I Rated Big Cats So You Don’t Have to

To celebrate the return of 'Planet Earth'.

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22 November 2016, 3:20pm

A decade after the first series, the BBC has launched the even more spectacular Planet Earth 2 which airs Sundays at 8pm on BBC One, covering the world's changing habitats from deserts, islands, mountains, and jungles, through to more urban environments, accompanied by the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough. To celebrate this, we asked a cat lady to tell us about cats.

Everyone loves the domestic cat, right? I truly am a cat person: give me a soothing mug of wine and a seventeen-minute-long YouTube compilation of our furry domestic pals doing weird stuff and I'm set for the evening. Or even better, just give me a real cat to hang out with so I don't feel so crushingly lonely. Who needs dogs, with their unfaltering loyalty and superior intelligence, when you can have a fickle little cat who does nothing but sleep, kill stuff, and lick its gross body parts? Those guys are the coolest.

But what about big cats? Don't they deserve some recognition too? Big cats aren't getting the bandwidth they deserve: the last big cat I heard about on the internet was Cecil, and things didn't end well for him. Lucky for us, the new series of Planet Earth features many of our larger, wilder furry friends, so ahead of that, I thought I'd profile a few different iterations of cat for your entertainment and edification. To add some weight to my words, I asked Dr. Neil D'Cruze, the Head of Animal Research at World Animal Protection, to give us an expert's lowdown on each one of these furry guys too. Check it out:

Bengal Tiger

(All photos: BBC)

Science name: Panthera Tigris Tigris
Hangs out: In the Grasslands of India mostly, but also in deciduous, temperate and mangrove forests.
Why are they cool? These guys are at the top of the food chain! This means they play a really important part in keeping their surrounding natural ecosystems balanced, which is important for us because we depend on these ecosystems for pretty vital stuff like air and water.
Could I keep one? At 10 feet and 250 kg, this little kitty weighs the equivalent of 5 of me, so I'm not sure he's ready for Netflix and chill just yet. Or pretty much anything that isn't roaming around in a giant fucking forest.
Cute rating: 7/10. I like his stripes but the size issue is holding me back.
Dr. Neil says: The Bengal Tiger is currently considered to be 'endangered', with just 3,500 left surviving in the wild, down from around 100,000 tigers roaming across India alone at the start of the 20th Century. Deforestation, encroachment of habitat and poaching (for their skins, bones, teeth and claws) have devastated tiger populations across Asia. However, countries with big cats are working to increase their numbers.

African Lion

Science name: Panthera Leo
Hangs out: In Sub-saharan Africa (obvs) and India, in both the grasslands and savanna.
Why are they cool? Just like the tiger, the African lion is the top predator in its environment, so they are vital to keeping the balance in their surrounding habitat. In Planet Earth we meet a male lion in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. His face has a load of cool scars from battles in the flooded swamps with his most formidable foe, Cape Buffalo - who are five times his size. So he's a tough guy and - famously - girls dig scars.
Could I keep one? These guys are a little smaller than their striped relatives at around 5.5 ft and 150kg. Practically pocket-sized, maybe I could fit him in my flat? PLUS, Lions are the most sociable of the big cats, and the only ones which hang out in groups (prides). I can bring him for a glass of wine with the girls!
Cute rating: 8/10. Fluffy AND sociable? Sign me up!
Dr. Neil says: The African Lion is currently considered to be 'vulnerable' and has undergone a reduction in numbers of approximately 43 per cent over the past 21 years. Indiscriminate killing in defence of human life and livestock, habitat loss, and prey base depletion are driving numbers down. But another emerging threat is the trade in bones and other body parts for traditional medicine, both within Africa and in Asia.

Serval

Science name: Leptailurus serval
Hangs out: These guys like to chill by the water, so they are mostly found in the African savanna and grasslands.
Why are they cool? LOOK AT IT. It has the longest legs of any big cat (compared to its body size) and it can jump as high as 10 foot. In Planet Earth you see one leaping three meters through the air to catch her prey. We also learn that she sports the largest ears and longest legs of any cat in the world relative to body size, which is just lovely.
Could I keep one? 12kg and 1.5 feet... yeah I could fit this guy in my little flat!
Cute rating: 9/10. Cat's face, leopard's body, what the hell is not cute about this?
Dr. Neil says: The Serval is currently considered to be of 'least concern' as they are relatively abundant and widespread through sub-Saharan Africa and North of the Sahara. Within the last few years there have been many new records of servals, implying an expansion and recolonisation of some areas. However, habitat loss and degradation of wetlands is still of concern, as is the level of skin trade for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, particularly in west Africa.

Jaguar

Science name: Panthera onca
Hangs out: In the Amazon forest mostly.
Why are they cool? Apart from being the only big cat native to the Americas, they are pretty much the athletes of the cat world. They can swim, climb trees, run really fast (up to 50mph) and do loads of stuff that you wouldn't think they could do.
Could I keep one? The Jaguar is the third largest big cat after, you guessed it, the lion and the tiger. So unless I move to the rainforest soon, probably not.
Cute rating: 6/10. The spots are cool sure, but I'm actually a little intimidated by this guy.
Dr. Neil says: Is currently considered to be 'near threatened' due to people competing with them for prey and frequently shooting them on sight, despite protective legislation. Commercial hunting and trapping of jaguars for their pelts has declined drastically since the mid-1970's following anti-fur campaigns and greater controls, however, there is still demand for jaguar paws, teeth and other products that is cause for concern.

Snow leopard

Science name: Panthera uncia
Hangs out: On cold, high mountains like the Himalayas.
Why are they cool? They are like, the king of the mountains! Plus, their back legs are so strong that they can jump six times the length of their own body.
Could I keep one? These cuties range from 2-5ft which I think is manageable. Imagine how nice they'd be to cuddle with all that fur.
Cute rating: 8/10. It's like a normal leopard but white!
Dr. Neil says: The Snow Leopard is currently considered to be 'endangered' and along with the tiger, it is thought to be one of the most at risk Asian big cat species with experts placing its global population at only around 4000-6500 individuals left remaining in the wild. Major threats to the Snow Leopard include prey base depletion, and conflict with local people. The snow leopard also continues to enter illegal trade primarily for its skins.

Bobcat

Science name: Lynx rufus
Hangs out: They are mostly found in North America, in pretty much any habitat, from forests to deserts to cities.
Why are they cool? These guys are kind of like your friendly neighbourhood big cat. Unlike most other cats, they have a short, stubby little tail, which is where they get their name from. Also, I learned from Planet Earth that they do cute stuff like use boulders as stepping stones so that they don't get their feet in the snow and make a crunching sound that might reveal them to their prey. Smart kitty!
Could I keep one? Finally! A cat that's me-sized. Well, actually quite a lot smaller than me at about 10kg and 3 feet.
Cute rating: 6/10. Cute, but the tail kinda creeps me out.
Dr. Neil says: The Bobcat is currently considered to be of 'least concern', however, local threats may present challenges for the long term in some regions including market hunting for the fur trade and direct habitat loss caused by increased urbanisation. Of particular concern, is the recent increase in bobcat pelt prices from $85 in 2000, to highs of $305 in 2015, driven by high demand for fur in China, Europe, and Russia

Leopard

Science name: Panthera pardus
Hangs out: In loads of places. They have the largest habitat range of any other big cat, from the rainforest to the desert.
Why are they cool? Well, I mean, look at it.
Could I keep one? At 25kg and 4-5 feet, this is actually one of the smallest of the 'big cat' family... yeah I can imagine snuggling up in front of Gogglebox with one of these. They are also nocturnal so great for a night out!
Cute rating: 8/10. If that coat doesn't do it for you, I don't know what will.
Dr. Neil says: The leopard is currently considered to be 'vulnerable' as populations have become dramatically reduced due to continued persecution, increased human populations and habitat fragmentation. The illegal wildlife trade has caused excessive harvesting for ceremonial use of skins and poorly managed trophy hunting.

Planet Earth 2 airs Sundays at 8pm on BBC One, or catchup on BBC iPlayer

Words: Jessica Ann Spires