Cats! They are generally thought of as pets, and as small furry carnivores that get rid of rodents. There’s a lot more to them though. Since cats are my favorite animal I have read and learned a lot about them throughout my life.
The domesticated cat is only one of many types of cats. They have many wild cousins. Some are large such as tigers and lions, and some are tiny like the sand cat and black-footed cat. Some even look like the common house cat only have a slightly wild look to them. The fact is that all cats are 97% genetically the same. Their features are simply proportionate to the size of the animal. Cats as a whole are spread out on all continents, with the exception of Antarctica. Of the remaining continents, cats are native to all of them except Australia where domestic cats were eventually introduced. They can be a problem to the native birds who have not developed protection against these predators.
There are also two major types of cats: Felis and Panthera. The genus Felis, includes all the small cats including pet cats as well as medium size cats and also the cheetah. They all can purr, but are not able to roar. There are just four cat species in the Panthera genus. Only one lives in the Western Hemisphere, the jaguar. The other three are leopards, tigers and lions. These cats cannot purr, and they all roar. All cats in the Panthera genus are dangerous, but surprisingly, tigers tend to avoid people. Attacks are usually provoked by people not giving them respect by actions such as interfering with them, destroying their habitat, and trying to get close to the mother’s cubs. Another fact about tigers is that they are more afraid of humans than humans are of them. The explanation is simple, tigers can only attack up close and are subject to poaching by long range human weapons such as guns. Tigers do not view humans as prey, and would rather avoid contact. Many tiger attacks are triggered by habitat destruction.
At one time all animals were wild including cats. Smaller cats became domesticated, and evolved into the cats we have today. But wait a minute, cats are independent creatures. How could somebody convince a cat to domesticate? Well, unlike their major rival in the pet world, dogs; cats actually domesticated themselves! When people began farming, thus having barns that regularly were invaded by rodents, cats started to hang around since a lot of their prey are mice and rats. These cats became used to humans and eventually bonded with them. People of course helped them by providing them with food, but many cats still will catch small rodents.
In case you weren’t aware; our cats’ ancestors are the African wildcat. These cats lived in the desert region of Africa. This is actually the reason that many pet cats don’t like water. Their ancestors came from the desert where there was little water to be had. One word of caution about cats and water, don’t assume that all cat species have a water aversion. If you are living in tiger country, jumping in the river wouldn’t be a great idea, as tigers love being in water. It cools them down. There are also European wildcats that are related. While most of the world was domesticating wildcats; in Taiwan, Leopard cats were the cats tamed for pets. I use the word “tame,” since this idea was abandoned when the African wildcat was introduced, since they had a friendlier demeanor. Any animal can be tamed, meaning that one individual animal, rather than an entire species, learns to trust people. Taming animals happens to one individual animal at a time, but the animal is still inherently wild. A person does not know if or when the animal might turn on them. Domestication takes many years, and provides an animal where the whole species is human-friendly, and the worst they can do is go feral if they are living on their own.
There are a large number of types of domesticated cats. Some of these cats come from the Orient such as the Siamese and the Tonkinese. Siamese cats, for example, come from Thailand, formerly known as Siam. Some breeds of cats can have unique fur colors. Russian Blue cats have a grayish-blue coat, while Korats have silvery (not gray) colored fur. While discussing fur colors it’s worth mentioning that the Sphynx is furless. They have a very soft fuzzy coating of hair on their bodies. They have less protection from the elements because of their lack of fur. Sphynxes require extra care, making them one of the harder cats to take care of. An example is Sphynxes shouldn’t be out in the sun for long periods of time because of getting sun burned; and many people will actually clothe them to protect their skin.
The most common breed of cats are long-haired cats and short-haired cats. People with long-haired cats should spend extra time keeping their cat’s fur combed so that it doesn’t become matted and become painful for the cat.
Of more recent times, people have become fascinated with wild cats. Wild cats make bad pets and should stay in the wild. Simple. As of one study done years back, there were more privately owned tigers in the state of Texas than there were in the wild-worldwide! Also, just because wild cats can be legally owned in some states doesn’t mean people should own them. It is not in the best interest of the animals, their owners, or environmentalists.
Hybrid cats have become popular. These are cats where a common house cat and a small exotic wild cat (not the cat species) are purposely bred. Savannahs are a common type of hybrid cat, and are a combination of a domesticated cat and a serval. Each generation of Savannahs born are numbered to let people know how many generations away from the serval any particular Savannah is. By the way, this breed is called the Savannah since Savannah was the name of the first cat of this breed. They are officially recognized as a pet cat, though they are not legal in every state. Before adopting one, if you must, check to find out if it’s legal in your state and any special requirements necessary to own one. The Bengal cat is another type of hybrid cat which is bred from any of a number of spotted house cats and the Leopard cat. Toygers are a newer breed, and like the name suggests are bred to look like a tiger cub. They typically are bred from Bengal cats and specifically selected house cats, which have been handpicked by the breeder.
So today I wrote about cats. I have talked about cat ancestry, and mentioned how all cats are 97% biologically the same, whether large or small. Now I want to finish on an interesting note that explores this truth. A study was done that showed that cats go “crazy” when a person wears Calvin Klein’s Obsession cologne. Pet cats were tested first and really responded to the scent. It was also tried with the large wild cats. Many of them responded similarly. It was suggested to me to bring some of my mom’s Obsession to the animal rescue and see what effect it had on the tiger. Well, after placing a cotton ball spritzed with Obsession near his enclosure, he started to rub against the walls. He then started to jump! We were able to see his underside, something you probably would not want to see on an approximately 800 lb. cat. So, it seemed that it does indeed have an effect on tigers which are the largest of the cats. Some food for thought when considering how similar all cats are.
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