Big Cats of Africa
The term “big cats” is not a scientific or taxonomic classification but used informally to describe the larger species of cats, typically lions, tigers, and leopards. Like all other cats, the big cats of Africa (lions, leopards and cheetah) are all part of the Family Felidae. This includes 34 different species of cat found around the world (some also in Africa). The big cats, like their smaller counterpart the domestic cat, are obligate carnivores. This means their diet and digestive systems are designed specifically for a diet comprised solely of animal tissues, and they have specific adaptations to eating other animals. Their lifestyle revolves around the capture of prey, mating and the rearing of their young, as well as escaping predation themselves. They have simple stomachs and intestinal tracts designed to rapidly and efficiently digest the protein and fat of animal prey, with minimal carbohydrate intake. The teeth of carnivores are specialised for stabbing and slicing meat and bones and include large canines and powerful carnassials (molars with scissor-like edges). This course explores the biology, ecology and conservation of big cats in Africa.