Why There Are No Tigers in Africa (And What Large Cats Do Thrive There)

Wild Bengal Tiger lying on the grass and yawns.

Written by Brandi Allred

Updated: October 14, 2022

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If you’re interested in animals, then you might have noticed that there are no tigers in Africa. Here, we’ll find out whether or not there really are tigers in Africa and, if not, why. 

Tigers are some of the most famous, inspiring big cats in the world. They’ve made their way into our mythologies, cultures, and histories. Unfortunately, tiger populations have experienced a worldwide decline over the past few centuries. Today, because of habitat loss and overhunting, there are fewer than 5,000 tigers left in the wild.

We’ll find out whether or not Africa is home to any tigers. Then, we’ll take a look at the big cats that live in Africa and whether or not they face extinction, like the Caspian, Javan, and Bali tigers.

Are There Tigers in Africa?

There are no wild tigers in Africa.


A long time ago, ancestors of modern tigers roamed Africa. But, these proto-tigers lived and hunted in Africa long before humans came on the scene. The ancestor of modern tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, and even mountain lions, started out in Africa between 10-15 million years ago. Then, around 2 million years ago, a few members of this cat species traveled to Asia. Over the next 2 million years, they evolved into the tigers we know today. Researchers believe that geographic boundaries and glacial fluctuations during the Pleistocene period probably prevented the tigers from traveling back to Africa.

So, no: there are no wild tigers in Africa.

Where Do Tigers Live?

Tigers are found in four distinct areas today; the Russian Far East, the Indian subcontinent, the Indochinese Peninsula, and Sumatra. Historically, tigers occupied the forests of much of Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central Europe. But, centuries of expanding human activity and population have led to the rapid decline of tigers in all their former habitats. Today, tigers occupy less than 5% of their historic range. But, even at the height of their days, tigers never lived in Africa.

3 Big Cats in Africa

So, there are no tigers in Africa, but what about other big cats? Africa is home to a wide range of animals, including elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, black mambas, Gaboon vipers, and many, many more fascinating creatures. But, it’s also home to three species of big cats: cheetahs, leopards, and lions.

Let’s take a closer look at the big cats of Africa.

1. Cheetah

Fastest Cats - Cheetah

Cheetahs are the planet’s fastest land animals and are built for super speed, rather than stamina.

©Maros Bauer/Shutterstock.com

Cheetahs are the fastest animals in the world; they can run up to 60 miles per hour. Today, 1/3 of the world’s cheetahs live in southern Africa, where they hunt fleet-footed prey like gazelles, impala, and springbok. Currently listed as Vulnerable to extinction, today’s cheetah population is less than 10% of what it was a century ago. Cheetahs are vulnerable to habitat loss, poaching, and irresponsible hunting practices. 

2. Leopard


Leopards can pull prey bigger than their own bodies high up into trees to be eaten at their leisure.


Though not the largest of African big cats, leopards are certainly some of the most feared. There are no tigers in Africa, but leopards are just as famous and scary. These powerfully muscled cats can pull prey bigger than their own bodies high up into the trees to be eaten at their leisure. Leopards live in various habitats, including savanna, rainforest, and even desert and urban areas. Adult leopards face few threats, aside from humans. They’re currently listed as Vulnerable. Some of the biggest threats to leopards include habitat fragmentation, loss of prey due to the bushmeat trade, and human-wildlife conflict.

3. Lion

Male lions can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 550 pounds.

©Petr Ganaj/Shutterstock.com

The largest of all African big cats, male lions can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 550 pounds. Only the Siberian and Bengal tigers are bigger than the lion. Lions are social animals and live in prides of up to 30 individuals. Historically, they occupied most of Africa, as well as parts of the Middle East and Central Europe. Today, lions survive only in protected nature preserves, though they’re still listed as Vulnerable to extinction. Their primary threats are habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and prey loss.

Are All Big Cats Endangered?

There are no tigers in Africa, but in their homelands, tigers are in dire danger of extinction. They’re not alone, though; all seven recognized species of big cats are currently listed as threatened, or worse. These include cheetahs, tigers, snow leopards, lions, jaguars, cougars, and leopards. Worldwide, big cats are considered keystone species. This means that big cats are often the first to suffer when local environmental conditions go awry (from deforestation or overhunting). They’re also much more likely to be killed as a result of human-wildlife conflict than other less dangerous animals, like deer or ducks.

Saving Big Cats: What You Can Do

One of the first steps you can take to become a big cat conservationist is to do your research. Find out what the biggest threats to big cats are and what conservation groups are doing to fight those threats. Further, you can speak out against the trade in illegal wildlife and wildlife parts. You can also learn more about the trade in captive tigers, both in the United States and in Asia, and how that negatively affects global tiger conservation efforts.

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About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

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