Wildlife News, Wildlife Photography

Tigers in Africa

October 3, 2011

I have often been asked by guests whether or not tigers have ever been recorded in Africa, and whether or not leopards, cheetahs and lions occurred in Europe and Asia. This also leads to the question that if they did, did they co-exist and where? These are interesting questions as these big cats have evolved from similar ancestors and now have very specific adaptions to survive certain habitats. The short answer is: yes, there are, in fact, some overlaps by some of the cats. But this requires more explanation.


Tigers are only found in Asia and, historically, their range was vast. In the past, tigers were found throughout Asia, from the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea to Siberia and Indonesia and even in Borneo and Palawan in the Philippines. Today the range of the tiger is only 7% of what it used to be. Historically, their populations did overlap with lions and cheetahs, but this is not the case anymore. However, they still share population ranges with leopards. There is no record of tigers occurring in Africa and, as such, they are exclusive to Asia. There are, however, tigers being bred in South Africa, under the “Save China’s Tigers” project. This project aims to reintroduce critically endangered, South China, captive bred tigers that have been “rewilded” and taught to hunt in South Africa, into original hunting ranges in China.


About 10 000 years ago, lions were found in most of Africa, across Eurasia from western Europe to India, and in the America’s from the Yukon to Peru. Wild lions currently exist in Sub-Saharan Africa and in Asia with an endangered remnant population in Gir Forest National Park in India, having disappeared from North Africa and Southwest Asia in historic times. Currently, there are no overlaps in populations with tigers in India, but in the past there would have been areas where lions and tigers would have co-existed and survived alongside each other.


Leopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, occurring widely in eastern, central and southern Africa. Within sub-Saharan Africa, the species is still numerous and even thriving in marginal habitats where other large cats have disappeared. Populations have shown a declining trend and are fragmented outside of sub-Saharan Africa with populations in North Africa being critically low and maybe extinct. Leopard distribution data in Asia is not consistent. Populations in southwest and central Asia are small and fragmented; in the northeast, they are critically endangered; but in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and China, leopards are still relatively abundant. Of the species as a whole, its numbers are greater than those of other Panthera species, all of which face more acute conservation concerns. They have lived alongside tigers and lions in Asia for many years, and as such are the most successful of the big cats.


Cheetahs were historically found in SW Asia (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Saidi Arabia), the Arabian Gulf and throughout Africa. Currently, there are several geographically isolated populations of cheetah, all of which are found in Africa or southwestern Asia. A small population (estimated at about fifty) survive in the Khorasan Province of Iran, where conservationists are taking steps to protect them. Cheetahs have been known to exist in India for a very long time, but as a result of hunting and other causes, cheetahs have been extinct in India since the 1940s. It is possible, though doubtful, that some cheetahs remain in India. There have also been several unconfirmed reports of Asiatic Cheetahs in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, with at least one dead animal being discovered recently. As such, cheetahs would have overlapped with tigers only in their SW Asian range.

The big cats (Pantheras) were historically widespread, but throughout history the human race (through hunting, poaching and habitat encroachment) has driven them to a fraction of their former range and populations. Only through extreme conservation efforts will these magnificent creatures be preserved for future generations.
Images of lions, leopard and cheetah all © Chris Renshaw – Ashby Images

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