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Felines could starve to death just like their Ice Age cousins, new study warns

Lack of pray could cause our felines to starve to death and eventually die out, just like their Ice Age cousins did, a new study warns. Learning from the past might help us protect our lions, tiger, leopards and cheetahs.

Once upon a time, saber-tooth cats roamed the Earth. They were magnificent and powerful predators but according to scientists, seven of the big cats went extinct before the end of the last ice age. Their demise was caused by food scarcity, scientists say, and a new study warns that this could happen again and we might end up losing some of our iconic felines like lions, Cloud leopards and cheetahs.

Thou it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of extinction when it comes to the great felines, scientists say that it was due to a combination of climate change, human intervention and loss of pray. In a recently published study in the journal Ecography, scientists from the universities of Sussex, Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Aarhus and Goteborg looked at the causes that could have contributed to the extinction of seven of the great cats and tried to see if current species of felines could end up having the same fate as their Ice Age cousins.


Scientists concentrated on four different types of sabre-toothed cats, the cave and American lions, and the American cheetah and found that only about 25% of their favorite prays are still alive today in the habitat that the large cats used to roam.

The majority of their pray has gone extinct, either due to environmental pressure or human intervention. And this, at least in part, contributed to the death of the mega cats.

And this raises a troubling question for the great felines of today as scientists went further, trying to figure out if this particular scenario could happen all over again. They used their data in order to predict future outcomes for some of today’s big cats and the results were worrying.

They found that if all the currently threatened and declining prey species within big cat natural ranges were to go extinct, only 39% of the African lion’s prey species and 37 percent of those of the Sunda clouded leopard would remain.

But these three species of felines are not the only ones having to face “a high risk of extinction”. Tigers, leopards and cheetahs are not doing much better as they are confronted with a fall in pray diversity in their own geographical regions.

“Our research clearly shows that if primary big cat prey continues to decline at such a rate then big cats, including lion, tiger, leopard and cheetah are at risk,” said Chris Sandom, who conceived the project.”Where prey species have, or are likely to become extinct, this poses a serious risk to the big cat species which feed on them and we now know this is the continuation of an unhappy trend which began during the last Ice Age. We need to buck this Ice Age trend once and for all and to reinforce the urgent need for governments to protect both big cat species and their prey.”

And conservationists have long been warning about this cascading effect which impacts not only large cats, but also other species of animals, in peril of becoming extinct. In scientific jargon, this is called “defaunation” and unless serious steps are taken in order to protect pray and predator alike, today’s big cats could become a distant memory, just like saber-tooth tigers, cave lions and giant cheetahs.


Today, there are several species of big cats listed as critically endangered or endangered. The Florida cougar, the Eastern panther, the Sumatran, Siberian and the South China Tiger, the Anatolian Leopard, the North African Leopard, the Amur and South Arabian Leopard, the Asiatic lion, the Asiatic cheetah and the Spanish lynx, all are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, meaning that they have experienced a 80% population decline in the last decade or that it is expected that they will experience a 80% decline in the next ten years.

Sylvia Jacob