Of the predators located around the world, the most graceful and regal are the big cats. From the stealth leopard to the powerful tiger, each species has qualities and quirks that make them stand out from the rest.
The leopard is the least visible and understood of all of the world’s big cats. Despite being closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars who live in groups or packs, leopards are furtive, solitary animals. Their ability to adapt to hostile environments allows them to live alone in some of the world’s harshest climates such as the south Saharan desert and even the Himalayas. Between their power and stealth, leopards are the perfect predator.
Unlike other leopards, the snow leopard cannot roar because of the physiology of their throat. Scientists have recently discovered that it is not simply the hyoid bone that allows big cats to roar but a variety of other features. Even though the snow leopard has the partial ossification of the hyoid bone in its throat, it is missing its larynx. Instead, the snow leopard relies on chuffing, which is a non-aggressive puffing sound.
Cougars go by many different names, including mountain lion, catamount, fire cat, panther, puma, and katalgar. They hold the Guinness World Record for the animal with the highest number of names.
Various native peoples in North and South America have revered the Cougar as they have the Jaguar Panthera onca. The ancient Peruvian city of Cuzco was laid out in the shape of a Cougar. The Cochiti Indians of New Mexico carved life sized statues of this cat out of stone and created a mesa top shrine in their honour. Great Lakes tribes believed their tail whipped up waves and storms. Natives so respected the big cat that they refused to hunt it or protect livestock herds from its predations.
The explorer Columbus was one of the first to call them lions because of their resemblance to female African lions, which he had seen before. Males were assumed to be fierce, elusive creatures because explorers saw only “maneless” female lions. A cougar petroglyph carved in sandstone by Anasazi Indians about 1200 A.D. is exhibited at the Rainbow Museum in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona , where it was found.
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