Cats Are Going Extinct: 12 Most Endangered Feline Species

tiger wading through muddy water

catlovers / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

These feline species are on the verge of disappearing forever.

In this gallery, we bring attention to the diverse and beautiful felid species worldwide, either currently listed as endangered or vulnerable. We hope that by learning about these fantastic relatives of our well-loved domestic cats that readers will be encouraged to act to protect these animals.

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Snow Leopard

Snow leopard in winter scene

through-my-lens / Getty Images

The estimated population of this threatened species is somewhere between 2,710 and 3,386 individuals. The iconic snow leopard lives in the unbelievably cold habitats of alpine and subalpine areas of Central and South Asia, particularly the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas. Rarely ever seen in the wild based in part because of its elusive nature and also because so few remain, this animal's numbers continue to decrease despite conservation efforts.

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Fishing Cat

fishing cat with striped head and neck and spotted body in jungle setting

Duloup / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The fishing cat, listed as vulnerable by IUCN, has scattered populations across Southeast Asia. In some areas of its range, such as Vietnam, Laos, and Java, scientists believe the fishing cat is extinct. Unfortunately, scientists find themselves unable to make a reliable population estimate. Factors in the decline include conflicts with humans and habitat loss.

These cats live along rivers and in mangrove swamps in Asia, primarily in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. They are skilled swimmers and are dependent on wetlands for their food.

Conservation photographer Morgan Heim's project Cat In Water documents the lives of this incredible species and the threats it faces for survival.

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Iberian Lynx

Iberian Lynx with yellowish brown fur and many dark brown or black spots and short tail with black tip

Programa de Conservación Ex-situ del Lince Ibérico / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0 

The endangered Iberian Lynx, the world's most threatened cat species, has a population of somewhere around 400 mature individuals and growing. As low as that number seems, previous surveys have encountered fewer than 100 total.

Native to the Iberian Peninsula, the Iberian lynx is an expert rabbit hunter. Unfortunately, with a diet of 90% rabbits, disease outbreaks killing rabbits have rippled through the population. Though it is now illegal to hunt them and their habitat is protected, the lynx still falls victim to cars along roads, feral dogs, and poaching by humans.

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Flat-Headed Cat

Flat-headed cat, about the size of a domestic cat with a tawny body, flattened forehead, rounded ears, and long narrow head.

Jim Sanderson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0 

The world's least-known feline, the endangered flat-headed cat, has fewer than 2,500 mature individuals left in the wild. Destruction of the wetlands on which they depend, in their home range of the inland peat swamps and mangrove forests of Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, has led to the loss of flat-headed cats. It formerly inhabited Thailand as well but is thought to be extinct now. The loss of habitat — mostly due to conversion into palm oil plantations — may mean it will disappear along with the forest.

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Borneo Bay Cat

reddish Bay cat in captivity in Sarawak

Jim Sanderson; derivative work by Abujoy / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Only an estimated 2,200 mature endangered Borneo bay cats (Catopuma badia) currently live in their secluded range on the island of Borneo. These cats are the size of a large house cat and have a chestnut-colored body with a grayish-brown head. They have two dark stripes from the corners of their eyes to their whiskers. They also have a dark mark shaped like the letter M on the back of their head.

Unfortunately, researchers know very little about bay cats, and few studies focus on the species. Indeed, the first photograph of a live Borneo bay cat was taken in 1998. Deforestation of its habitat for commercial logging and oil palm plantations constitutes the most significant threat to the species.

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Tiger

orange and white tiger with black stripes standing on tree in jungle

Phillippe Put / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Only an estimated 3,900 adult tigers remain in the wild despite being the most iconic cat species in the world, next to the African lion. That number actually represents an increase attributed to ambitious conservation plans, better methods of survey, and

Poaching is the primary threat to tigers worldwide. In some areas, people believe that various tiger parts cure everything from epilepsy and insomnia to laziness and pimples. There's no evidence to support any medical use. Skins also bring in top dollar.

There are six subspecies of tiger, including the more familiar Sumatran Tiger and Bengal Tiger. Today, the captive tiger populations for several subspecies outnumber the wild. Without more stringent protections and better enforcement, these big cats may disappear from the wild entirely.

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Andean Mountain Cat

Andean Mountain Cat Small wild cat with greyish body and long thick tail standing on mountain rock

Jim Sanderson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Fewer than 1,400 endangered Andean cats remain. Before 1998, the only evidence scientists had that it existed at all were two photographs. These endangered cats only reach about 2 feet long and 18 pounds as adults.

The appearance and high-altitude habitat call to mind the snow leopard. But unlike the snow leopard, there is far less conservation funding to help this cat. Two groups, the Andean Cat Alliance and the Small Cat Conservation Alliance, mainly assist with conservation efforts for this felid species. Habitat loss and degradation rank as the top reasons for the declining population.

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Clouded Leopard

Clouded leopard, tawny with black blotchy markings
Clouded leopard - Neofelis nebulosa.

Sarah B Photography / Getty Images

The clouded leopard population estimated at less than 10,000 throughout Southeast Asia has been declared extinct in Taiwan. IUCN has listed the animal as vulnerable since 2008, and the main threats against it are habitat loss from extensive deforestation and commercial poaching for the wildlife trade. Populations of clouded leopard in Borneo have an advantage over ones in other areas due to the lack of tigers and other leopard species competing for resources.

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African Lion

Group of male and female lions in grassy area of South Africa

Antonella Ragazzoni / Getty Images

Lions, not yet endangered, but listed as vulnerable with only around 23,000 (at best) still living in the wild faces rapidly decreasing numbers. The king of the jungle has lost 30 to 50 percent of its population in the last two decades alone.

Because of habitat loss and conflict with humans, most lions only inhabit eastern and southern Africa, with their numbers in severe decline. Conservation groups are working to preserve habitat so that lions have enough room to hunt and roam, but also to provide people with tools and knowledge for how to coexist with these big cats and reduce the number of deaths due to snaring.

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Marbled Cat

Cat with long tail and dark irregular patches

Johan Embréus / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

The marbled cat, native to South and Southeast Asia, has been listed as vulnerable to extinction since 2002, and fewer than 10,000 mature individuals persist in the world. It is about the size of a house cat and lives in the branches of trees, where it hunts birds, squirrels, and reptiles. Many people compare the marbled cat to the clouded leopard because of similar markings, canine teeth, and habitats.

Many marbled cats fall victim to snaring by humans that value the bones, meat, and fur. Thankfully, many countries prohibit hunting, which may help to slow its decline — but only if deforestation ceases as well. A loss of habitat proves an urgent threat to this arboreal species.

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Black-Footed Cat

cat similar to a housecat with light colored fur with black markings

Zbyszko / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

This black-footed cat, a fierce African cat vulnerable to extinction with a population of 9,707, may look like a housecat yet most certainly is not. The black-footed cat is the smallest African cat and is endemic in southern Africa's southwest arid zone. The extremely shy, strictly nocturnal cat hides at the slightest disturbance. However, it becomes incredibly fierce when cornered. They would give lions and tigers a real run for their money if there weren't such a size difference. These cats are most unusual in that they rarely climb trees, and instead find shelter by digging burrows.

Though farmers do not actively target it, they do target its cousin, the African wildcat. Hence, falling victim to poisons and traps set for other animals -- including the poisoning of carcasses to control jackals -- is the most significant threat this tiny species.

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Cheetah

spotted cheetah walking in Kruger National Park

Karen Corby / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The last cat on our list is the world's fastest land animal, but it still can't outrun the impacts of humans on its environment. The cheetah has been listed as vulnerable to extinction and has disappeared entirely from many of its former ranges. Around 6,674 cheetahs remain in the wild. Once found throughout Africa and the Middle East, the cheetah is now primarily relegated to one small patch in Iran and fragmented areas of Africa. Because cheetahs need vast stretches of open land to hunt, the impact of human encroachment and hunting by humans for their furs has taken its toll.