The thirty-six species of wildcat are said to have evolved from eight phylogenetic lineages over the last 10-15 million years. Phylogenetic means “relating to the evolutionary development of organisms”.
This lineage diverged some 10-12 million years ago to form seven species of small cat in South America. The seven are in two groups (a) Andean mountain cat, ocelot, margay and (b) pampas cat, oncilla, Geoffroy’s cat and kodkod.
Domestic cat lineage
Origins: Mediterranean basin. Date: 8-10 million years ago. This group includes the black-footed cat, the jungle cat, the sand cat, the African wildcat and European wildcat.
This lineage includes the puma, jaguarundi and cheetah. The connection between the cheetah located on the African continent and the other two cats on the America continent is that the Cheetah was once some 2-3 million years ago in North America.
Leopard cat lineage
This lineage includes the leopard cat, the fishing cat and flat-headed cat. They diverged from a common ancestor some 3.95 million years ago. All three are located in Southeast Asia and their ranges overlap.
This lineage includes the jaguar, tiger, lion, leopard, snow leopard and clouded leopard.
The first of this group to diverge from the ancestral line was the clouded leopard.
Includes the lynxs. The Canadian and Eurasian are closely related.
The caracal and African golden cat are similar. They shared a common ancestor 4.85 million years ago.
Bay cat lineage
The bay cat and Asiatic golden cat diverged from a common ancestor 4.9 – 5.3 million years ago before the island Borneo became separated from the other islands about 10,000 years ago.
Source: Wild Cats Of The World page 14-15 ISBN-13:978-0-226-77999-7