The long-range cat sounds (vocalisations) that we know well are the roars of the roaring big cats: lion, tiger, jaguar and leopard. I’ll start with these iconic wild cat species.
This is what I wrote years ago about the tiger roar:
“The ability of the four big cats to roar comes from a larynx that is elongated and a specially adapted hyoid apparatus. Sound is produced in the larynx as mentioned when air expelled from the lungs passes through it. As the air passes through the larynx, the cartilage walls of the larynx vibrate producing sound. The extra length in the larynx of the big cats results in the lower frequencies and the tiger roar….”
Some people state that the tiger is not one of the roaring cats because they have a different roar to the roaring cats. The roar is multipurpose and includes: female beckoning her young, after-kill vocalization and announcing receptiveness… see tiger vocalisations.
Before this post I had not written about the lion roar. Both males and females roar. The males make a deeper and louder sound. To people it is audible from five miles. To lions, it is audible from further away because the lion’s hearing is able to pick up frequencies within the roar that we cannot. Lions most often roar at dawn, dusk and at midnight. This is when they are most active.
The lion makes about a dozen different sounds, one of which is roaring. What is the purpose?
It is believed to be:
- a territorial display
- a spacing mechanism (to keep males and prides at an acceptable distance)
- a way of ensuring group cohesion and to keep in contact.
If an individual male outsider to the pride roars, the lionesses of the pride might expel the intruder (if he has intruded on their home range).
Sometimes lions roar in harmony. The sounds are often synchronised so that one roar precisely follows the other. This magnifies the effect. Neighbouring lions may roar in response.
The leopard roar is described as “sawing”. It certainly sounds like a hand saw. This vocalisation can travel for 2-3 kilometers. It is the call most often heard from the leopard. The other calling vocalisations are coughing and rasping. They function to bring individuals together and to “space out individuals”¹. The function depends on the gender and reproductive status.
Jaguars are well known for roaring. “Five or six repetitions of a short sharp guttural uh, accelerating and crescending”². Male and female jaguars roar. Individuals can roar against each other. On one recorded occasion it lasted for 2 hours. Sometimes four jaguars can engage in roaring to and from each other. The reason for roaring is probably the same as for the other big cats: territorial and bringing cats together.
The cougar is like a domestic cat in respect of its sound producing anatomy (mountain lion sounds). Pumas do not roar. Their well-known long-range call is the “scream”. It is rarely heard by people. It is a scary and unearthly sound.
Another puma sound that travels well is the shrill whistle call. This can be heard from 300 yards on a still day. Yowls and whistles made by the puma can be heard up to 200 yards away.
It seems that the screaming is also referred to as the puma’s version of caterwauling – the female calling the male for mating. The puma’s caterwauling can be heard from a long range but I don’t have specifics.
We know caterwauling. This is the long-range call to bring cats together for mating. The close range vocalisations include the well known purr, hiss, growl, meow and the less well known gurgle. Individual domestic cats actually make some new close range sounds of their own.
The cheetah yelp – a high pitched yowl – can be heard from 2 kilometres away, it has been reported. It is used by mothers seeking to contact their offspring and vice versa. The cheetah’s head and abdomen jerk with the effort of making the sound. The cheetah has a wide range of vocalisations.
The main call is a piercing yowl which can be heard over long distances. Both sexes yowl. Females use the call when sexually active to help cats locate her. Most often snow leopard yowling occurs in the evening between 7 and 10 pm.
The bobcat caterwauls. The sound can be heard about a mile away. There is a page on this site on bobcat sounds.
References for Long-range Cat Sounds (vocalisations):
- Wild Cats of the World by the Sunquists at page 330
- As above page 311 quoting Perry R (1970)