Episodes: Big cats, ranked


Do you remember Zoobooks?

Maybe you don't. I occasionally come across people who are vaguely familiar with the term, but only rarely do I come across people who actually subscribed to them. I did, however, for most of my childhood, and they gave me an endless series of (possibly untrue) animal trivia that I will occasionally just spout off at random intervals.

And the first (and possibly best) Zoobook I ever received was one called Big Cats. Child me had no idea that there was a difference between a "big" and a "little" cat, or even that the endless parade of cats who hung out around our farm were distantly related to lions and tigers.

But not only did Zoobooks teach me that, yes, Big Cats existed, but that they were also all distinguished not by their size (though they are bigger than most cats) but by their ability to roar. They belonged to the genus "panthera" and were subtly different from other cats, who mostly purred or meowed or whatever stupid noises my cat is making out in the hall right now. (She's probably trying to get rid of a hairball. Gross.)

So anyway, let's rank some damn big cats, because you probably think cheetahs are big cats, and you would be wrong about that. (Okay, technically, the distinction here is one that basically nobody would care about, and if you call a cheetah a "big cat," most people will nod in agreement, but if you say it in front of me, I will destroy you with knowledge gained as a 6-year-old.)

Unranked) Cougar: Are you kidding me? Get out of here with this. The American mountain lion, aka cougar, aka puma, pretends to be a big cat and is, indeed, frequently bigger than actual members of the family panthera, but it doesn't roar. It purrs. We just talked about this.

Unranked) Cheetah: Honest to God...

5) Leopard: Leopards are fine and all, but they also share space with both lions and tigers, and if you're going to share space with lions and tigers, you'd better bring your A game, and leopards have brought their B game at best. They also lose points for looking a lot like jaguars and not seeming particularly bothered by this fact. Leopards are the biggest pretenders of the genus panthera, and it's time somebody called them out on it.

4) Lion: Lions think they're so cool, with their communal living style and height (tallest of the cats!) and cool-ass manes. And, really, they should be higher on this list, but for one thing: The Lion King, which isn't a very good movie, but everybody thinks it's a good movie because it's about lions (I guess). Yeah, there are far worse Disney films from the company's animation renaissance, but The Lion King is this touchstone for people my age, and I've just never been able to get into it. So I'm docking a bunch of points from the lion.

3) Snow leopards: These have only recently been tossed into genus panthera (like, 2008 recently), but I'm glad to have them there. They're probably more of an evolutionary gateway from little cats to big cats, but that just means they're the cooler older brother of leopards, who don't have to work so hard to impress everybody. They've got their life together, and when leopards go to visit them in the summer, leopards think long and hard about what they want their future to be.

2) Jaguars: Jaguars are the only big cats native to the Americas, which earns them huge points in my book. That's not because they've joined me in the Western Hemisphere, no. It's because they chased everybody else out. No other big cats managed to hold on here, but the jaguar hasn't just held on -- it's thrived. Of the big cats, it's the only one not marked as "endangered" or "vulnerable." Now, some of that is because it lives in tropical places where humans aren't as likely to go randomly killing everything that moves. But just as much of it is because jaguars know their shit.

1) Tigers: There is no way number one could be anything else. Tigers are great. Tigers are awe-inspiring. If you ran into a tiger in the wild, you would probably be terrified, but you'd also be amazed a creature this huge exists, still, on this planet, in our most remote kingdoms. But you don't care about all of that. No, tigers are number one, because fat tigers are the best thing that has ever happened. Fat tigers. Worth the number one spot on their very own.

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