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Cats - not so solitary?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Ailouros, 30 Jun 2015.

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  1. Ailouros

    Ailouros Member

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    I have long suspected that many cat species are more social than we think -not just in lion prides and cheetah male coalitions. Many other cats can form strong bonds to human carers which persist into adulthood, a capacity that suggests they may form bonds to conspecifics too. There is also the fact that being born in litters whose members play and interact for a long period, they are necessarily social when young, so that even if they are solitary as adults there is the potential for sociality to evolve.

    Last week there was a documentary on pumas on BBC2 (Natural World, 8pm Tuesday 24 June) where it was shown that at least this species is less solitary than we had believed. It was thought they came together only to make love or war but this was not so.

    I suspect that the leopard and especially the jaguar may be the most truly solitary - for keepers tell me that these, especially the jaguar, are the most dangerous and least trustworthy. This is because their feelings and intentions cannot be read from facial expression or body language. If in other cats they can be, this suggests sociality because readable body-language is there for a purpose - to communicate with others.

    And even the leopard may not be quite asocial - they are trainable and I was astonished last year to see the pair at Twycross feed together without squabbling! Many cats otherwise happy with company must be separated at feeding time.
     
  2. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    In captivity they can certainly be social, but I would not extend this to the wild. You site pumas in the wild as an example, but let us not forget that in wild populations where there is no human hunting pressure, the number one cause of death for male pumas is male pumas.

    In captivity, though, things can change and I have seen surprisingly large groups together, primarily in rescue establishments. A rescue center in Texas (now closed) had at least eight or so pumas together and several tigers together. Another rescue place in California (also now closed) had perhaps a dozen leopards together in a relatively small space. The accredited Parc Felins (my all time favorite zoo) routinely keeps fathers in with mothers and cubs.

    There have been a couple recorded instances in the wild of an adult male seen returning to mother and cubs temporarily, (tigers in India is the one I know of). Certainly nature holds many surprises for us and we do not know as much perhaps as our pride would like us to think. But I think it is still pretty safe to say that wild cats are solitary, except for lions and male cheetahs.
     
  3. Ailouros

    Ailouros Member

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    Why not? Unused capacities tend to atrophy, being expensive to maintain. The capacity for social behaviour suggests that it is used.

    As it is in social lions and even more social hunter-gatherer humans - the nearest approach to 'wild' in our species.

    Couldn't agree more! A plants-and-bugs man till a stray cat cured me of a depressive episode two years ago, I was astonished to find how little was known about such popular and charismatic creatures - and therefore how much less must be known about all others. I was already well aware of the poverty of our knowledge of the plant and bug worlds! I am also astonished at the pace of discoveries from radio-collar tracking and triggered cameras and suspect there is much more feline sociality waiting to be uncovered.

    Parc des Felins - definitely on my bucket-list. Must improve my French first!
     
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  4. TheMightyOrca

    TheMightyOrca Well-Known Member

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    A while back, there was an article making rounds on the internet. It explained that cats (specifically, domestic ones, though I wouldn't be surprised if this could be applied to wild cats) weren't studied frequently because they're so hard to work with. One scientist was quoted as saying it's easier to work with fish.

    Cat intelligence and cognition: Are cats smarter than dogs?

    Anyway, interesting topic you've brought up. I would be interested to see more research into the social lives of cats. Even we know most species aren't very social in the wild, it is curious that many continue to be social when brought up in captivity. Plus, feral cats are often solitary, but sometimes they form cooperative groups.