Photo: A tiger licking one of her cubs

A Bengal tiger called Sita gives her cubs an early morning bath in India’s Bandhavgarh National Park.

Photograph by Michael Nichols

Cats of all sizes—ranging from playful family pets to powerful tigers in the wild—are among the most familiar of all of Earth’s animals. Fossil evidence suggests that ancestors of today’s cats may date back as much as 30 million years in Europe and 16 million years in the Americas.

Cats living in the wild, especially big cats such as tigers, lions, cheetahs, leopards, cougars (pumas), and jaguars are increasingly at risk of extinction because of pressure from ever-expanding human populations. Students can help protect these beautiful animals by researching and learning about where and how these animals live and what threats put them at risk.

Conduct an Investigation

Divide the class into six groups and assign each group one of the following types of big cats: tigers, lions, cheetahs, leopards, cougars (pumas), or jaguars.

Instruct each group to research the following information about its assigned big cat.

i. Description of the cat
ii. Range/natural habitat
iii. Life cycle/habits
iv. Threats v. Conservation efforts

The following web sites will be helpful:

National Geographic Big Cats Initiative
Look at the lower half of the page and see "More Big Cats." Select the desired animal to see population, range, and other facts.

San Diego Zoo
Under the heading "cats," select the desired species to locate range maps, facts & figures, and general information.

ARKive
Use the "search" option to locate information on the desired cat species.

Big Cats Online
Select continent; then select desired species.

Present Research Findings

Provide each group with poster board, colored pencils or markers, and a blank map for the range area of its assigned cat. Maps can be downloaded from Expeditions [select the desired continent, customize to “basic”, print as pdf]

Guide students to organize their research findings, including photos and a range map, to present what they have learned about their assigned cat. Remind them to include correct documentation for all sources used.

Extend the Activity

Have students identify other animals that are endangered and learn more about these animals at risk.

See World Wildlife Fund

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