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.