About Small Cats

Panthera’s Small Cats Program creates targeted conservation strategies for the world’s most threatened small cat species by understanding their unique ecological needs and most urgent threats. Of the world’s 40 wild cat species, 33 are classified as small cats. Scientists still know very little about most of these petite felines, so in 2018, Panthera launched our Small Cats Program. Our growing Small Cats Program is expanding our focus on wild cat conservation to bring the increasingly threatened small cat species to the world’s attention and enact science-based conservation action on their behalf.

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The State of Small Cats

Ranging in size from the diminutive rusty-spotted cat, weighing around 5 pounds when fully grown, to the 50-pound Eurasian lynx, small cat species inhabit five of the world’s seven continents (excluding Australia and Antarctica) and are superbly adapted to an array of natural and increasingly unnatural environments, from deserts to rainforests to city parks.

Compared to big cats and other carnivores, very little is known about the world's small cats. Supremely elusive, some are nocturnal, others are arboreal — and all are rare and secretive, making them especially difficult to study. Many small cats are in danger of extinction and some are so cryptic that scientists haven't even been able to study them in the wild and can only describe their appearance and approximate geographic range.

While 12 of the world’s 18 most threatened wild felids are small cat species, they still receive a fraction of all funding committed to wild cat conservation. Today, conservation strategies don’t even exist for most small wild cat species, though they most certainly face serious risks from habitat loss, poaching, land conversion and conflict with humans. In 2021, the Ayers Wild Cat Conservation Trust committed at least $US 20 million to wild cat conservation over the next decade, with a particular focus on the preservation of small wild cats.

Small but Plentiful

33 of the 40 species of the world’s wild cats are classified as small cats.

© Gregory Breton

Widespread Range

Small cat species inhabit 5 of the world’s 7 continents in nearly every type of habitat.

© Nick Garbutt

Need More Info

The lack of data on small cats can significantly hamper conservation action.

© Sebastian Kennerknecht

It's Dangerous to be Small

12 of the world’s 18 most threatened wild cat species are small cats.

© Christian Sperka
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species being studied through range-wide assessments, including African golden cats, jaguarundis and servals.

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small cat species directly studied or protected through programs we lead or support.

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wild cat species captured on camera in Malaysian Borneo during a large-scale survey.

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countries in which we are conducting targeted small cat conservation projects.

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continents where small cat movements and survival have been tracked.

Our Impact

Where We Work

North America

  • Countries: Canada, United States

  • Species We’re Protecting: Bobcats, Canada lynx

South and Central America:

  • Countries: Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica

  • Species We’re Protecting: Andean Mountain cats, Geoffroy’s cats, guiñas, jaguarundis, margays, ocelots, oncillas, Pampas cats


  • Countries: Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand

  • Species We’re Protecting: Asian golden cats, bay cats, clouded leopards, fishing cats, flat-headed cats, marbled cat, Pallas’s cats Sunda clouded leopards


  • Countries: Ivory Coast, Morocco, Namibia, Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Zambia

  • Species We’re Protecting: African golden cats, black-footed cats, sand cats, servals

Where Do Small Cats Live?

Small cat species inhabit five of the world’s seven continents in diverse habitats, including deserts, tundra, mountains and rainforests. Many live in overlapping ranges with the planet’s seven big cat species. 

Select a species below to see their range:

  • Historic Small Cats Range
  • Current Small Cats Range

Small Cats FAQs


How does my house cat compare to a small wild cat?


The African wildcat is the closest relative to domestic cats. The species began to be domesticated around 10,000 years ago on the Fertile Crescent with the rise of agriculture. While technically considered to be the same species by most scientists, the genetic differences between the wildcat and the domestic cat are enough to classify them as separate subspecies.


Why is it important to study small cats?


Although big cats are well-known indicator species, which means they reflect the health of their environments, small cats also signal global change. Occupying a wider range of ecological niches than other species, they exhibit a greater variety of sensitivities to change. Small cats have shorter life spans and higher reproductive rates, so they exhibit more rapid responses to change. Some small cat species, though not all, have smaller home ranges and are more abundant, which makes it easier for scientists to investigate fine-scale management interventions. Therefore, studying small cats and their reaction to climate change not only allows us to better understand these species, but also the overall health of their ecosystems and the species with whom they interact.

Yet, only a handful of studies have investigated the ecology of small cats, so there are massive knowledge gaps about species population sizes, threats and more. This lack of data can significantly hamper conservation action and make many highly threatened small cat species appear as low priorities on the conservation agenda.


Can small cats roar?


Unlike many big cat species, such as lions and tigers, small cats lack the specialized stretching ligament in their hyoid bone that would enable them to roar.


What are the threats facing small cats?


Small cats face many of the same issues as big cats, including habitat loss, legal and illegal hunting of them and their prey and conflict between humans and cats, usually due to attacks on small livestock. Other threats include disease, hybridization and the illegal pet trade.


How can we save small cats?


Through our Small Cats Program, Panthera is expanding our focus on wild cat conservation to bring increasingly threatened small cat species to the world’s attention and enact science-based conservation actions on their behalf.

Small Cat Spotlights

Ensure their tomorrow with your gift today.

© Nitish Madan