The decline of all these cat species began several hundred years ago, but increased in speed in the second half of the nineteenth century. The demographic and ecological changes that have occurred in Central Asia over the last 150 years have special relevance to the issue of cat extinctions. For human populations, large cats were an important presence in their lives, with attacks on livestock the common events that framed the relationship between local populations and large cats. By the 1930s, both tiger and cheetah were rapidly disappearing throughout Central Asia. Sustained hunting, a rapid increase in land reclamation, immigration, and growth of local populations created untenable conditions for these animals in all parts of their habitat. No large predator has expanded its absolute population in this century. The snow leopard is the only large cat in Central Asia that will definitely be around at the start of the next century.
The family Felidae is generally considered to contain 38 species grouped into several genera (the taxonomy can vary). The largest genus Felis, with 26 species, includes the Eastern puma Felis concolor, largest of the genus, ocelot F. pardalis, bobcat F. rufus and many species of smaller wild cats, as well as the domestic cat F. catus. The other main genera are Lynx; Neofelis, notably the clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa; Panthera, containing the jaguar P. onca, the leopard P. pardus, the tiger P. tigris and the lion P. leo; Acinonyx the cheeta; and Leopardus.
The cats are indigenous to every continent except Australia, Antarctica and the island of Madagascar.
Approximately 36 species of cats live in the wild today. Central Asia boasts nearly a quarter of the world's wild cat species. Felids are perhaps the most specialized hunters of the carnivores, relying almost exclusively on prey that they have killed themselves. Felids use a diversity of habitats.
The domestic cat has now been transported to just about everywhere humans have gone.