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Top Five Big Cats

There is nothing more fascinating and humbling in equal measure as the sight of a big cat in the wilderness.Whether it be a cheetah on the plains of the Mara, a jaguar on the river banks in Central America, a leopard sleeping on a tree branch in Ishasha or a lion pride in Serengeti, a sighting of the big cat is a highlight on any safari. To appreciate big cats, one need look no further than a domestic cat. If you have seen the agility, prowess, and deftness of touch, then simply imagine that on a grander scale and you will have a big cat.

Number 5: Cheetah

The aesthetic design and speed of the cheetah puts it on our list. The remarkable top speed and the ability to take down prey. The cheetah is built for speed. It's legs are relatively long compared to its greyhound-like body; it has a big heart and lungs and wide nasal passages. It is the fastest land animal, timed running at speeds of up to 114km/h.

While the lion and the leopard rely on getting close to their intended prey before breaking cover, the cheetah's speed gives it an advantage in the more open savanna. Cheetahs are slightly taller than leopards but not as bulky, probably weighing between 40kg and 60kg. Although cheetahs are members of the cat family, they have dog-like non-retractable claws. This limits their tree-climbing ability but gives them a speed advantage when charging.

Number 4:Leopard

The sight of a leopard is a rarity as leopards are solitary animals that like to stay away. On safari the sound of an engine can upset them and have them disappear off into the thickets. Leopard’s impressive hunting skills and strength to lift more than their body weight up a tree.

The leopard is a graceful animal with an elongated body, relatively short legs and a long tail. After the lion, it is the next-biggest African cat with an average body mass of between 60kg and 70kg, standing about two-thirds of a metre tall at the shoulder. Leopards in the wild may live up to 15 years. Unlike the lion, the leopard is a silent creature, only occasionally emitting a cough-like call.

The leopard's hunting technique is to either ambush its prey or to stalk it. In either instance, it tries to get as close as possible to its target. It then makes a brief and explosive charge (up to 60km/h), pouncing on its prey and dispatching it with a bite to the neck. Leopards do not have the aptitude to chase their prey over any kind of distance and will give up if the initial element of surprise is lost and the intended victim gets away. Leopards are bigger and slower than cheetahs.

Number 3: Tiger

Tigers are the largest member of the felid (cat) family. They sport long, thick reddish coats with white bellies and white and black tails. Their heads, bodies, tails and limbs have narrow black, brown or gray stripes. There were once nine subspecies of tigers: Bengal, Siberian, Indochinese, South Chinese, Sumatran, Malayan, Caspian, Javan and Bali. Of these, the last three are extinct, one is extinct in the wild, and the rest are endangered.

Tigers typically inhabit a range of habitats from tropical forests, evergreen forests, woodlands and mangrove swamps to grasslands, savannah and rocky country. They are mostly nocturnal and are ambush predators with the help of the camouflage provided by their stripes provide. Tigers use their body weight to knock prey to the ground and kills with a bite to the neck. They are also very good swimmers and have been known to kill prey while swimming.

Tigers essentially live solitary lives, except during mating season and when females bear young. They are usually fiercely territorial and have and mark their large home ranges. For sheer size and hunting prowess tigers come in third.

Number 2: Lion

Tigers are the largest member of the felid (cat) family. They sport long, thick reddish coats with white bellies and white and black tails. Their heads, bodies, tails and limbs have narrow black, brown or gray stripes. There were once nine subspecies of tigers: Bengal, Siberian, Indochinese, South Chinese, Sumatran, Malayan, Caspian, Javan and Bali. Of these, the last three are extinct, one is extinct in the wild, and the rest are endangered. Tigers typically inhabit a range of habitats from tropical forests, evergreen forests, woodlands and mangrove swamps to grasslands, savannah and rocky country. They are mostly nocturnal and are ambush predators with the help of the camouflage provided by their stripes provide. Tigers use their body weight to knock prey to the ground and kills with a bite to the neck. They are also very good swimmers and have been known to kill prey while swimming. Tigers essentially live solitary lives, except during mating season and when females bear young. They are usually fiercely territorial and have and mark their large home ranges. For sheer size and hunting prowess tigers come in third.

Lions are regal but few know of the struggles they endure to make it to adulthood. Only a small percentage of cubs survive to adulthood and those that do are indeed the best of the best. Male lions do little hunting but when they do they are capable of taking down prey as big as elephants. They can eat up to….. Male lions truly come into their element when fighting hyenas their mortal enemies. Lions live in a more unforgiving environment with hyena, buffalo herd and elephants threatening them from infancy. In adulthood lions battle on not only with other enemies but also their own kind as they fight for territory. So for this reason lions pip tigers into second spot.

Number 1: Jaguar

Not as big as the lion or tiger but the jaguar beats all cats to top spot for the simple reason that it is the master on land and in water. Jaguars hunt both on land and in water where they strike terror into the cayennes of South America. Though not as big as a crocodile, the cayenne is similar to the crocodile and is a fierce predator by any measure. So any cat that can take on a prehistoric near perfect killing machine and make it a staple of the cayenne is no doubt the top our list. And as had as it is to admit since we are African safari, the jaguar truly is number 1.