Wild Cat Behaviour
The Range of the Cat
In terms of the wild cat, the word 'range, can have two distinct meanings. Firstly the range of a wild cat species can be interpreted as its distribution or geographical spread across a large area - 'ranging' across countries or contents. Secondly the 'home range' of an individual wild cat is broadly its 'neighbourhood' - the area in which it lives.
Most of the wild cat species were once found distributed over much larger areas than they are today. For example, from studying fossil records, it is thought that ancestors of the modern day Lion were once thought to roam the African, Eurasian and American continents. Through time, the changes in global climate and vegetation are thought to have reduced the spread of habitats suitable for sustaining lion populations to the African continent and Southern Asia. In more recent times, man has had a large part to play in the reduction of the range of the various wild cat species - either through hunting or encroachment of human habitation upon their natural habitat, the twentieth century has seen a drastic reduction in wild cat populations and distribution.
Although reintroduction programmes are underway to increase the ranges of certain species, as is the case of the Eurasian Lynx in parts of northern Europe, its is unlikely that any significant advances can now be made in increasing the geographical spread of the wild cat species. However major steps are being taken by conservationist to halt any further depletion.
The neighbourhood of the cat
In every species of cat, territoriality plays a major part in the way they organise their lives. With certain exceptions, the wild cat is a solitary animal, coming together only to mate and in some cases, to hunt. The broad area in which a cat hunts and lives is referred to as its 'home range' - to maximise on the prey population of this area it is important that the cat patrols and protects his space from others. To do this the cat uses a system of territorial marking which serves to notify other cats of its presence. Scent marking, in one form or another is the most common form of marking for the cat - by spraying urine on rocks or trees or by depositing faeces along tracks the cat leaves its mark to warn others of its presence and territorial ownership. The cat will often leave more visual signs such as 'scrapes', small piles of loose foliage and debris - some will combine these with urine or faeces for greater effect.
The size of the home range is dependent on a number of criteria - as a rule of thumb though, the bigger the cat the bigger the home range. The Wildcat can have a range of less than a square mile, as compared with 350 square miles for the male Siberian Tiger. There are a number of other influencing factors which can modify the size of home ranges - in areas of high density of prey species the range will tend to be smaller, whilst in colder climates, seasonal variations in prey availability in winter months, will serve to increase the size of certain wild cats home ranges.
The size of the females territory is generally much less than that of the male and in most cases, the central core of the home range, that in which she rears her young, is more vigorously protected. Because most male cats mate with more than one female, it is common that the home range of the male will encompass that of several females, however the ranges of females rarely overlap.
There are of course the exceptions - some Lions, who live in close social groups, break the territorial rule and follow the migrating herds of herbivores across the African bush and several male sibling cheetahs have been observed living a nomadic 'group' lifestyles.
The Cat as Predator - It has often been said of the 'Big Cats' - and of many of the smaller wild cats too - that they are the perfect predator, a killing machine, designed with every part specially tuned for the art of hunting and catching prey.
Fur and Markings - The fur of the cat serves two distinct purposes - firstly it protects the animal against the extremes of its environment and secondly serves as camouflage to make the cat less easy to spot against the background of its habitat.
The Range of the cat - In terms of the wild cat, the word 'range, can have two distinct meanings. Firstly the range of a wild cat species can be interpreted as its distribution or geographical spread across a large area - 'ranging' across countries or contents. Secondly the 'home range' of an individual wild cat is broadly its 'neighbourhood' - the area in which it lives.
The Social Cat - It is said that cats in the wild are solitary animals - whilst this is true for the majority of the wild cat species for most of the time - there are times when the cat can become a 'social' animal, sharing its daily life with others of its species.
A Matter of Breeding - One of the most important factors leading to a strong species population is that of genetic diversity - some small populations within the cat family however are not only under attack from the pressures of hunting and habitat loss, but also from inbreeding and hybridisation.
Cats in Captivity - For thousands of years man has caged and enclosed many of the wild cat species. To varying degrees cats have been seen as status symbols to the rich, caged exhibits of 'dangerous' exotic animals or reluctant performers in circus extravaganzas - today their place in captivity has a whole different meaning - survival.