Wild Cat Behaviour
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.
The 'Social' Cats
Of all the species of cat, there are only three that can be said to be commonly found in social groupings. The most obvious and well known of course is the Lion - the group, or Pride can vary in size from two or three cats and offspring to as many as thirty plus young. Habitat seems to play an important part in the size of the pride - those found in the open savannah of East Africa where prey resources are abundant, tend to be the largest, whilst groups found in less supportive habitats such as arid semi-desert or forested regions tend to be smaller. There are many theories relating to why lions live in groups - the most common however, is as relatively poor individual hunters they benefit from the improved success of the co-operative hunting of large prey species - interestingly, this is perhaps of greatest advantage in grassland areas where there is relatively little cover for individual stalking techniques.
Another species, found in similar habitats to the lion, the cheetah , also show a form of limited sociability. The female cheetah lives a solitary lifestyle, intent only on rearing and protecting her offspring. The male on the other hand is often found in small groups, comprising most commonly of two or three brothers, who maintain specific territories, protecting them against lone males or other groups. Known also as a Coalition, the group of males are more likely to be successful in hunting collectively and in defending much larger and often, more long standing territories.
The third species in which long standing social groupings are found is that of feral domestic cats - domestic cats who are no longer 'cared for' by humans and have reverted to a wild lifestyle. By no means all feral cats are social, but in certain locations studies have found communal living in large non-overlapping territories, similar to that of the lion. Here there is often collective rearing of kittens by females as well as the sharing of prey - however, unlike the lion, feral cats do not hunt together and in many cases scavenge the majority of their food supply.
Other 'Friendly' Cats
Although none of the other wild cat species show such levels of communal living as the lion, cheetah and feral domestic there are many other examples of social interaction which have been observed during field studies of wild cats in recent years.
It was once believed that male tigers might provide a threat to newly born cubs and that there was little contact between the male and the 'family' group - however recent studies in India have revealed that this is not the case, when the male was seen spending time with the female and cubs in a relaxed social group. Other reports from Russia have indicated that tracks found in the snow suggest that up to six or seven adult tigers have been travelling together.
In the majority of cat species, the female is solely responsible for providing food for her offspring and directly after birth the amount of time that the female spends hunting rises significantly. There are suggestions however, that some males will help in the hunting process at this time and has been observed in the snow leopard, tiger and various species of smaller wild cat.
Group hunting has also been observed in the Eurasian and Canadian lynx , where the technique of ambush, similar to that used by the lion, is often employed. With many cats group hunting also plays an important part in the raising of young cubs or kittens - here when the offspring are old enough, they will often join the female in the hunt for prey, thus learning the important skills that they will need later in life.
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.