The African lion is a member of the panthera order of big cats, of which there are four main types. Found throughout central Africa, the lion is the only cat that lives and hunts in groups. They are one of the largest members of the big cat family weighing in at between 265 to 420 pounds.
The Asian Llon is the most closely related to the African lion and is recognized as a sub-species. Asian lions are slightly larger, weighing in at around 300 to 500 pounds. They are only found in one small area in the Girs forest of northern India and only around 200 to 260 are thought to exist in the wild. Like the African lion, the Asian lives and hunts in packs with the females doing the hunting while a single male protects the pride from other males. With around 200 lions living in the world's zoos, the total population of this sub-species is likely less than 500 individuals.
Tigers are the largest members of the big cat family, reaching weights of 240 to 500 pounds, and are closely related to lions to the extent that they can even interbreed. The offspring of this pairing are known as ligers or tigons. It is a mainly captive breed phenomenon as the two species do not share any common range in the wild. Tigers have five known sub-species spread around Asia and Russia, all of which are endangered. They are solitary animals, only coming together to breed.
The leopard is found throughout much of central and southern Africa as well as India and China. It is a member of the panthera family, but is not as closely related to the lion as is the tiger. They are much smaller than lions, weighing in at around 66 to 176 pounds and will sometimes have to defend kills from their larger cousins. Unlike lions and tigers, leopards are adept climbers and can carry large kills up into a tree to keep it from being stolen. The black panther is actually a leopard whose spots are so dark and dense that they are nearly impossible to distinguish.
The smallest member of the panthera family is the jaguar, weighing between 100 to 250 pounds. They are the only member of this family to be found native to the Americas and at one time were wide-spread in both North and South America. Today the jaguar is found mainly in remote areas of Central and South America, living a solitary lifestyle, much like leopards do. Like leopards they are proficient climbers and good swimmers, catching turtles, caimans and fish from rivers.