Wild Cat Behaviour
Although there are a number of specialist hunters within the cat family, basic hunting techniques can be broadly catergorised into two distinct methodologies.
The first and most common amongst wild cats is the Stalk-Run-Pounce approach, in which the cat actively seeks out prey, and the second, the Ambush, in which the cat lies in wait for its prey. Very few species use a single approach to hunting, but usually select the statergy that most suits the prevailing circumstances. Weather conditions, time of day, prey availability and in some instances general fitness or age of the cat may dictate the choice of hunting approach.
The general technique used in the stalking method is common to most species of cat and many people may well have witnessed it first hand in watching a domestic cat attempting to catch a bird.
The cats primary sensory device for sensing prey is that of sight.
The cat's eye is particularly sensitive both in daylight and in low levels of light and more so to movement on the horizontal plane and to prey moving in terestrial grazing. Once spotted the cat will enter the first phase of it's attack and begin to stalk it's intended victim, moving ever closer, often under the cover of natural vegitation. At this point the cat will adopt a fluid grace and move without sudden movement or noise. It is quite common for the cat to pause frequentlly and stand motionless, its body low to the ground, it's ears pointing toward it's victim, listenning intently, it's eyes fixed watching for signs of awareness of it's approach. If the prey is not aware of his attacker the cat moves ever closer until the second phase of the attack begins. When the cat senses that the moment is right it transfers it's balance onto it's powerful rear legs and lunges forward toward ithe victim. The eccelerating cat fixes on it's prey, who will now aware of the cat's approach. If the cat has been succesful in getting close enough to it;s victim the run will be short and is followed by a final pouce onto the terrified animal.
However this is not always the case and with many attacks, specially those taking place in relative open ground, the run may be extended with the cat following every change in direction of the feeing animal. Within the cat kingdom there is one supreme member who specialises in the final run, the Cheetah. Several physical adaptations allow the cheetah to run faster than any other land animal and it's pursuit of it's generaly light-weight and agile prey, the cat puts them to great advantage.
The second hunting technique, that of amush is often adapted in locations where prey density is high and cover is readily available. There are two basic methodoligies employed, the first by the solitary hunter and the second by two or more cats working togeather.
The solitary cat will position itself under cover of vegitation or natural feature overlooking a commonly used path of it's intended prey. In forest locations, cats renown for their climbing ability, such as the leopard, margay and clouded leopard will often wait in the lower branches of trees which overhang a trail. If an unsuspecting animal comes within striking distance the cat will break cover, lunging toward it's startled victim. Tree-bound attackers will almost always jump to the ground before pouncing on there victim, however there are reports of the more agile aboreal cats jumping drectly onto their prey.
In a variation of the ambush technique, the fishing cat will often position itself above an open area of water, on an overhanging branch or rock and wait for a fish to swim close to the surface. The cat will then dive head first toward the fish, catching it in its jaws. In southern Africa, the black-footed cat has been reported to lie in wait at the entrance to a burrow or hole of small ground-dwelling rodents, ambusing them as they leave.
Although the cat is generally thought of as a solitary hunter, some species adopt a co-operative ambush technique, in which a several cats act as 'beaters', moving openly toward an intended victim and driving it in the direction of another cat lying in wait, ready to pounce. This stratergy has been observed in both eurasion and canadian lynx as well as the lion.
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.