History of Wild Cats of the WorldBy: C.M.Shorter
Scientific records have revealed the earliest
fossil records of modern felid ancestors evolved from a time
period lineage of less that 10 million years ago. Fossil discoveries
for the Small Cats (genus Felis) are very rare making it difficult
to outline early genetic relationships between the feline species.
The exception being those of the modern day Lynx. Descendants
of the modern day Lynx first appeared around 4 million years
Most scientists concur with the widely believed theory that
the Jaguar and the Leopard share a common ancestry from Eurasia
a little over 2 million years ago. From their Eurasian origin
the Leopard traveled west into Europe and the Jaguar traveled
east, crossing the Bering land bridge into North America. Early
Jaguars that inhabited the Americas were both larger and longer
legged that our present day modern species.
Tigers were thought to have Asian descent
originating from both Central Asia and China spreading out
east and west to span territories covering most of Asia. They
formerly ranged from the Caspian Sea to the far eastern Tundra
of Russia. Three of our modern sub-species being the Bali,
Caspian and Javan Tigers have now been officially declared
extinct. Today's modern tiger found in northern China is believed
to be the closest direct descendant of the earliest forms of
The Lion appeared on the scene much more
recently than other members of the genus Panthera with the
earliest known records
dating back only 750,000 years ago with origin from Western
Africa. Lions evolved and spread northward into Europe and
Asia, where the Cave Lion and Tuscany Lion were found in the
Northern Italy respectively. Our ancestral lion also crossed
over from Asia into North America with the American Lion known
to have spread as far south as Peru according to fossil records.
Unfortunately, the Barbary
Lion and Cape
Lions have now become
The Cheetah was also believed to inhabit North America as
far back as 2 1/2 million years ago where they remained until
just as recently as 12,000 years ago. The early Cheetah, acinonyx
pardinensis found in Europe resembled our modern day Cheetah
with the exception of being quite noticeably larger.
Although our many Wild Cat species
are found in similar habitats straddling several continents
such as the Leopard with a range
from the tip of Africa, across Asia and into China, the majority
of these Wild Cat species are indigenous to only one continent.
The great natural barrier of the Atlantic Ocean also serves
to divide the ‘New World’ species from the ‘Old
World’ - with the exception of the Lynx, which can be
found as distinct sub-species in both North America and Eurasia.
Many interesting facts are being uncovered regarding the present
day relationship of individual species separated by continents
and oceans. Now a similarity in the 'New World' Jaguar and
Leopard can be explained by common ancestry just as science
has proven the ancient species of Lion and Cheetah once roamed
the 'New World' continents.
The table on the following page represents
the historic genetic links between today's felid species
illustrating the links
between the Neofelid and Palaeofelid ancestry. One of the best
known historic species was the Sabre-Tooth known as the Smilodon.
The Smilodon was probably about the size of an average Lion,
equipped with canines of extreme length. The first conceived
notion many people conjure up is assuming a killer "death
bite" when viewing the skeleton of this Sabre-Tooth tiger.
Actually scientists believe that the Smilodon inflicted multiple
stabbing body wounds resulting in their prey victim bleeding
to death rather than death by delivery of a throat or neck
bite in order protect these immense canines. There is evidence
that the Sabre-Toothed Tiger was a social animal,
with a hunting
style similar to the group method used by our modern day
Lions. Modern day Tigers share
a distant common ancestry with the Sabre-Toothed Tiger
of prehistoric times but this Neofelid
species became extinct long before the present day Tiger
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