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Cat family - Felidae

A member of this family is called a felid. Felids are the strictest carnivores of the sixteen mammal families in the order Carnivora. The most familiar felid is the Domestic Cat, which first became associated with humans about 10,000 years ago, but the family includes all other wild cats including the big cats.

Bobcats

The smallest types of bobcats, are the most common wild cat in North America. These cats have a short “bobbed” tail and are found in the drier, warmer climate regions. Tufts of hair tip their ears helping to capture sounds; and patterns of spots and stripes adorn their coats.

These carnivores are primarily terrestrial, but are easily able to climb as well. They often lay in wait on tree branches for unsuspecting birds and small mammals to pass beneath. Their diet consists mainly of various types of rodents, rabbits and birds, but they have been known to take down small deer and livestock. Hunting is done mostly at night.

Bobcats produce litters of 2 – 4 kittens only once a year. Spring is the breeding season with kittens staying with their mothers until winter. Males do not help with their rearing. At around 8 months of age they will live independent lives.

While most cats produce a wide variety of growls, yowling, hisses, and purring, bobcats rarely make sounds. Breeding season is usually the only time they communicate with yowling sounds. Messages are passed along with scent markers from urine, feces and glands and are used to mark off territory.

Rocky crevices, hollowed out trees, thickets and even buildings can provide shelter for these felines. Bobcats are often seen dozing. Cats and many other predators spend a great deal of time sleeping–for cats, they may sleep as much as 20 hours per day.

In the wild these cats can live up to 12 years however in captivity often exceed 20 years of age.

Cougars

Puma concolor

Cougar, mountain lion, puma, panther, painter, catamount—whatever you call them, these beautiful creatures can be found from British Columbia to Patagonia. In the cat family cougars are the largest species in America. Each cougar may claim a territory as large as 100 square miles, hunting mostly at night.

In the wild cougars lead solitary lives, but with all of their needs being met, Folsom’s group of cats get along quite well. Visitors can often hear them vocalizing to one another with chirps and meows. They seldom use the screaming sound associated with these big cats, but are more apt to emit very loud purring sounds.

Males (toms) are usually slightly larger than females, weighing from 100 – 130 pounds. From nose to tail they can be more than 8 feet long. It is their long tail that helps with balance as they run, climb and stalk their prey.

Females (queens) bear 2–4 cubs that will stay with her for two years before going it alone. In nature baby cougars (cubs or kittens) are hard to see as they are born with very effective camouflage. Their spotted colors mimic the pattern of dappled sunlight and they hold completely still when threats are near. These spots fade as they mature. Usually only 1 or 2 offspring survive the first year. Those that do survive will go on to live solitary lives, coming together only during mating season.

Tracks of cougars are distinctive with an M shape on the front footpad. The front paw is slightly larger than the back and prints will overlap as they walk. Another distinction for cougars is in their eyes. While other cats have a long slit for a pupil, cougars’ pupils are round.

Cats spend a great deal of time resting and sleeping. Like other carnivores they try to conserve energy that will be needed when they hunt. Cougars rely on deer and smaller mammals for their food. Cats are ‘obligate carnivores’, meaning they must have diets exclusively of meat.

Attacks on humans are rare, but people should be aware that their behavior might provoke or prevent an attack if an encounter does occur. As the population moves into cougar territory it is good to know what to do and what not to do. Do not hike alone in areas where cougars live. Walk with children between adults. Pick up small children if a cat is seen. Try to appear large by opening a jacket or raising arms. DO NOT RUN, this stimulates the cougar’s instinct to chase. Do not turn away. Keep eye contact. Wave your arms slowly and speak loudly and firmly. Convince the lion that you are not prey and that you may be dangerous. Fight back if attacked.

Tigers

Panthera tigris

Tiger are the largest species of cat, with Siberians being the largest of the tigers. Siberians inhabit forested areas of eastern Russia and parts of China and Korea. Their coloration is lighter than other tigers and their stripes are brown instead of black.

Moving from north to south, species of tigers get progressively smaller. Bengals are slightly smaller than Siberians and live primarily throughout India in a wide variety of ecosystems. White tigers are a color variation found in this species, though rarely found in the wild.

The smallest type of tiger is the Sumatran who, as the name implies, are found on Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Tigers are perfectly designed hunters. As with all cats, they walk on their toes allowing them to move quietly as they stalk their prey. Soft pads lessen the noise as well. Their back legs are longer than the front; making jumping more efficient (tigers can leap up to 33 feet) and retractable claws can be silent until the final attack. These retractable claws also keep them from wearing down as they move over rough terrain. Powerful muscles and a flexible spine enable tigers to quickly chase, grab and hold their victims. An adult tiger can take down prey four times its own size.

Tigers can be identified by their stripes. These unique hair patterns are also found on their skin. The stripes act as camouflage, visually breaking up their large bodies. Paw prints, called pugmarks, can also be used to identify animals.

Tigers are basically solitary animals and will be found together only during the mating season. Occasionally they will be seen sharing a kill or at a communal water source. Cubs (1 – 6 per litter) will stay with their mothers for 2 years as they learn the necessary skills for survival.

In the wild Siberians (or Amur Tigers) and Sumatrans number around 400 individuals per species—habitat loss and poaching the major culprits for this serious decline. Hunting tigers for their body parts is also responsible for their decline. China is the largest consumer of tiger body parts, used in traditional medicines and recipes. Bengals have an estimated population of 600 – 800, making tigers among the most endangered animals. There are actually more tigers living in captivity than in the wild.