Our Most Stunning Pictures of Big Cats

Video highlights from Tiger On The Run

See National Geographic's most beautiful portraits of wild felines

Lions, and tigers, and pumas—oh my!

Humans have long been fascinated with big cats, the eight largest of Earth’s 37 wild cat species.

“Of all the great creatures, they are perhaps the most magnificent, iconic, and fabled,” says conservation scientist Luke Dollar, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

Their size and power makes big cats top predators, helping maintain the balance of the ecosystem by controlling prey populations, says Dollar.

But the big cats’ predatory skills and massive sizes also make them easy targets. All big cats are losing habitat, much of it eaten away by human sprawl. Many get killed by herders retaliating against deaths of their livestock.

And poachers continually chip away at their numbers, killing species such as tigers for their skin and other hunting trophies.

In other words, says Dollar, the danger to cats can be summarized in one word.

“People.”

But people can also be part of the solution. Dollar and other conservationists are hopeful that targeted, cost-effective interventions—such as fortifying the fences around livestock-grazing areas—can preserve species for future generations.

After all, the stakes are high. As field biologist George B. Schaller wrote for National Geographic magazine, "The great cats represent the ultimate test of our willingness to share this planet with other species."

Big Cat Week returns to Nat Geo Wild - daily at 9.30pm AEST from 14 February

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