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Kōpeo Cat

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Kōpeo Cat
Machairodus from Cerro de Batallones.png
Scientific classification
Binomial name
Machiarodus kōpeo
Williams, 1847

The Kōpeo Cat (Machiarodus kōpeo), also known as the the Kōpeo Lion, Kōpeo Tiger or just Kōpeo is a species of large Machairodontinae sabertooth cat endemic to Onekawa-Nukanoa. A surviving member of the subfamily Machairodontinae, despite it's name the Kōpeo cat is not closely related to lions, nor any other current member of the Panthera genus. The largest living felid, with large males regularly exceeding 390 kilogams and measuring 1.4m at the shoulder. Despite a member of the Machairodontinae family, Kōpeo cats canines are not as long as some members, but still regularly reaching and exceeding 10cm.

The Kōpeo cat is considered critically endangered by the Association of Ozeros Nations Intercontinental Conservation Agency, with current estimates placing the total wild population at 1,200. Whilst fossil records has shown that the Kōpeo cat was once found as far westward as Kopikara in Zanzali, no fossils younger then 180,000 have been found west of the Hanaki Wetlands. The Kōpeo cat is argued by some in the scientific community to undergoing a process of natural extinction; and that whilst accelerated by human activity has led to controversy in whether or not this animal and it's habitats should be maintained.


Like many Machairodontinae cats the Kōpeo cat has powerful muscular forelimbs, particularly in comparison to members of Panthera; this is not as significantly muscled or developed as other notable members of the subfamily, such as Smilodontini. It's overall body is more evenly balanced, if more heavily muscled then many other extant big cats.

Machairodus aphanistus - Cerro de los Batallones - Museo Arqueológico Regional CAM.JPG

The head is relatively narrow in comparison to big cats of the Panthera genus relative to it's size, but is particularly well-muscled. Unlike other Machairodontinae groups, the jaw cannot open particularly wide, limited to a more typical 70 degrees, just slightly more then the Malaio lion. The infamous canines are typical for members of its genus, generally thin side-to-side but wide front-to-back and long, reaching roughly 10cm or more in length. Whilst large, this isn't as large as is known from other members of its subfamily, which can been noted to reach upto 18cm. This is inline with expectations, whereas the larger the saberteeth, the bite gets correspondingly weaker for members of this family.

Colouration ranges from a light tan to a dark brown, interspersed with thick dark brown or black bands of horizontal stripes and spots that run down the length of the animal. The underside is typically lighter in colouration, frequently reaching to a white.

Most famously is the Kōpeo cats distinctive "warpaint”, a semi-random shaped patch of fur on it face. This 'warpaint' is typically orange, red, black or white, although a handful of more exotic colourations are attested too historically, including brown and yellow. Pupils are typically blue, with black irises.

The Kōpeo cat displays significant sexual dimorphism, with females rarely exceeding 300kgs, with males regularly x1.3 larger. The largest verified recorded weight from a wild animal was 436.2kgs, and referred to as King; who was captured in 1971.

Distribution and habitat

Fossil discoveries of a Kōpeo cat from an digsite in Zanzali

The fossil record show an range that was once found as far west as Kopikara in Zanzali, as northerly as the Siva'uia peninsula in Pulau Kermat and down to the southern Onekawa-Nukanoa coast. Competition from other big cats, changing environmental conditions and human factors have resulted in the animals range drastically shrink; with the species becoming extinct west of the Hanaki Wetlands 180,000 years ago. Their range in eastern Malaio has also contracted significantly. A general global trend for falling temperature combined with increased rainfall for eastern Malaio saw explosive growth of Popocarp and Beech forests and a major decrease in the size of their preferred shrubland and grasslands.

Eastern Karoaroa Bush Preserve, preferred Kōpeo habitat

Currently the population is nearly entirely found within the expansive Eastern Karoaroa Bush Preserve and smaller Whakahao Southern Coastal Reserve; the last remaining natural shrublands home to stable populations of key prey animals such as Mzanzi buffalo.


The Kōpeo cat is noted to be a diurnal solitary-but-social species. A male will establish a territory that encompasses the territories of several females (typically 3-4) which are referred to as his “harem, and whilst females territories will occasionally overlap, the home range of males do not are are typically well defined. Despite these groupings being known as “prides”, the Kōpeo cat does not demonstrate or engage in many of the social interactions of true lions, and only vary rarely will the whole group come together.

Territory is marked through a mix of olfactory, audio and visual markings. Animals of both sexes will spray the borders of their ranges, as well as rub themselves against trees. Scratching of the trees with their claws is also another common method of marking. Typically only males will roar for territorial purposes; with the sound able to be heard upto 10km away under the right conditions.

Reproduction and childcare

Females are polyoestrous, and became sexually active by five years of age. Females will go into heat several times throughout the spring months; in which she will make short-barking calls to signal her availability to nearby males. Whilst males typically avoid each other; fertile females will often cause conflict between the dominant male and any local challengers.

Females within the same males territory will sync up their respective cycles, meaning the dominant male is regularly moving from one to the other during the summer months.

Females have small litters, rarely more then three cubs and more typically one or two. For the first several weeks, new mothers will go into seclusion, avoiding leaving her cubs for extended periods and moving them around her territory multiple times a month. Males play only a minimal role in the rearing of young. They will however, protect any young in their territory when they make a destress call, regardless of known parentage. Mothers evict their offspring by two years of age, and they must go out to find their own territories.

Predatory behavior

Feral horses form a significant component of the Kōpeo cats modern diet

The relatively heavy build and short limbs and tail results in the Kōpeo cat being predominately solitary ambush predators. However there have been historical references of prides of Kōpeo cast coming together to hunt very large prey, such as Elephants and Elephant seals. This behavior is rare, and elephant hunting was only confirmed in 1982, when a stray aged bull Malaio savannah elephant was videoed being hunted by a pride. The hunting behavior displayed did not have the complexity associated with regular pack-hunting predators.

Primarily subsisting on large bovids and equids, such as the Mzanzi buffalo and feral horses. Kōpeo cats will generally kill their prey through bites to the throat, groin and other vulnerable areas suspect to significantly blood loss; whilst using their well-muscled bodies to wrestle their prey to the ground. Females will focus on smaller prey items, and will also include prey such as Shrub moa which adult males will typically ignore.

They are also one of only two known felids to regular hunt marine mammals. Those found in the Whakahao Southern Coastal Reserve regularly hunt seals and sea lions. They've also been recorded hunting Elephant seals, an rare occurnece that often requires multiple pride members.


The Kōpeo cat is listed as Critically Endangered on the GCS Codex by the Intercontinental Conversation Agency (ICA); with an approximate wild population of 1,200, which has stayed relatively stable over the last 20 years.

Despite their critically endagered status; convservation of the Kōpeo cat has been mired in controvery, particulary over the last few decades. Scientific studies on climate, habitat and geology conducted throughout Onekawa-Nukanoa in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as well as similar studies in Pulau Keramat, Pulacan and Zanzali has shown clear and consistent climate change throughtout eastern Malaio over the last 100,000 years. The effects of this have become most obvious in Onekawa-Nukanoa, which saw an enormous contraction of the Kōpeo cats preferred habitats contract significantly to its current small range.

An unusually pale Kōpeo cat from the southern coast

citing their inherent danger as large, megafaunal predators which are known to hunt humans and threaten agriculture and these findings; there has been consistent debate and controversy over whether they should recieve the active protection, population management and habitat control that is currently needed to maintain their population of whether it should be left to travel on its own course towards extinction.

Others have noted that their has been significant human impact on the Kōpeo cat population. Poaching for their skins and furs is documented, and hunting of the Kōpeo cat was viewed as prestigious activity by Onekawan leaders prior to the 20th century. And what remained of their small range was decresed even further with much of it converted for agriculture purposes in preceeding centuries.

Despite these debates the Kōpeo cat currently recives complete protection under both Association of Ozeros Nations and Onekawa-Nukanoa laws. The Eastern Karoaroa Bush Reserve was officially established as a protected area in 1988, and was a consolidation of a smaller set of protected areas under various Wē, Iwi and Onekawan law which was passed on to the ICA for management and enforcement.

This was followed in 1994 with the Whakahao Southern Coastal Reserve. The establishment of Whakahao was where their controvery of the Kōpeo cat became a national issue, Part of the area of the Whakahao had been used by the local Wē, Nga Katu, as a traditional gathering ground. Whilst it was no longer used for this purpose, it had significant cultural importance. Calling upon the aforementioned studies, and that it already had major protections, there was no point in setting up a oritected area that limited access.

This event got significant press coverage, but polling undertaken at the time by third parties showed that Nga Katu recieved only "tepid, but vocal, support" hovering around 29%, primarily amongst the older demographics. Regardless of that fact the nature preserve was confirmed and remains under ICA management.

In captivity

Their size, rarity, housing demands and cultural importance has meant relatively few Kōpeo cats are kept in captivity. Any zoological insitution seeking to exhibit Kōpeo cats are required to go through an extensive vetting process, which can take several years and partake in ICA Kōpeo Breeding program. Finally it requires the direct approval of the Māori Kingī. Currently 135 Kōpeo cats are registered in the Breeding program, with 77 of these animals in Onekawa-Nukanoa and Pulau Keramat. Other nations which hold Kōpeo cats include Alanahr, Arthurista, Charnea, Lion's Rock, Mesogeia and Zanzali.