I have two large continents on an earth like world. I would like for the dominate predator on the more desert continent to be a large cat. I have found the leopards and jaguars of Egypt, but am uncertain how much they actually live in the desert. I want a second opinion to catch anything I might have missed, I am not the best at research. I am willing to create a cat that can survive in this kind of environment but would like some real world examples to base it off of. Or at least a mythological cat from the correct kind of region.

The desert is set up a lot like Egypt and its surrounding area with swamps on the coast line. I would like for my cat to be able to survive in the swamp and the desert.

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    $\begingroup$ Ancient Egypt was full of cats, actually. That's the direction I'd look and you already did (I guess). What have you found? And why it didn't help? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ I did look, into Egyptian cats and great cats, but I was looking for something that could survive in the same kind of regions as a camel, if it needed too. I didn't see anything that could do that $\endgroup$
    – A Mari
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ In the line of @Separatrix answer: if camels can live there, lions or other big cats can live there feeding on camels. Please notice that most Earth desert are less barren than dune fields and that where camels live other herbivores live. $\endgroup$
    – Pere
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ Desert land is far more varied than simply sand. There is vegetation in deserts, and desert plains. Look to the American Southwest and mix in some desert plains. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby I don't see any cats in those pics :). This is the internet, we want cats. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 17:02

4 Answers 4


Big cat habitat roundup (in order of descending size)

Tigers do not live in the desert.

Lions live in the Namib deset, as mentioned above, and also on the fringes of the Sahara. They used to live all through Iran, Middle East and North Africa, much of it desert scrub. They also used to live in the deserts of India, though they are now confined mostly to the Gir Forest, a semi-arid forest area. Many of Lion's favorite prey specialize in dry areas like the Etosha Pan, such as Eland, Kudu, and Hartebeest.

Jaguars are from the Americas, and never lived in Egypt. They do, however, live in desert areas like Arizona and the Sonoran desert of Mexico, but mostly in wetter mountainous parts of the desert. Not really a desert creature.

Leopards have the greatest habitat variation of any of the big cats. They live every where Lions can live, and additionally still exist in North Africa and Arabia. They specialize in ambush, so they tend to be in areas where there is at least some scrubby growth to hide in.

Cheetahs could be considered desert specialists. They are designed to hunt antelope, and antelope are designed to take advantage of semi-arid and arid plains. In addition to being present in all the major deserts of Africa, Cheetahs still live in Iran and until recently in the deserts of India. They also were distributed farther north into central asia than either Lions or Leopards because of the plentiful Goitered gazelle.

Snow Leopard lives in many areas that are very dry (Tibet) but aren't really considered deserts the way you are thinking of. But they can very much live in desert mountains.

(Extra Bonus) Cougar is the largest small cat. But we'll throw it in here because they are bigger than Leopards. They also have a very wide range of habitats, and live in the Desert southwest. However, unlike in Africa and Eurasia, there aren't a lot of things to eat in the Desert southwest; pretty much only pronghorn (which are too fast) and the occasionaly feral donkey. There are some desert bighorn sheep, but they are nearly extinct. Cougars would probably make a desert comeback if more big mammals were around, like bison, more bighorn sheep, and more feral donkeys.

  • $\begingroup$ The Sand Cat, and since mythical creatures are on the table: the Cactus Cat, and see here for more: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Mythological_felines $\endgroup$
    – nijineko
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ Largest small cat? Or smallest large cat? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @WayneWerner Cougars are more closely related to the smaller cats than they are the bigger cats like Pantheridae. The cougar's closest relative is the 3-9 kg Jaguarundi. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ Cougars/mountain lions do live in the semi-desert of the Great Basin, though they tend to stay in the forested mountain ranges. For prey, there are deer & wild horses, as well as smaller animals. AFAIK buffalo didn't range into these areas, being more of a grassland animal. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ Nice list! Add to this the Bobcat, and the Caracal! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 5:33

The answer depends on the prey that can survive in your desert area. There are lions in the Namib desert
Namib Lion
(Image from: Wilderness Safaris)

You can only have big cats if there's something big enough to feed them, so your desert can't be a vast expanse of nothing. Seasonal rains, sparse grasses, the occasional oasis. Enough to get some form of antelope. Build a complete food chain and you'll get a vague idea of what can survive.

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    $\begingroup$ See BBC's Planet Earth II, ep. 4. It begins with a sequence about the Namib Lions, taking on a Giraffe. The pride covers an area the size of Switzerland. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ And of course the cats could have a range that includes both the desert and surrounding badlands, which tend to be more friendly to prey animals. Feed in the badlands, then retreat to desert caves where it's safe to raise your young? $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting, when you're talking lions and tigers, "safe" is definitely a secondary issue, more important is to be where the food is $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix safe comes to mind though for caring for the pups/kittens that are too young to defend themselves. You want a spot that's unlikely to be trampled over by a herd of wildebeest for example, and hopefully away from the local pack of jackals as well. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, "safe" might also mean safe from other animals of the same species - even house cats may eat other house cat's young if they get the chance. $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 13:29

Not a type of big cat, but a way to think about your problem.

The biggest issue for big cats in desert is hunting. Big cats are carnivores and hunters. If they have something to kill AND a way to kill it, then they can survive. Most big cats that live in Africa, stay on plains, why? Because they can keep their footing. For example, try playing tag in sand, it's hard! It takes more energy to move through sand than to move on ground that doesn't give way, it also is easier to move fast on solid ground than on sand.

Basically, you have to customize your cat to move quicker in the sand than A) it can on solid ground, and B) than it's prey. If it had a much larger, flatter foot, for instance, a cat could move on the sand much better, because the foot would act as a snow shoe and would keep the animal from sinking in. This would also make your cat a dual threat, because it would also have an advantage in the snow (Not that it has to live in the snow, but it gives you an extra option).

Then there are some other options depending on how fantasy the story is. You could have the cat have really hot feet front feet and really cold back feet, which would cause it to melt the sand it runs on, then cool it into glass, allowing it to push off easier. Or, you could do the old standby and give it wings, which allows it to avoid the sand altogether.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, but I don't think really hot feet would help mobility. I doubt liquefied sand is easier "push off." It wouldn't solidify into glass until it has a while to cool off, and if the firecat can't shut off this ability at will it would just melt again. Also the melting point of sand is way hotter than needed to ignite most organic matter. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenLujan - I have edited the fire cats to a more magical and less practical version which could actually melt the sand into molten glass then cool it. Of course, the point is that you can write your way into a desert cat. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 19:40

Are you bound to a warm desert, or can you consider also a cold desert, something like Antartica? Penguins and seals colonies on the shores provide large food supply, and if there can be a leopard seal swimming in the sea, you can also tweak a big cat to crawl on the frozen rocks. Water mammals and water birds with no flying ability are bound to flat areas where they can move with the little ability they have, so they cannot get safe on cliffs like a seagull would do.

  • $\begingroup$ The desert is located in a colder climate but it isn't anything like Antarctica. The coldest areas are all interior, no seas $\endgroup$
    – A Mari
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 14:51

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