The snow leopard is not a Leopard subspecies. Its binomial name is Panthera uncia. Snow leopards are found in Asia from Siberia to the Upper Himalayan mountains. With a typical weight in the range of 22 to 55 Kgs (49 and 121 lbs), Snow leopards are the sixth largest big cats.

7. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

The cheetah is the fastest land animal. With a typical weight of 21 to 72 Kgs (46 and 159 lbs), it is the seventh largest big cat species in the world. Cheetah is found majorly in Africa with a small population in Iran. Historically, these big cats were found throughout India. The government of India reintroduced Cheetahs into the wild in 2022 in Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh.

8. Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx)

A Eurasian Lynx resting

Eurasian Lynx is a wild cat found in Europe, Central Asia, Siberia, and rarely in the Himalayan mountains. Eurasian Lynx weighs 10-30 Kgs (22-66 lbs) and is the largest Lynx species in the world.

9. Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi)

Sunda Clouded leopards are found exclusively in Sumatra and Borneo islands in Southeast Asia. Sunda clouded leopards vary in weight from 12 to 26 Kgs (27-57 lbs).

10. Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

Unlike the Sunda clouded Leopard which is limited to only two islands, Clouded leopards have a large geographical range. They are found in the eastern Himalayas, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Southeastern China, and Malaysia. The typical weight range of a Clouded leopard is 10-23 Kgs (22-51 lbs).

When is a big cat not a “Big Cat”?

Let’s talk taxonomy. The decision to put species into defined groups is often straightforward and logical (vertebrates vs invertebrates), and occasionally arbitrary (barren-ground vs woodland caribou); but, in some cases, it’s a source of confusion.

I study cougars ( Puma concolor ), also known as mountain lions, pumas, deer tigers, and many, many other things (I think they’ve won awards for it). Like all cats, cougars are part of the Felidae family. Adult cougars weigh in around 29-100 kg, stand at about 60-90 cm, and are often as long as 2 metres (thanks, long tails!). They’re a big cat, except they’re not? “Big Cat” is actually a colloquial term sometimes used to define an important distinction between cats in the genus Panthera. Panthera ’s extant species are:

  • Lions ( Panthera leo )
  • Tigers ( Panthera tigris )
  • Jaguars ( Panthera onca )
  • Leopards ( Panthera pardus )
  • Snow leopards ( Panthera uncia )

But, out of those five, only the first four are capable of roaring (based on the morphology of their larynx) – and this roar is what defines a “Big Cat”. Thus, according to this definition, only four of the 37-42 cats in the world are Big Cats (uncertainty due to debates in the genetic community), and the fact that they all happen to be large may or may not be tied to their larynx at all.

Where this really gets confusing is when applying for grants to study a cat. Cat grants come in three main categories: Big Cat grants, small/cute cat grants, and endangered cat grants. These are wonderful, important groups that cover incredible cats like Big lions ( Panthera leo ), small/cute rusty-spotted cats ( Prionailurus rubiginosus ), and endangered cheetahs ( Acinonyx jubatus ). But based on the definition above, these grants don’t cover a large but not “Big”, cute but not small, and declining but not endangered, cougar.

Thankfully (but confusingly), every granting organization seems to define their cats differently, and some include cougars! The Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera (the organization, not the genus) says there are seven species of Big Cats:

  • Lions
  • Tigers
  • Jaguars
  • Leopards
  • Snow leopards
  • Cougars ( Puma concolor )
  • Cheetahs ( Acinonyx jubatus )

While National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative agrees with those seven, but adds two more (Figure 1):

  • Lions
  • Tigers
  • Jaguars
  • Leopards
  • Snow leopards
  • Cougars
  • Cheetahs
  • Clouded leopards ( Neofelis nebulosa )
  • Sunda clouded leopards ( Neofelis diardi )

Figure 1: The nine Big Cats defined by National Geographic
photo credit:

The decisions behind these inclusions are not made clear, it could be based on body size, ecological function, or another special type of vocalization. World Wildlife Day on March 3 rd of this year was “Big Cat” themed, and CITES gave the following statement: “In an effort to reach as wide an audience as possible, the expanded definition of big cats is being used, which includes not only lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar — the 4 largest wild cats that can roar – but also cheetah, snow leopard, puma, clouded leopard, etc.”

But what does that “etc.” include? Just Sunda clouded leopards, like National Geographic says? Or does it encompass cats not mentioned above? Clouded leopard adults weigh between 12-23 kg, while the Eurasian lynx ( Lynx lynx ) is between 18-30 kg. And the caracal ( Caracal caracal ) is pretty tall at 40-50 cm. Both these species are covered under Panthera’s small cat grants, so they aren’t ignored, but what is the cut off? I guess if you are the one with the money, you can do what you want.

So here I am, confused. If I were to receive a big cat grant, could I write publications on my research calling cougars Big Cats? Hopefully I get to find out!*

* Shortly after writing this I heard that I received a National Geographic grant – so I guess I WILL be calling my cougars Big Cats!

What is the 4th biggest cat?

They are solitary and territorial animals; cubs (big cat offspring are not called kittens) stay with their mother for 2 years. These cats are found throughout Asia—although they are endangered—and their population is dwindling.

photo of a family of lions

Lions are a social species of large cats found in the grasslands and savannas of Africa. Males are recognizable by their long hair surrounding their necks, called manes. Lionesses do the hunting for the pride (social group of lions), which is comprised of several adult males, related females, and cubs. These animals are listed as vulnerable, which means they are close to becoming endangered.

photo of a jaguar

Jaguars are the only member of the Panthera genus found in the Americas. Individual cats can be found in the Western United States, but they have had a reduced range in Central and South America since the early 20 th century. They are solitary animals and ambush predators, hunting in tropical and subtropical forests and swamps. They are recognizable by their spots, which are black rosettes with spots in the middle. However, melanistic (or all black) jaguar occasionally appear; these cats are informally known as black panthers—although they are not a separate species—and the phrase “black panther” has been used to describe melanistic leopards as well. Jaguars are near-threatened, which means their numbers are decreasing and their populations are being closely monitored.

photo of a leopard

Leopards have a wide range and are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, in parts of Western and Central Asia and on the Indian subcontinent. They are recognizable by their spots; they look like jaguars with their spotted fur, but leopards are shorter with a smaller head, and their rosette-shaped spots do not have dots in the middle. Leopards are opportunistic hunters, hunting mostly on the ground at night; though in the Serengeti, they are known for attacking prey by leaping from trees. Leopards are listed as vulnerable, meaning they are potentially on their way to the endangered species list.

Snow leopards

photo of a snow leopard

Snow leopards live in the mountain regions of Central and South Asia, living at elevations from 3,000 to 4,500 feet. Their fur is whitish grey, with black rosettes, distinguishing them from other leopards which are yellow or brown in color. Snow leopards have large nasal passages which helps warm the cold, dry air they breathe. Their tails are covered thickly with fur and provide fat storage; sleeping snow leopards use their warm tails like blankets to protect their faces when they sleep. They are listed as vulnerable, meaning they may appear on the endangered species list in the future.

Clouded leopards

photo of a clouded leopard lounging on a branch

There are two species of clouded leopards—the mainland clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) and the Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi). The mainland clouded leopard is found in the Himalayan foothills in Southeast Asia and southern China and the Sunda clouded leopard is found in Borneo and Sumatra. They are considered an evolutionary link between two cat families Pantherinae and Felinae. Their fur is dark grey with a black blotched pattern. Clouded leopards are solitary and hunt by stalking or ambushing prey. They are excellent climbers and use trees as rest sites. Both species of clouded leopards are listed as vulnerable, meaning they can potentially end up on the endangered species list.

photo of a cougar sitting on a rock

The cougar (also known as a puma, mountain lion, red tiger, or catamount) is the only cat on this list that you may see in the wild around Pittsburgh; however, their populations are severely reduced in the eastern half of North America. These cats are adaptable to a wide variety of habitats, which is why they are found all throughout North and South America. This wide range is the reason people living in different regions have different names for them. They are ambush predators, preferring to hunt deer, though they will eat insects and rodents. While cougars are large, they are not always the apex (or top) predator and will occasionally give food they caught away to jaguars, grizzly bears, or even alligators! Cougars are listed as least concern, meaning their population is holding steady, though their range has shrunk.

close up of a cheetah

Cheetahs are known for their speed; as the fastest land animal, they are capable of running up to 80 miles per hour! Cheetahs can be found in the Serengeti, Saharan mountain ranges, and in hilly areas of Iran. Cheetahs separate into three kinds of social groups—females with cubs, all-male groups, and solitary males. Females are more likely to travel further distances while males will establish and stay in smaller territories. They are active during the day and spend most of their time hunting for things like impala or springbok. Cheetahs are listed as vulnerable, with one of the main threats being a lack of genetic diversity, which makes it difficult for the species to adapt and evolve over generations, reducing the chance for individual animals to survive.

Eurasian lynx

photo of a Eurasian lynx

The Eurasian lynx is found from Europe into Central Asia and Siberia, living in temperate or boreal (snow or Taiga) forests. They have short, red-brown coats, and are more colorful than most animals sharing their habitat. In the winter, their fur grows in thicker and greyer. These cats have relatively long legs and large webbed and furred paws that act like snowshoes, allowing them to walk on top of the snow. They have bobbed (or short) tails, much like one of their cousins you might see around Pittsburgh—the bobcat. They hunt small mammals and birds but will occasionally take down young moose or deer. The Eurasian lynx is listed as least concern, with a stable population.

Jo Tauber is the Gallery Experience Coordinator for CMNH’s Life Long Learning Department, as well as the official Registrar for the Living Collection. Museum staff, volunteers, and interns are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.

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