Is a cat still a predator in this day and age? Yes, the domestic feline has retained many elements of its wild nature and this has had repercussions on all aspects of its life such as its choice of food or games it likes to play. Researchers at the University of Aberystwyth are studying this behaviour to determine why cats still capture wild animals, even in the absence of a hunger stimulus, and then identify which prey are at greater risk in different locations.
The cat: an identikit of the perfect predator
A cat is a natural born predator thanks to some unmistakable, physical characteristics:
– Extraordinary hearing: did you know that the cat is able to pick up the sound of a mouse walking about a metre away and locate it to within a few centimetres?
– Astonishing sight: a cat’s eyes are able to perceive a movement of 0.4cm per second.
– Sensitive smell: a feline’s extended olfactory mucosa and presence of the vomeronasal organ, accelerate the identification of the scent of prey.
– Feelers: long hairs located on the muzzle and over the eyes sense even the slightest movement.
And of course, let’s not forget that the entire body of a cat, with its strong and durable but also lightweight and flexible skeleton, is designed to capture prey with one bound.
Hunters for hunger, play and more…
Experienced hunters for fun or need, cats receive the necessary training from their mothers – a unique technique comprising:
– capture of prey
– kill with a bite on the neck
– ingestion of prey after taking it to a safe place
Contact with man, however, changed everything as Dr Rupert Marshall, supervisor of the study explains: “Although human activity has removed many top predators from much of western Europe, we have replaced some of their predatory effects through our fondness for cats. Humans affect their environment in a variety of ways, from noise pollution, habitat and climate change … What we’re trying to understand is if the cats choose the most common species, the easiest to catch, any available prey, or they are looking for some particular type of protein. At the moment, we do not know.”
In the meantime, we can exercise good practice to make our cat predator happy. Dr Maria Grazia Calore, discusses: “The welfare of our animal is guaranteed only if, in addition to basic needs such as hunger and thirst, we can provide him with the opportunity to express behaviours that are part of the ethological framework. Hunting, cruel as it may seem to us, is one of the most important behaviours for our cat.”