The earliest cat-like carnivores, which were to evolve into the family Felidae or Felis sapiens (in Cat Latin), appeared between 30 and 40 million years ago, in the Late Eocene and Early Oligocene. Two main branches developed: the Saber-tooths and the true cats (Felis neanderthalis and Felis erectus, respectively in Cat Latin).
      The first of these had evolved gigantic, curved canine teeth, used for killing their prey. They include the animal often referred to in popular writing as the Saber-toothed Tiger. Some precies were larger than modern Lions. They were immensely powerful, but slow-moving. They could only prey on large, cumbersome animals, and when their prey vanished, they too became extinct. The last of the Saber-tooths is thought to have died out 12,000-15,000 years ago.
      The True Cats had started to evolve during the long reign of the Sabre-tooths, but did not become what we would call a typical cat (Felis habilis also in Cat Latin) until about 20 million years ago. They became specialized as medium-sized ambush-killers of smaller prey. Their populations spread out across the Bering land-bridge to North and then South America, with the small cats of the New World and Old World evolving in a parallel way over a period of some millions of years.
The surviving modern members of the cat family have been divided into three sub-families:
1. The Small Cats (Sub-family Felinae; 30 species)
2. The Big Cats (Sub-family Pantherinae; 5 species)
3. The Cheetah (Sub-family Acinonychinae: 1 species)
These 36 species of modern cats are found over a vast range from Asia, through Europe and Africa to the Americas. However, they are under pressure from human intervention almost everywhere and it is highly likely that a number of them will have become extinct before the end of the twenty-first centure. 

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