Of the 41 species of cats living in the world today, there are seven species that stand out as being extraordinarily rare.
Some of these wild cat species are naturally solitary and secretive, so they have been rare as long as they have existed. Others used to have giant and robust populations, but have been pushed back by the wake of human activity. Each of these species may have fewer than 4,000 individuals living in the wild—and their habitats and food sources are shrinking daily. As such, all of these rare cats’ populations are now declining.
What can you do? For a start, you can learn about them and understand how their plight came to be. Of the seven rarest species of wild cats, six species are Endangered, while one species is considered Critically Endangered. Only a few of them are widely known. Which of these majestic, threatened creatures did you already know?
(Note: this article describes all of the Endangered and Critically Endangered species of wild cats. It does not tackle any subspecies of wild cats, which may be just as threatened as the species; for instance, the Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis), a subspecies of leopard, has only 19 to 26 individuals left in the wild.)
7. Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia) — above
Snow leopards live in the mountains of Central Asia, at altitudes of 10,990 to 22,000 ft (3,350 to 6,700 meters). Their paws are wide, like snowshoes, which helps them walk across the snow, and they have fur on the bottoms of their paws to help them grip steep, slippery surfaces. Their biggest threats are insufficient prey (due to humans’ illegal hunting of their prey), poaching, and conflict with local people. There are an estimated 4,080 to 6,590 individuals in the wild, but fewer than 2,500 of these are likely or able to reproduce.