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Big Cats

Zeke-11.jpgThe big cats found around the Cat House at Niabi Zoo aren’t your typical house cat. These beautiful creatures are some of the most powerful in the animal kingdom. You can see our largest native cat, the Bobcat as well as three species of leopards. Be sure to check out one of the largest of all cats, the African lions at the Passport to Africa exhibit.

Amur Leopard

The rarest of all big cats, it is estimated that approximately 50 Amur Leopards survive in the wild. These vanishing cats originate from the Amur River Valley between Russia's Far East and Northeastern China extending to the northern region of the Korean peninsula. Poaching is the greatest threat to the survival of this critically endangered cat.  Habitat loss due to clearing land for farming and unsustainable logging is another major impact on leopard populations.  The Amur Leopard Species Survival Plan (SSP) manages the population of Amur leopards in North American zoos. As of 2013, 92 facilities maintain 210 Amur Leopards. If its wild habitat can be secured and wild populations protected, it is hoped that some day leopards may be reintroduced to their home territories. Until then, zoos are a safe haven for this Critically Endangered species.

African Leopard

Yawn.jpgCompared to other big cats, the African leopard has relatively short legs and a long body. They are becoming increasingly rare outside protected areas in Africa and in 2016 their conservation status went from Near Threatened to Vulnerable. This is due to humans poaching for illegal wildlife trade, trophy hunting, ceremonial use of skins, conversion of habitat for agricultural use, and habitat fragmentation as a result of human encroachment. Leopards are incredibly strong in that they drag their large prey up into the branches of a tree to eat it and keep it away from other scavanging animals. At Niabi, you can see both the standard color and the black leopard.

Snow Leopard

Snow leopards have thick fur and a long robust tail that keeps them warm in the cold mountain climate of the Himalayas. These great jumpers can leap 50 feet hortizontally and 20 feet vertically! Unusual among cats, their eyes are pale green or grey in color.  In 2017, their conservation status moved from Endangered to Vulnerable.  This demonstrates that conservation efforts are working but we can't stop now. Wild populations are still in decline, just not as steeply. Niabi Zoo is a Conservation Partner with the Snow Leopard Trust and donates money from our Coins for Conservation collection to help snow leopards in the wild each year. 


The bobcat is the biggest cat in Illinois and Iowa, although only medium in size. While some sightings of cougars are occasionally reported, cougars are extirpated (regionally extinct) in these states. The bobcat has a distinctive appearance with black tufted ears, black bar-like stripes on its forelegs, a gray to brown coat with subtle spots, and a small bobbed tail from which it derives its name. Bobcats are about twice as large as domestic cats and can be seen throughout the United States, including in the Quad Cities area. The Rock Island County Forest Preserves help to maintain and protect forest habitats that are important for the conservation of bobcats.