All 40 Species of Wild Cats and Where to See Them in the Wild

From the tiny Rusty-spotted cat of Sri Lanka to the massive Siberian tiger of the Russian Far East, there are 40 species of wild cats in the world, and each of them is as beautiful as it is unique.

Most of us know lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards, but what are all the other types of wild cats out there? If you consider yourself a cat person or simply curious about these charismatic animals, read on to meet the family.

A few years ago, I set myself on an ambitious quest – to see all wild cat species in their natural habitat. This quest is likely to take a lifetime – some wild cat species are so elusive that they are hardly ever seen. So far, I managed to track down 17 cat species. Below I offer tips on the best tours and destinations for anyone wishing to follow in my footsteps of watching wild cats in their element.

Wild cats lower classification - Jaguar resting on the bank of Cuiaba river in Porto Jofre, Brazil
Jaguar in Brazilian Pantanal

First, some FAQ about wild cats

How many species of wild cats are there?

While the total number of recognized species of wild cats varies, the eight lineages that make up the Felidae family are widely accepted. As of November 2017, the Cat Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes 41 species in the family Felidae (including the domestic cat).

The family Felidae is made up of two subfamilies: Pantherinae that constitutes the 7 big cats, and Felinae that represents the 33 small cats.

What are the 7 Big cats?

The 7 Big cats are the large-bodied felids that belong to subfamily Pantherinae. They are: lion, tiger, jaguar, leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard, Sunda clouded leopard

What is the rarest wild cat?

It is difficult to be certain which is the rarest wild cat on Earth because we simply don’t know enough about the populations of some of the rarest felids. The Amur leopard is certainly one of the rarest cats with no more than 90 individuals surviving in the wild in the Russian Far East.

There may be even fewer Iranian cheetahs remaining in the wild, but the data on the Iranian cheetah is lacking due to the challenges of conducting fieldwork in a politically unstable region.

South China tiger may already be extinct as no wild individuals have been recorded since the late 1980s.

What are the most endangered wild cat species?

At the species level, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists five endangered felids: tiger, Iberian lynx, Borneo bay cat, fishing cat and the flat-headed cat.

Here is the breakdown of wild cats lower classification, including the list of all 40 wild cat species (not counting the domestic cat). Click on a species name or scroll down to see description, image and tips on where to see it in the wild.

In this post hide

Big Cat Species – Panthera Lineage

The big cats are some of the most charismatic animals on earth and some of the most Endangered. So what are the 7 big cats? They are the large cats belonging to the Pantherinae subfamily of wild cats. 

Tiger (Panthera tigris)

Siberian tiger
Siberian tiger

IUCN Status: Endangered

At 320 kg, the Siberian tiger is the biggest cat in the world. Sadly, the tiger is also the most endangered big cat. As recent as the first half of the last century, there were tigers living in Turkey and on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java. These three subspecies are now extinct. The South China tiger has already crossed the point of no return with an estimated 20 individuals left in the wild. The remaining five subspecies are in various stages of decline.

We almost lost the Siberian tiger as well, but thankfully, in the last few decades, intensive conservation measures have been applied in the Russian Far-east and the king of Siberian taiga was brought back from the brink of extinction.

Today, most of the remaining tigers belong to the Bengal subspecies that occur throughout the Indian subcontinent. Not surprisingly, India is the best place in the world to see tigers in the wild. Some of the best National Parks in India for spotting tigers in the wild are Kanha and Bandhavgarh in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

I visited Kanha a few years ago and saw a total of 15 tigers in 7 days. The sightings included single individuals, a courting pair and a family: a tigress with three cubs. 

You may also like this post about watching tigers in Kanha National Park, India

Lion (Panthera leo)

African lion
African lion

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

The second largest cat in the world, the lion, once ranged across most of Africa and parts of Europe and Asia. Today the population is restricted to fragmented populations in Sub-Saharan Africa and one Critically Endangered population in India. We have already lost the Barbary lion that used to grace the wilds of Egypt, Morocco and Algeria.

Traditionally there were two types of lions: the African lion and the Asiatic lion. But the recent genetic analysis revealed that Asiatic lions belong to the same subspecies as the Northern lion which also includes the Critically Endangered West African lion and the Central African lion. The Southern African and the East African lion form the second subspecies.

You can spot the Southern and East African lions on most classical African safaris. The Northern lion is harder to track. You can try your luck in the National Parks of Western and Central Africa. The only place to see the Asiatic lion is the Gir National Park in the Indian state of Rajasthan.

I saw lions in Kruger National Park and the surrounding sanctuaries. The most incredible sighting was a pride of the rare white lions of Timbavati.

You may also like this post about visiting Kruger National Park.

Leopard (Panthera pardus)

African leopard
African leopard

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

The leopard caught the experts by surprise. Of all types of big cats, it has the widest distribution range, occurring from sub-Saharan Africa, through Central Asia, across the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia. And while some subspecies of the leopard are highly endangered, the species was considered reasonably secure. Until the experts realized that the leopards have lost 75 percent of their historic range and the population continues to decline.

The two hotspots for the leopards are parts of Africa and Sri Lanka. In Africa, you are likely to spot leopards in Kruger NP, Serengeti NP, Chobe NP, Ngorongoro Crater NP and most other National Parks in southern and Eastern Africa.

If you are heading to Sri Lanka, try to avoid Yala National Park, it has become disappointingly over-crowded, which affects animal welfare. Instead, go leopard spotting at Udawalawe National Park.

For the more adventurous types, there is an option to travel to Russian Far-east with the local Bohai tour in search of the Critically Endangered Amur leopard – the rarest type of big cats in the world. Although their numbers have been slowly rising from about 35 individuals in the 1980s over 100 individuals in 2017.

You may also like this post about how to tell the difference between a jaguar and a leopard.

Jaguar (Panthera onca)

wild cats in the wild - Jaguar brothers
Young Jaguar brothers in the Brazilian Pantanal

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

The jaguar is the most water-loving big cat. It is an excellent swimmer and can often be found resting on tree branches overhanging the rivers. It also has the strongest bite in relation to body size among big cats. Its powerful jaws are capable of crushing the skull of an adult caiman – it’s favourite prey in the Pantanal.

The jaguars are unique among big cat species in that all across their 6-million sq. kilometre range, that spans 18 countries, they represent a single continuous population. There are no subspecies of jaguars. Taxonomically, it is the same cat that occurs over a very large range.

This poses unique challenges for the conservation of jaguars. Instead of protecting geographically isolated populations, the scientists now work to protect the connecting corridors of habitat that allow the jaguars to move between populations and maintain gene flow between these populations.

In late 2018, the United Nations Development Programme, initiated a jaguar conservation program Jaguar 2030, that aims to protect the jaguars across their entire geographic range.

The two strongholds for the jaguar are the Amazon and the Pantanal in Brazil. But the Pantanal is a far better place for spotting the jaguar, especially around Porto Jofre – a small community on the bank of Cuiaba River

You may also like this post about jaguar watching in the Pantanal

Snow leopard (Panthera uncia)

animals of bhutan - snow leopard
Snow leopard

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

The most enigmatic of the big cats, the snow leopard is often referred to as the Ghost of the Mountains. There is even a saying in Nepal that it is more difficult to see snow leopard than to see God. This elusive cat lives in one of the most inhospitable environments on earth – the high altitude moutan ranges of Central Asia, and each individual ranges over huge territories.

Because the snow leopard has a wide distribution range, it was downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable by the IUCN  in 2017. However, the Snow Leopard Trust disputes decision this on the basis of lack of scientific data to support it. The experts estimate that there are between 3,920 and 6,390 snow leopards left in the wild.

Despite the Nepalese saying, the snow leopards are regularly seen at Hemis National Park in India. It is not an adventure for the faint-hearted though. It involves camping in -20 degrees cold and scanning the mountain valleys for hours on end looking for the elusive cat. The snow leopard’s coat of grey fur with black blotches allows it to merge so seamlessly with the environment that you could be staring right at it, yet not see it.

Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)

Bhutan wildlife - clouded leopard
Clouded leopard

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

The smallest of the big cat species, the clouded leopard is also the most acrobatic. It is one of the best climbers in the entire wild cat family. Its flexible ankle joints allow it to climb down trees head-first, hang off branches by their hind feet and tail and even climb on horizontal branches with their back to the ground.

Yet the climbing skills are not clouded leopard’s only talent. They are the only big cats that can purr and they have the longest canines, relative to body size, among big cats. Sometimes, they are referred to as the “modern-day sabre-tooth”.

Like all other big cats, the clouded leopard is threatened with extinction. The total population is thought to number fewer than 10,000 mature individuals, with a decreasing trend. However, due to their secretive nature, the clouded leopards have not been studied well and remain poorly understood. As in the case with the snow leopard, the population could be smaller than the current estimate.

Although the clouded leopard ranges from the Himalayan foothills all the way across Southeast Asia, it is incredibly difficult to spot in the wild. Occasionally they are spotted on wildlife safaris in India.

Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi)

Sunda Clouded leopard in Borneo
Sunda Clouded Leopard. Image @ Mike Gordon – Adventure Alternative Borneo / Wildlife of Asia

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Until 2016, the clouded leopard was believed to be a single species. However, the use of genetic analysis techniques revealed that the clouded leopards from the islands of Borneo and Sumatra are in fact a separate species, that have diverged from their mainland cousins about 1.5 million years ago.

Known as the Sunda clouded leopards, the island species are a little smaller and darker than the mainland clouded leopards. Up until recently, it was just as nearly impossible to see a Sunda clouded leopard, as the mainland one.

But over the last few years, Deramakot Forest Reserve in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo has been gaining the reputation as the ‘go-to’ place for spotting these elusive felines. There are of course no guarantees, but if you’d like a shot at seeing a Sunda clouded leopard, Deramakot is your best bet

You may also like this post about looking for the Clouded leopard in Borneo

Small Cat Species

While not as well-known as their larger cousins, the majority of wild cats are the small cats. They occur on all continents except Antarctica and Australia, although Australia has a large population of feral cats, which are the descendants of the domestic cats that arrived in Australia with the European settlers.

Bay cat or Pardofelis Lineage

The second lineage to diverge from the common ancestor, the Bay cat lineage contains three wild cat species all occurring in the South East Asian region. This lineage represents some of the rarest Asian wild cats.

Borneo Bay Cat (Catopuma badia)

Bay cat. Image @ Jim Sanderson via Wikipedia Creative Commons

IUCN Status: Endangered

The endangered Borneo Bay cat is the holy grail of the wild cat world. It occurs only on the island of Borneo and it is as mysterious to science as it was first described in 1874. These cats are so secretive that virtually nothing is known about them and they are almost never seen in the wild.

It appears that unlike clouded leoapards, marbled cats and leopard cats that also occur in Borneo, bay cat avoids travelling along the forest trails, which makes it very difficult to know where to set up camera traps. And of course, it makes it exeptionally difficult to spot bay cat in the wild. You simply don’t know where to look.

Asiatic Golden Cat (Catopuma temminckii)

Juvenile Asiatic golden cat. Image @ Tambako The Jaguar – via Flikr Creative Commons

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

Another rarely seen cat, the Asiatic Golden cat has a wide, but patchy distribution from India to Malaysia. It is present on the island of Sumatra but does not occur on any other Indonesian islands.

Asiatic golden cat prefers forested habitat and appears to be most active around dawn and dusk and during the daylight hours. They are good enough climbers but spend most of their time on the ground where they can bring down prey many times their own size, like young water buffalo calves.

Currently, there are no reliable spots where it can be seen in the wild, but most accidental sightings have occurred in Indonesia.

Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata)

Wild cat species of the world - Marbled cat in Deramakot Forest Reserve
Marbled cat in Deramakot Forest Reserve

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

Marbled cat is one of the most good-looking small cats, with its exceptionally long tail and beautifully patterned coat. This species ranges from the Himalayan foothills to Malaysia, and on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. It is an excellent climber and thought to spend most of its life in the trees.

I have seen Marbled cats on my trips to Deramakot Forest Reserve in Borneo. On the second trip, we were able to observe two individuals in the same tree, most probably an adult and a semi-adult kitten.

You may also like this post about spotting Marbled cats in Deramakot Forest Reserve, Borneo

Caracal Lineage

The third oldest lineage, Caracal lineage contains three medium-sized species that mostly occur in Africa.

Serval (Leptailurus serval)

all types of wild cats: Serval
Serval

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Serval is an unusual-looking cat with very long legs, large ears and a short tail. All these adaptations are necessary for locating prey in the tall grass where it lives. It is widespread in Southern Africa, but rare in the north of the continent. This incredible feline is capable of leaping up to 3.6m to land precisely on its prey, even with its eyes closed.

While considered unusual, Serval occurs in high numbers in Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania. Surprisingly, a good place to see Servals is in the small town of Secunda in South Africa, home to the world’s largest coal liquefaction plant. The high density of Serval in such a seemingly inhospitable habitat is thought to be due to the abundance of prey, like the vlei rats and the absence of other big carnivores.

African Golden cat (Caracal aurata)

African golden cat. Image @ By John Gerrard Keulemans via Wikipedia Creative Commons

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

One of the rarest species of wild cats, the African Golden cat occurs in the rainforest of West and Central Africa. Its preference for the dense tropical forest habitat makes it particularly difficult to spot in the wild.

There have been some sightings in Libongo Forest Concession in Cameroon, where the cats seem to be reasonably common along the access road.

Caracal (Caracal caracal) 

wild cat species - Caracal
Caracal – Adobe Stock image

IUCN Status: Least concern

Caracal is the only member of Caracal lineage with distribution extending outside of the African continent to the Middle East, Central Asia, and India. Its name comes from their jet-black ears topped with tufts – caracal means ‘black ears’ in Turkish. Another acrobat, the caracal is capable of leaping 3 meters into the air and taking out several birds with one swipe.

While secretive and difficult to observe, caracals are often seen in South Africa’s parks and game reserves (Kgalagadi NP, West Coast NP, Mosaic Farms). I was lucky to spot a caracal family in Ranthambhore National Park in India where they are not often seen.

You may also like this post about spotting caracals in Ranthambore National Park, India

Ocelot or Leopardus Lineage

This is the most diverse lineage of wild cat species. It contains eight small spotted cats, all with Latin American distribution. This lineage is different from all others in that its members have 36 chromosomes rather than 38!

Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)

wild cat species of the world - Ocelot in the Southern Pantanal, Brazil
Female Ocelot in the Brazilian Pantanal, Fazenda San Francisco

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The ocelot occurs across South America, Central America, Mexico and Southern Texas. It is probably the most common, or rather the least uncommon of South American wild cats.

The highest density of ocelots in the world is found on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. The Transpantaneira highway in Brazil’s northern Pantanal is also a good place to look for the spotted hunter. But the best place to see them is the San Francisco Farm in the southern Pantanal. I have seen three ocelots on a single night drive; all three sightings were very relaxed and at a very close range. 

You may also like this post about spotting ocelots in the Pantanal

Margay (Leopardus wiedii)

Marbay - small spotted cat of South America
Margay

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

Similar in appearance to the larger ocelot, the margay is a much more skilful climber. Unlike the ocelot, the margay spends most of its life in the trees. It is one of only three wild cat species with the flexible ankle joint that allows the cat to climb down trees head-first (the other two are the clouded leopard and the marbled cat).

Margays are capable of hunting entirely in the trees. They have been observed mimicking the alarm calls of baby pied tamarins to ambush them.

Tree-dwelling cats are typically more difficult to spot than their ground-dwelling relatives. Wildsumaco Lodge in Ecuador is reportedly a good place to look for Margay.

Colocolo (Leopardus colocolo)

Type of wild cats - Colocolo
Colocolo. Image @ Márcio Motta via Flikr Creative Commons

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

The colocolo includes small wild cats that were previously recognized as three different species: colocolo (L. colocolo), the Pantanal cat (L. braccatus), and the Pampas cat (L. pajeros). The recent revision of Felidae family taxonomy by the Cat Specialist Group, recognized colocolo or the Pampas cat a single species that ranges throughout most of Argentina and Uruguay into Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and Ecuador.

I missed colocolo at Fazenda San Francisco in the Southern Pantanal in Brazil, where they are seen about once a week.

Northern Oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus)

wild cat species - Oncilla
Oncilla

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

The Oncilla is similar to the ocelot and the margay, but smaller. Recently the Oncilla has been split in two to separate species: Northern Oncilla and Southern Oncilla. The Northern oncilla occurs in Central America, Venezuela, Guyana and north-eastern Brazil.

A good place to look for it is Bellavista Lodge near Quito in Ecuador. They are also occasionally seen in the Brazilian Pantanal.

Southern Oncilla (Leopardus guttulus)

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

The Southern oncilla occurs in central and southern Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and northern Argentina.

Guina (Leopardus guigna)

Kodkod by Far South Expeditions
Guina on Chiloe island, Chile

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Also known as Kodkod, the Guina is the smallest wild cat species in South America. It occurs primarily in the south and central Chile with parts of its range extending to the adjoining areas of Argentina. It is an agile climber, although it prefers to hunt on the ground, taking mainly small mammals, birds, lizards and insects.

Kodkod’s typical coat is brownish-yellow to grey-brown with dark spots, but the melanistic (black) morphs are also quite common.

A good place to look for guiña in the wild, including the unusual melanistic individuals, is Chiloe Island in Chile.

Geoffroy’s cat (Leopardus geoffroyi)

Black Geoffroy's cat in Argentina
Black Geoffroy’s cat in El Palmar National Park, Argentina

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Similar in appearance to Guina but larger, the Geoffroy’s cat has a wider distribution from Southern Bolivia to the Straits of Magellan. This is the only species of wild cats that have the habit of standing upright, using their tails for balance to scan their surroundings.

Its preference for dense habitat makes the Geoffroy’s cat difficult to spot. Like guina, Geoffroy’s cat’s coat is usually tawny with black spots, although black morphs are also not uncommon. A good place to look for it is El Palmar National Park in Argentina. I visited El Palmar during the unusually rainy weather in early September, and it took me three nights to spot a single cat, a cute black morph.

You may also like this post about finding a black Geoffroy’s cat in El Palmar, Argentina

Andean Cat (Leopardus jacobita)

Rarest wild cats - Andean mountain cat
Andean Mountain Cat

IUCN Status: Endangered

One of the world’s rarest cats, the endangered Andean cat occurs only at high elevations in the Andes in Southern Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. It is one of the most rarely seen wild cats in the world. It prefers the steep, arid, sparsely vegetated and rocky terrain where it hunts mountain viscachas. Lauca National Park and Salar de Surire National Monument in Chile have been suggested as good areas to look for the Andean cat.

Lynx Lineage

Lynx lineage contains four separate species that are all quite similar in appearance. All four species have short tails and tufted ears.

Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) 

Type of wild cat - Canada lynx
Canada lynx – Adobe Stock image

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The most northern member of the lynx lineage, the Canada lynx ranges across Alaska, Canada and the Northern United States. It’s most distinguishing feature is the massive paws covered in thick fur. The large paws serve the purpose of snowshoes, allowing the Canada lynx to travel over snow-covered landscapes without sinking into the snow.

Lake Superior in Minnesota is reportedly a good place to spot the Canada lynx.

Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)

Endangered wild cat species - Iberian lynx
Iberian lynx

IUCN Status: Endangered

The world came dangerously close to losing Iberian lynx. Fewer than a hundred cats remained scattered throughout the isolated patches of the Mediterranean scrubland in Spain by 2002. By the time the scientists realized how perilous the lynx situation was, it was almost too late to save it. Fortunately, Iberian lynx responded well to breeding in captivity. Since 2010 more than 170 lynxes were reintroduced into the wild as part of Save the Lynx project.

Since then the population has increased to just over 400 cats and the Iberian Lynx IUCN status was downgraded from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Today Iberian lynx occurs in a handful of areas in southern Spain, with the best place for spotting it being Sierra de Andujar National Park. Many wildlife watching tour agencies offer specialized Iberian Lynx tours.

Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx)

Eurasian lynx

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The Eurasian lynx is the largest member of the lynx genus and has the widest distribution. It ranges across Siberia, Asia and Eastern Europe. While not threatened, Eurasian lynx is a tricky cat to spot in the wild. There are no specific, reliable places for seeing the Eurasian lynx in the wild, but occasionally they are seen on Snow leopard trips in Hemis National Park in India.

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Fluffy wild cat - bobcat
Bobcat

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Similar in appearance to Canada lynx, Bobcat ranges from southern Canada to central Mexico. It is smaller than Canada lynx and grows to about twice the size of a domestic cat. The cat’s name comes from its stubby (or “bobbed”) tail. Like all lynxes, bobcat is a rabbit specialist, however, it would also take insects, chickens and other birds, rodents and even deer.

Generally, bobcat is a common species and a good place to see them is Point Reyes Natural Seashore near San Francisco.

Puma Lineage

This lineage contains the most unusual mix of feline species: one typical small cat and two over-sized small cats.

Puma (Puma concolor)

Wild cat species - Puma
Puma – Adobe Stock image

IUCN Status: Least Concern

While the Puma is quite a large cat, it does not belong to the Big cat family, and therefore it is a small cat. Often referred to as cougar or mountain lion, puma ranges across South America, Mexico, the United States and parts of Southern Canada.

The best place to see a puma is Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Although, I saw a puma with two sub-adult cubs in the aptly-named Puma Valley in Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica.

You may also like this post about spotting pumas in Corcovado, Costa Rica

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

fastest wild cats - heetahs
Young cheetahs. Image – Unsplash

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Cheetah is the fastest species of wild cats and the fastest animal on earth. It can go from 0 to 96km/h in just three seconds. Not only is it fast, but it is also quite nimble at high speed and can make sudden turns in pursuit of prey. Cheetah is also well adapted to life in the African heat – it only needs to drink once in four days.

Cheetah occurs in Southern, North and East Africa, and a few localities in Iran. The Iranian population, known as Asiatic or Persian cheetah is listed as Critically Endangered with fewer than 50 individuals remaining scattered across the vast 140,000 km2 plateau.

African cheetah is quite easy to see on a safari in South and East Africa. I saw a mother with a young cub at a kill in Kruger National Park in South Africa.

You may also like this post about spotting cheetahs in Kruger National Park

Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi)

odd type of wild cats - Jaguarundi
Jaguarudi gray and chestnut morphs. Image – Adobe stock

IUCN Status: Least Concern

With its short legs and a long body, the jaguarundi is one of the oddest-looking cats. Its unspotted coloration is similar to the puma, it’s closest relative, but different to all other South American cats. It occurs in southern North America and South America.

While not considered a threatened species, the jaguarundi is not easy to spot in the wild. Most sightings of this species happen in South America, but they are generally accidental. Most sightings happen in daylight.

Leopard Cat or Prionailurus Lineage

This is another lineage containing many (six) small wild cats. The species in this lineage all have Asian distribution.

Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul)

All types of wild cats - Pallas's cat or Manu
Pallas’s cat

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

Also known as Manul, the Pallas’s cat has the longest and thickest fur of any cat species. The reason it needs such a luxurious coat is its habitat preference for the windswept landscapes of rocky slopes in Central Asia. The rocky habitat provides the cat with shelter in caves, rock crevices or even marmot burrow. Pallas’s cat’s preferred prey are pikas and voles, though they occasionally take birds as well.

Pallas’s cats are not good runners. Instead, they rely on their ability to remain undetected. When disturbed it would often freeze and become virtually invisible against the grey rocky landscape.

One of the best places to see the Pallas’s cat is on Ruoergai grassland on the Tibetan Plateau in the northern tip of China’s Sichuan province. I saw at least three different individuals in five days on the grassland.

You may also like this post about spotting Pallas’s cat on the Tibetan Plateau

Rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus)

Smalles wild cat in the world - Rusty-spotted cat
Rusty-spotted cat

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

The smallest wild cat in the world, the Rusty-spotted cat is native to the deciduous forests of India and Sri Lanka. It grows to all of 1.6kg in weight and 48 centimetres in length. But what it may lack in stature, it makes up for with daring attitude. It is equally at home in the trees and on the ground, where it catches its prey (mostly rodents and small birds) using rapid, darting movements.

Sri Lanka’s Wilpattu National Park is one of the best places to see the rusty-spotted cat in the wild.

Flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps)

Endangered cat species - Flat-headed cat
Flat-headed cat in Khao Kheow zoo, Thailand

IUCN Status: Endangered

The Flat-headed cat is an endangered small cat that occurs on the Thai-Malay Peninsula and the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. This unusual feline leads a semi-aquatic lifestyle living on riverbanks and hunting aquatic vertebrates. It is an excellent swimmer and has fascinating adaptations to hunting in the water. Its claws do not fully retract to give it more grip on the slippery river banks. Its feet are semi-webbed, which is useful for wading in the water. And its long and sharp canine teeth are excellent aids for grabbing hold of slippery aquatic prey.

These unusual cats are threatened by the increasing destruction of riverine forest habitats as more and more land is converted for oil palm plantations, human settlement and agriculture.

The only reliable place to see it is the lower Kinabatangan River in Borneo, near the village of Sukau. I have seen a single individual after four nights of searching.

You may also like this post about findng a Flat-headed cat in Borneo

Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus)

Endangered wild cat - Fishing cat
Fishing cat

IUCN Status: Endangered

Unusual among cats, the Fishing cats are not only unafraid of water, but they depend on it for food, much like the Flat-headed cat. Both species hunt fish and small aquatic vertebrates.

The Fishing cat has a wider distribution range across South and South East Asia. The best place to look for the Fishing cat is in Sri Lanka, around Sigiriya and on the outskirts of Yala National Park (the park itself is inaccessible after dark).

Mainland Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The most widespread of all Asian small cats, the leopard cat ranges across South, Southeast and East Asia. This species is reasonably tolerant of human disturbance and can often be found in rural areas and even among the oil palm plantations.

Sunda Leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)

Wild cat species of the world - Sunda leopard cat in Deramakot Forest Reserve
Sunda leopard cat in Deramakot Forest Reserve

In 2017, Sunda leopard cat, occurring on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra was separated from the mainland leopard cat on the basis of genetic analysis. It is common in Borneo, and I have seen it in both Damnum Valley and Deramakot Forest Reserve.

You may also like this post about spotting Sunda leopard cats in Borneo

Felis Lineage

The last lineage to diverge from the common ancestor and therefore the youngest branch. The six small wild cats in this lineage are all closely related and distributed in Africa and Eurasia.

Jungle cat (Felis chaus)

jungle cat
Jungle cat

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The Jungle cat, also known as a swamp cat is a medium-sized cat occurring from the Middle East, to South and Southeast Asia and southern China. Jungle cats are typically diurnal hunting thought the day. My sighting of a jungle cat also happened during the day in Kanha Tiger Reserve in India.

You may also like this post about visiting Kanha Tiger Reserve

Black-footed cat (Felis nigripes)

Type of small wild cat - Black-footed cat
Black-footed cat

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Africa’s smallest wild cat, the black-footed cat is the second smallest wild cat in the world, after the rusty-spotted cat. It is an excellent hunter, with an astonishing appetite – it can consume up to 3,000 rodents a year. Nicknamed the anthill tiger, it lives in abandoned termite mounds and wanders the surrounding savannah in search of rodents.

The Black-footed cat has a narrow distribution range in the southern part of Southern Africa. Marrick Farm Safari in South Africa is the best place to look for this species.

Sand cat (Felis margarita)

Wild cat species - Sand cat
Sand cat – Adobe Stock image

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The true desert dweller, the sand cat occurs in the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. While not threatened, this species is not very easy to see in the wild.

The sand cat has an incredibly dense coat that protects it from the chill of the desert nights. The strands of thick black fur on the soles of its feet protects it against the opposite extreme – the burning-hot sand.

Most sightings of Sand cats come from Western Sahara and Jbil National Park in Southern Tunisia.

Chinese Mountain cat (Felis bieti)

Rare wild cat - Chinese Mountain Cat
Chinese Mountain Cat disappearing into the darkness on the Tibetan Plateau

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

One of the least known and the most rarely seen wild cats, the Chinese mountain cat was not even photographed in the wild until about a decade ago. It has a narrow distribution in Western China.

I saw the Chinese Mountain cat on Ruoergai grassland on the Tibetan Plateau. In four nights on the plateau, I saw the cats on three separate occasions, so it is certainly a good spot.

You may also like this post about finding Chinese Mountain cats on the Tibetan Plateau

African and Asiatic wildcat (Felis lybica)

African wildcat
African wildcat. Adobe

After some recent taxonomic changes, the wildcat species have been separated into the African and Asiatic wildcat, and the European wildcat. I saw the African wild cat at Kapama Reserve, near Kruger National Park in South Africa. Kafue National Park in Zambia has been suggested as a good spot for the wildcat.

You may also like this post about spotting African wildcat at Kapama Reserve, South Africa

European wildcat (Felis silvestris)

Type of wildcat - European wildcat
European wildcat. Image – Adobe stock

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The European wildcat has a patchy distribution in the forests of Western, Southern, Central and Eastern Europe up to the Caucasus Mountains. A good place to look for the European Wildcat is in Cordillera Cantabrica in northern Spain, in the area around Boca de Huergano.

How many species of wild cats are threatened with extinction?

Wild cats face a number of anthropogenic threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation, loss of prey species and persecution by people as a result or real or perceived risks the cats pose to human livelihoods. As a result, 25 species of wild cats are currently threatened with extinction.

Five species are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species: tiger, Borneo bay cat, Andean cat, flat-headed cat and Iberian lynx.

Thirteen more wild cat species are listed as Vulnerable: lion, leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard, Sunda clouded leopard, African golden cat, northern oncilla, southern oncilla, guina, cheetah, fishing cat, black-footed cat and Chinese mountain cat.

And seven species of wild cats are listed as Near Threatened: jaguar, Asiatic golden cat, marbled cat, margay, colocolo, Pallas’s cat and rusty-spotted cat.

Have you seen any wild cats on your travels? I would love to read about your sightings in the comments

All species of wild cats and where to see them in the wild

38 thoughts on “All 40 Species of Wild Cats and Where to See Them in the Wild”

  1. OMG, yes please! I love big cats, and seeing them in person would be like a dream come true. Some of the big cats on this list I’d never even heard of! Will definitely have to keep this in mind when making my next travel plans!

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  2. What a list!

    I do love seeing wild cats, but I’ve hardly ever seen any. I am sooo impressed by how many of these you have seen.

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  3. Wow thats a really exhaustive and detailed list. Great job margarita. I hope to make it to some of the places and could spot few of them. Thanks for sharing

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  4. I’m so impressed you’ve seen 14 wild cat species! I’ve seen all of … one! Good luck with completing the list!

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  5. Beautiful list. I learnt a lot about wild cats thanks to you. I am surprised by how many I had never heard of. Your quest is incredibly ambitious, but you seem on the right track! You have seen so many already :)

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    • Thank you, Eloise. You are correct. The big cats steal all of the limelight in the wild cat family, and many of the smaller cats remain virtually unknown. But that only makes them much more fun to find!

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  6. Omg, I love cats! I would love to go on a spot-wild-cats tour around the world. Let me know if you have any plan of arranging this one day :)

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  7. I’m definitely a cat person, so I loved this post!! So interesting! We have Bobcats in Virginia, where I live, but they are very rarely seen. I’ve been lucky enough to see them twice in Shenandoah National Park.

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    • That’s a great tip, thank you Maggie! I haven’t seen the bobcat yet and I am very much looking forward to spotting it sometime soon

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  8. You have a task on your hands to see all wild cats, but one incredible journey to take. I have only see a leopard in the wild on safari, and the others in a cat sanctuary

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  9. I love big cats! And little ones. There is a little one sleeping on my arm right now (which makes it difficult to type…). I have ALWAYS wanted to see a snow leopard in the wild. And a tiger. That would be my dream! A fantastic, really informative article that has made me want to travel the world purely to see all the cats in their natural homes.

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    • Lol, the little tiger is checking out the rest of his family :). Yes, I agree, the snow leopard is one of the most incredible cats to see in the wild. It is also quite a tough cat to see – it usually requires camping in the Himalayas in winter where the temperatures drop to minus 20 at night.

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    • Thank you, Julie! It’s tough to pick one. The one I particularly want to see is a tiny little cat that lives in sand burrows in the Sahara desert. Its Latin name is felis margarita, so it literally has my name on it :)

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  10. Hi Margarita,
    Great website with verry interesting information.
    I try to spend as much time as possible in nature and I am fascinated by cats, tame and wild!
    I was fortunated to live in Africa a few year and has had numerous encouters with wild cats.
    Lots of lions encounters of course but also many moments spended with leopards, most of them in Zambia. A few cheetahs also but not as many if you considers the amount of time i spendt looking for them. To sightsing in Kafue, one in the Serengeti and one in Etosha. I saw African wildcats fayrly regularlly in Kafue (Zambia), servals half a dozen time in South Luangwa in Zambia and a caracal one night when driving in the Caprivi strip in Namibia. The cat was in the middle ot the road with a dead springhare. It didn t move until My car had commte verry close, driving verry slowly. It then sat itself on the side of the road un til I decided to leave. I definitelly recommend a visit in South luangwa np in Zambia. To give you an exemple of what to expect I can summerise what I saw during my last visit in January 2017. I rent a vehicule with camping equipement and a roof tent and stayed a few night at flatdogs (accomodated in a safari tent) and at Wildlife camp (camping). I took both game drive with the camps ( only night drive from 1600 to 2000) and drived by myselv in the park. I saw lions every day ( also killing a bufallo one evening) leopards amost every day ( a mating couple and an individual hunting among others), to differents wild dogs packs ( chasing and feeding on an impala cub), hyenas, a lot of elephant( one herd chasing off a pride of lion) and a lot of the usuals plain game, hippos, birds and insects. Just to mention on one of my last days there ( i stayed nine days) I was one of the to visitors that had entered the park that day…

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    • Hi Philippe,

      What an incredible list of sightings! Thank you for sharing your experiences. South Luangwa National Park sounds like a hidden gem of Southern Africa. It seems to be a good site for servals in particular. So not many people visit in January? I can’t imagine having almost the entire park to yourself.

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  11. Hi Margarita,
    Well I have visited South Luangwa NP so mainy time (40 times ?) some time for as long as 14 days and saw only serval there 6 times (four times inside the park, one inside the Game manadgement area just outside the park and one large adult on the road towards Mfuwe some 15 km from the main park entrance) so they are not seen often but it happens. If I remenber well most of the sightseing where during the dry season (from early Mai to early November). In January when the Christmas-new year visitor have left there are verry few people visiting the park. From the 10 january there is sometimes nobody entering the park. In January Flatdogs camp (highly recommended) is still open open, they close in January. Wildlife camp, another favorite, is open all year round, but sometimes in february or in mars it gets inacessible due to verry heavy rains that fload the acces road.

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  12. Hi Margarita,
    Very nice website with interesting information. Your photo of puma in the Corcovado NP in Costa Rica is simply amazing! I found your website because my wife and myself are both wildlife enthusiasts and we are starting more or less to also target to see all the cat species in the world. I was therefore looking for information about 1) the total number of cat species (it differs depending on the sources) and 2) reliable places to see them. Your website is a very good place to find all this.
    We are interested in mammal and bird watching and are regular contributors to Jon Hall’s MammalWatching website that you mention here and you may have seen some of our reports posted under my name. I think I saw some reports from you as well (or at least mentionning your name).
    Now talking as you requested about any wild cats we have seen on our travels, below is what I can mention. Worth mentioning is the fact that beyond just seeing animals, I always prefer to be able to take decent pictures of them as a souvenir; I therefore not really count glimpse or rapid sightings…
    We are far behind you with “only” 11 cat species seen well with photos so far and 13 if I count all sightings:
    – Lions seen in many parks in Eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania) and Southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana, South Africa)
    – Same thing for cheetahs and leopards
    – A superb encounter with a snow leopard in Hemis NP in India
    – Several jaguars seen along the river banks in Pantanal in Brazil
    – 1 African wildcat seen in Marrick Safari, South Africa
    – 3 Black-footed cats seen in Marrick Safari, South Africa
    – 3 servals seen near Lesotho in South Africa and in the Serengeti, Tanzania
    – Caracal seen only once in Massai Mara, Kenya
    – 1 Pallas’s cat seen twice in Ruoergai, Sichuan, China
    – 5 Chinese moutain cats seen in Ruoergai, Sichuan, China
    Two other species weren’t seen well or long enough to allow us to take any picture:
    – 1 Mainland leopard cat in Tangjiahe, Sichuan, China
    – 1 Sand cat near Aousserd in Western Sahara, we will absolutely need to go back…
    We are planning a trip to India next year to see Tigers, Asiatic lions and Jungle Cats (among plenty of other mammals and birds I hope)
    Thanks again for your great site !
    Best regards
    Samuel

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    • Such an inspiring list, Samuel! You went for the harder species first: Chinese Mountain cat, Sand cat, Snow leopard. I’m planning a trip to Western Sahara next October. I feel similarly to you, photographing the cats is as important to me as seeing them. The one cat I failed to photograph was the Sunda clouded leopard. It took me two trips to Borneo to see it, and in the end, it walked across the road in front of our car in the middle of the day, when we were not looking for it. By the time we approached it, it was walking into the thick forest and while we could see it quite well, there was no opportunity to photograph it.

      Your India trip sounds very exciting. India was my first wild cat destination, so it was quite a long time ago. I would go back in a second. But there are so many other places and so many other cats. Hoping for the Iberian lynx and Sand cat next year. Hopefully, our paths will cross one day on a cat tracking adventure!

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      • Thanks for your nice words Margarita
        It is good your replied because while reading your words, I’ve realized I forgot to mention another cat species in our list: we saw several Iberian lnyx (including two adults mating!) during a very productive 1 week trip in Sierra de Andujar in Spain. How could I forget this! Splendid observations and great photos!
        When will you go to Western Sahara in October because we are possibly planning to go there again on the last week of October this year. Would be funny to see each other.
        Regards
        Samuel

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        • How very lucky! I would’ve loved to see your Iberian lynx shots. I was just reading your report from the Sichuan trip (on mammalwatching.com) and your image of the Chinese Mountain cat is superb! I visited Ruoergai with Sid as well, but we only saw the cats at night and the Mountain cats were always too distant for photography. We were luckier with the Pallas’s cats – one was sleeping in the same crevis at the quarry each night.

          My Western Sahara and Andalusia trip is planned for next October, not this one, sadly. I wonder if we’ll get lucky and spot the sand cats snoozing in the ravens’ nests. I will look forward to your report in the meantime :).

          Cheers,
          Margarita

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  13. Sorry for my late answer Margarita as we are just back from a trip to Zambia (no specific new cats added to our list besides the “usual” leopards, lions and servals).
    Thanks for your comment on the Chinese mountain cat as indeed we were lucky with them contrary to the Pallas’s cat compared to you. I can share with you some Iberian lynx photos if you give me a link where to post them. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for the desert cat(s)
    Regards
    Samuel

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  14. This is one of the best blog posts I’ve come across! I love cats so much. I was lucky enough to spot a Pallas cat this year in Hustai National Park in Mongolia. Was such a great moment! Thank you for sharing this.

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    • Thank you, Jenny! Congratulations on spotting a Pallas’s cat! They are such unique little felids. Were you on a dedicated wildlife watching tour, or happened to stumble across the cat?

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