Today’s thinking places the 36 species of wild cat family - Felidae - into three basic groups or sub-families - Felinae, Pantherinae and Acinonychinae, with its sole member Acinonyx jubatus - the Cheetah - see table below.

Within the sub-families Felinae and Pantherinae the species are split into various sub classifications or genera - a total of 13 genera in the Felinae sub-family and 4 in the Pantherinae sub-family, whilst the sub-family Acinonychinae, as already mentioned has one genus. The various species can also be split into sub-species dependant on various criteria.

Many other classifications have been suggested and therefore the naming of the species may vary depending on the system used.

The main differences between the current systems appear to be in the number of genera that operate within the family Felidae. R.M.Nowak and J.L.Paradiso in a classification published in 1983 placed all the species of cat into just four genera, with the majority of forms appearing in the genus Felis, which was itself split into a number of subgenera.

The scientific classification of the wild cat species in Big Cats Online broadly follows that laid down by W.C Wozencraft in 1993.

Naming the Species - find out how scientific names are applied to the different species

Classification - find out how wild cats are grouped according to species

Evolution - find out about the history of the cat species

Table of Relationships - see how the various cat species are related and have evolved over time.

Timeline - an historic time-line of the 'big cat' species

Prehistoric Cats - find out more about the ancestors of today's wild cat species.

'Sabre-tooth' cats - there is a common misconception the the fabled 'Sabre-tooth Tiger' of prehistoric times was a direct ancestor of the modern tiger - find out more