The exact progression of evolution for big cat species is widely contested, although the Clouded Leopard seems to be the agreed upon common ancestor for todays big cats. The panthera sub family includes the Clouded leopard, Snow Leopard, Leopard, Jaguar, Tiger, Lion, and recently discovered Sunda Clouded Leopard. Recently new ancient species of the panthera suggests speciation in the felidae family began much earlier than originally thought. Originally big cats were thought to have begun to diversify 3 million years ago. Now with the discovery of several more species there is evidence that by 6 million years ago at least three different groups of cats including the Clouded Leopard, Snow Leopard, and a branch leading to the Tiger. This speciation would have occurred during the last ice age when the Himalayas were being formed. There is skepticism due to only three individual’s fragments being found in the Zanda Basin in the Tibetan Plateau. DNA has also suggested earlier than previously though speciation of the panthera tree. The DNA and skeletal analysis has pushed back the beginning of panthera speciation to 16 million years, with large room for error.
Roughly 10 million years ago the puma lineage diverged from the panthera. The panthera are the “true” big cats which have the ability to roar, but cannot purr. The puma sub family is the reverse. Recently there have been a vast increases in the amount of crossbreeding between members of the panthera. This has been a viable business for collectors of exotic animals. Crossbreeding panthera species like lions and tigers are largely illegal because they become main tourists attractions. Ligers, cubs with a lion father and tiger mother, grow to become the largest big cat in the world. Tigons, a cub with a Tiger father and Lion mother, have become rarer than the Liger and much smaller than both their parents. The earliest known record of a Liger was 1798 on a color plate by St. Hilaire. They were a known and well recorded novelty item in the 1800s.
In 1977 at Southam Zoo in Warwickshire, UK a tigress mated with a black panther and produced a cub, which was dubbed by the media Pantig although technically it is called a Leoger. This cub was the only of such a mating to survive. When the reverse happens the cubs are still born, as it places too much strain on the smaller leopard mother. The cub was sold to an American Zoo when it matured. In 2009 the first ever Tiger Jaguar hybrid was born at the Altoplano Zoo in San Pablo, Mexico. This cub was born to a Amur Tiger father and Jaguar mother. This cross is known as a Tiguar. These types of breedings can endanger the mother if she is the smaller of the two cats.
Cubs born from these cross breedings are unable to further breed to develop a new species. All male cubs that have been born have been infertile, the females however usually can have cubs, although any male cubs born are sterile as well.
Recently smaller puma species have been bred with house cats, creating not only behavioral problems with these unfit “house pets”, but on the feral cats problem as well. Hybrid cats are becoming an out of hand problem as shelters that take these animals are running out of room. Current laws are also vague on the amount of “wild blood” allowed in house pets. Hybrid cats are also more adept hunters and damage local wildlife populations more so then the collection of local feral cats. As they are larger they also require more food and are more likely to hunt for food.
Ancient Cat May Reshape Feline Family Tree by Kelly Servick Nov. 12. 2013 Sciencemag.org