Cats are one of the most recognisable groups of mammals, and have even made their way into our homes.
The extant Felidae family is split into two subfamilies, Pantherinae (big cats: tiger, lion, jaguar, leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard and Sunda clouded leopard) and Felinae (all other species). The exact number of species is unclear, as some subspecies are occasionally referred to as distinct species (such as the Iriomote cat), but there are roughly 40 species described by scientists.
The BBC One series Big Cats uncovers the secret lives of some of these remarkable felines, including many which are very elusive – snow leopards and Pallas’s cats are respectively known as ‘ghosts of the mountain’ and ‘small ghosts of the grasslands’.
About the photographer
Paul Williams is a TV producer and wildlife photographer, based at the BBC Natural History Unit. View more of his photos on Instagram.
To view the images as a slideshow, click on the arrows in the top right hand corner of the photos below.
Tigers are the biggest of all the cats – from the giant siberian tigers that roam the frozen boreal forest of russia, to the secretive ‘swamp’ tigers of the Indian Sundarbans that bathe in seawater and patrol muddy shores. @ Paul Williams
Lions are iconic animals… but they’re strange too. They are the only cat to live in groups. In numbers they find the strength and cooperation to hunt the most formidable prey, including bison, giraffe, and even elephants. @ Paul Williams
Pallas’s cat thrive in the remote grasslands of the Mongolian steppe. They are perfectly adapted to hide in this open landscape – they have a wide head, low ears, and can flatten their bodies to look like a rock when hunting. @ Paul Williams
Fishing cats are suited to a life in the wetlands of Asia. Beneath a long outer coat they have a short layer of insulating fur that acts like a wetsuit – and they have partially webbed feet. @ Paul Williams
Pumas are the widest ranging mammal in the Americas, thanks to their extraordinary adaptability and an eye for opportunity. On the southern tip of Patagonia, they even stalk the most unlikely of prey… penguins! @ Paul Williams
Jaguar are the largest cat in the Americas and have a powerful bite to match. For their size, they are the strongest of any cat, allowing them to dispatch monstrous prey – even caiman crocodiles. @ Paul Williams
Margay’s climb high in the tree tops of central America where they are known as the monkey cat. @ Paul Williams
Ocelots are one of the most common cats in central America, but because of their remarkable camouflage, they are rarely seen. @ Paul Williams
Jaguarundi are also known as the otter cat because of their physical similarity to the aquatic mammals. This small cat is found from Texas to Argentina, and it particularly thrives in dense rainforests where it must avoid the much bigger jaguar that is known to be one of their predators. @ Paul Williams
Snow leopards live in the Indian Himalayas, the world’s highest living cat. Known as the ‘ghost of the mountain’ they roam huge territories, where food is scarce, and finding a mate is even harder. @ BBC
Rusty spotted cats live in Sri Lanka. This miniature predator, is the world’s smallest cat… weighing little more than a kilo, 200 times lighter than a lion! @ BBC
Canada lynx are the most northerly cats. Thick fur, and huge snowshoe-like feet help them to deal with deep snow and arctic conditions, and enable them to keep up with their equally adept prey – the snowshoe hare. © BBC
Cheetahs are not just the fastest cats… they’re the fastest animals on land! They have been recorded running at speeds as fast as 96 kmph. © BBC
Sand cats are the only cat adapted primarily to desert life. They live in the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. They are rarely seen and only recently has a scientific study captured the first images of sand cat kittens in the wild. © BBC
Bobcats are the most widespread cat in the United States, and are named for their stunted tail. They usually hunt small mammals in the forest. © BBC
Iberian lynx once thrived all across the Iberian peninsula but mass extermination of their primary prey – the european rabbit, by mixamatosis, had a devastating effect on this enigmatic cat. © BBC
Leopards thrive in more environments than any other wild cat. From the deserts of Southern Africa, to the Boreal forests of Russia, even the bustling suburbs of Mumbai in India. @ Paul Williams
A serval, South Africa. Proportionally, they have the longest ears and legs of any cat, and are adapted to detect and leap for prey amongst tall savanna grass. @ Paul Williams
Clouded leopards are one of the most agile climbers in the cat family – with huge feet to grip, and an exceptionally long tail to help with balance. Their stronghold is the forests of Northern India. @ Paul Williams
The African wildcat is one of the most widespread of all cats, ranging from the middle east to the southern tip of Africa, and is the ancestor of the domestic cat. © BBC
Black-footed cats are Africa’s smallest cat, and the deadliest of the entire cat family – with a 60% hunting success rate. Anything that moves is a potential meal, from locusts to birds and gerbils. @ Paul Williams
Caracals are found across much of southern and central Africa. They have long powerful legs that enable them to leap as high as 10 feet, and hunt birds on the wing. © BBC