Feral cats

A couple of feral cats in Dubrovnick, lit by Street light. I think it's a stand off taking place.

by Bernie

My subject for discussion this week is


The oldest know 'pet cat' was found at a burial site in Cyprus, Shillourokambos. It was interred with a person and is 9,500 years old. From this find it was naturally assumed significant in the person's life either in their lifetime or as a place in their afterlife. The cat is not indigenous to Cyprus. This find predates early Egyptian depictions of cats by 4,000 years or more.

1. Researchers have found 10,000 year old engravings and pottery depicting cats dating to Neolithic (late Stone Age) period suggesting even if not domesticated considered them of spiritual significance.

2. Most earlier evidence of cat domestication comes from Ancient Egypt. Some experts believe that the Egyptians may have tamed and bred felines to produce a distinct species by the 20th or 19th Century BC. Cats are frequently represented in Egyptian mythology in the form of Goddess Bastet, Sekhmet and other deities. Cats and mummified remains are known from as far back as 4,000 years ago.

FOOTNOTE: The Romans are often attributed with the introduction of cats to Europe. But there is evidence that cats were present in Britain in the late Iron Age.


A genetic study in 2007 concluded that cats are descended from African Wildcats (Felis Silvestris Lybica). Cats are the most popular pet in the world and are found in almost every place where humans live.

There are more than 70 cat breeds around the world (The International Progressive Cat Breeders Alliance (IPCBA) recognizes 73. The Cat Fanciers Association only 44! standards!

A Pedigree (that is one whose ancestry is recorded by a Cat Fancier Organisation). Cats of mixed ancestry are referred to as domestic short-hair or domestic long-haired (by coat type), or commonly as random bred moggies (chiefly British) or mongrels or mutt-cats.

Most adults weigh between 4 land 5 kg. The Maine Coon is a notable exception 11 kg.

Cats are incredibly flexible hunters unlike human arms, cat forelimbs are attached to the shoulder by free-floating clavicle bones which allow them to pass their bodies through any space into which they can fit their heads!

Cats like dogs are digitigrades. They walk directly on their toes with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of the visible leg. Cats are capable of walking very precisely because like all felines, they directly register: that is, they place each hind paw (almost) directly in the print of the corresponding fore paw, minimizing noise and visible tracks. This ensures sure footing for hind paws on rough terrain. Unlike most mammals when cats walk they use a 'pacing' gait: that is, they move the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other side. This trait is shared with camels and giraffes!! As a walk speeds up into a trot a cat's gait changes to be a diagonal gait, similar to that of most other mammals: The diagonally opposite hind and fore legs move simultaneously.

Being a killing machine, cats have protractible and retractable claws. When walking the sharpness of the claws is protected from wear by retraction and allows them to walk silently whilst stalking prey. The front paws are sharper than the back. Cat's body temperature doesn't vary throughout the day why cats are active night and day. Cats can tolerate temperatures up to 56 if they have access to water. They sweat through their paws and their mouths. They have difficulty digesting plant matter. Despite the cats meat-orientated physiology, several vegetarian or vegan cat foods have been marketed that are supplemented with chemically synthesized taurine and other nutrients, in attempt to produce a complete diet. However, some of these products still fail to provide all the nutrients cats require and diets containing no animal products pose the risk of causing severe nutritional deficiencies. Cats do eat grass occasionally. Source of fibre and folic acid.

Cats have superb night vision requiring only 1/6 the night level used for human vision.

Cats have excellent hearing and can detect an extremely broad range of frequencies. They can hear higher pitched sounds than either dogs or humans. Cats can hear ultrasound, which is important in hunting because many species of rodents make ultrasonic calls.

They have an acute sense of smell and are twice as susceptible to scents as humans. Cats are sensitive to pheromones which they use to communicate through urine spraying and marking with scent glands.

Many cats respond to plants containing nepetalactone, especially catnip, detecting that substance at less than one part per billion! There are of course natural repellents which can be used in the garden to help deter cat behavior. Lavender & Coleum canine are unpleasant to cats. Equally cats can be encouraged to certain parts of the garden by growing Catnip and Barley grass.

Cats have relatively few taste buds compared to humans. Domestic and Wildcats share a gene mutation that prevents them from an ability to taste sweetness. Their buds instead respond to amino acids, bitter tastes and acids.

Cats use their whiskers for navigation (they have these all over their bodies as well as primarily on their faces!) These provide information on the width of gaps and the location of objects in the dark, both by touching objects directly and by sensing air currents, by sensing air currents they trigger protective blinking to protect the eyes from damage.

Although Wildcats are solitary domestic cats are much more variable individuals widely disperse to feral colonies based on co-operating females. Each cat in a colony holds a distinct territory, with sexually active males having the largest territory, 10x larger than those of females.

Territories are marked by urine spraying and glands. Between territories there are usually neutral zones where cats meet and greet without territorial conflict. Even where a colony prevails cats always hunt alone.

I have long been concerned about the decimation of wildlife as a result of cat predation! This was one of the reasons I chose the cat as my subject.

Cats have a high breeding rate. Under controlled breeding they can be bred and shown as registered pedigree pets. A hobby known as Cat Fancy. As I've already mentioned. Failure to control the breeding of pet cats by neutering and the abandonment of former household pets has resulted in large numbers of feral cats worldwide requiring population control. This has contributed along with its habitat destruction and other factors, to the extinction of many bird species. Cats have been known to extirpate a bird species within a specific region and may have contributed to extinction of isolated island populations. Cats are thought to be primarily, though not solely, responsible for the extinction of 33 species of birds, and the presence of feral and free ranging cats makes some locations unsuitable for attempted species re-establishment in otherwise suitable locations.

The Mammal Society says Britain's 9 million cats kill an estimated 275 million animals a year of which 55 million are birds, including water voles, dormice, squirrels, bats, frogs, lizards and newts. Cats often play with their prey up to half an hour before killing it!

Chris Packham has said Cats should be licenced to keep their numbers down. "we have softened up since the days when we used to drown kittens. But we have got face up to the fact that the devastation of our wildlife by these killers is a serious problem that has to be tackled. Cat owners have got to be more responsible about keeping their cats inside at night when most of the killing takes place. Otherwise a curfew maybe the only answer. In Australia cats were having a terrible impact on wildlife, especially marsupials and the curfew made a big difference".

Mr Packham advised people bothered by cats to lobby for a collar with two bells or a collar with a silicon chip that gives off a squeal audible to prey. Cat Protection said it opposed collars because they could get caught on branches or railings. Cats with bells on may not be the answer recent research has shown that whilst the birds maybe made aware of the cat their subsequent warning calls may result in other predators crows, magpies, squirrels being made aware of the whereabouts of a nest. The only certain conclusion to protect wildlife is to keep the cats permanently indoors as many owners already do in the States.

The RSPB produces a leaflet 'Cats and Garden Birds'. They strongly advise neutering, preferably at four months of age, to reduce its urge to wander as well as producing unwanted kittens. Cats with kittens will take more prey. They also suggest a cat collar with bells. They also advise cat owners to keep their cats indoors at the more vulnerable time to birds i.e. at least an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise, especially from March to July and in December and January. It's also a good idea to keep cats in after bad weather such as rain or a cold spell, to allow birds to feed safely.

Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no conclusive evidence to show whether or not predation by cats in gardens is having an impact on bird populations across the whole of the UK. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally each year, mainly through starvation, disease or other forms of predation. There is evidence to show cats tend to kill weak or sickly birds.

One of the main birds predated on by cats, the Blue tit, has actually shown a marked increase in numbers. House sparrows, a massive decrease, but house sparrows particularly have had their nest sites taken away by the installation of fascias and soffits covering the eaves of homes.

Cats are very much revered as well as disliked by people and there is a huge amount of anthropomorphism in literature as to the characteristic and traits imagined and otherwise.

T.S. Eliot's book 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats' was published after letters and poems he'd written to his grandchildren in the 1930's were collated. The book was published in 1939. Here's a sample:

He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled.
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair
Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

And when the Foreign Office found a Treaty's gone astray.
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way.
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair
But it's useless to investigate Macavity's not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
'It must have been Macavity!' but he's a mile away.
You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs.
Or engaged in doing complicated long-division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity.
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

"Cats" the musical has been running since 1981. Brian Blessed said he like children sitting on the edge of the stage when he played Deuteronomy despite the Director's wishes otherwise and he said he remembered one little girls whose parents were in tears after he'd asked her had she enjoyed it and she said yes the first time she'd ever spoken!!

Source Guardian - Charity. Figures from Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) 2010
Voluntary Inc.LegacyTotalExpenditure
Save the Children Fund280,109,00014,737,000291,472,000266,552,000
Dogs Trust56,177,00018,506,00061,695,00054,870,000
Cats Protection28,795,00019,084,00033,417,00036,941,000
Shelter. National charity for homeless people Ltd25,532,0003,234,00051,132,00045,900,000
Blue Cross22,169,00015,074,00026,878,00025,149,000

I didn't get to use these figures in my talk, and as it's a snap shot wondered as to it's relevance. However, I found it interesting that mans' favourite animal, the dog (Dogs Trust) took nearly twice that of the Cats (Cats Protection ) in voluntary contributions; but One million s less in Legacy contributions. My aim initially was to see what proportion of income Cats get over, or under, people. I don't have a lot of patience with figures and as I said this is only a snap shot.

Cat - Wikipedia
RSPB Leaflet: Cats and garden birds
RSPCA - Cats
Is your cat really trying to work out how to kill you? (Daily Telegraph)
Murderous cats 'need curfew at night - or else' (Daily Telegraph)
What effect do cats have on British wildlife? (Daily Telegraph)
Oldest Known Pet Cat? 9,500-Year-Old Burial Found on Cyprus (National Geographic)
New Research Suggests Outdoor Cats Kill More Wildlife Than Previously Thought (Wildlife Management Institute)
Natural Cat Repellent Tips (Pets [the nest])
T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats- Macaverty

Proverbs and sayings about cats

(From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable):

  • Nordic mythology: Gleipnir was a magic chain made by dwarves, so strong that it could hold Fenrir, the monster wolf, who will destroy everything at the end of the world. The magic chain was made of: the footstep of a cat; the roots of a mountain; a woman's beard; the breath of fishes; the sinews of a bear; and a bird's spittle.
  • The Roman goddess of Liberty was represented as holding a cup in one hand, a broken sceptre in the other, and with a cat lying at her feet. No animal is so great an enemy to all constraint as a cat.
  • Macbeth "Letting I dare not wait upon I would, Like the poor cat i' the adage." The adage or proverb referred to is, the cat loves fish, but does not like to wet her paws.
  • A cat has nine lives. A cat generally lights upon its feet without injury, the foot and toes being padded. Ths saying dates back to Shakespeare's time. In Romeo and Juliet: "What wouldst thou have with me?" "Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives."
  • Before the cat can lick her ear. Meaning never. No cat can lick her ear.
  • Care killed the cat. "A cat has nine lives, yet care would wear them all out."
  • In the dark all cats are gray. All persons are undistinguished till they have made a name.
  • Not room to swing a cat. Possibly this means a cat o' nine tails.
  • Sick as a cat. Cats are very subject to vomiting. To cat or shooting the cat means to vomit.
  • Let the cat out of the bag. To disclose a secret. It was formerly a trick among country folk to substitute a cat for a sucking-pig, and bring it in a bag to market. If any greenhorn chose to buy a "pig in a poke" without examination, all very well; but if he opened the sack, "he let the cat out of the bag," and the trick was disclosed.
  • To bell the cat. A story - the mice decided to hang a bell round the neck of the local cat so they could hear it coming. Then one mouse said "Which mouse is going to bell the cat?" The saying means - good plan, impossible to do!
  • Whittington's cat. The fairy story is that Dick Whittington's cat made his fortune by catching mice in a foreign country with no cats (and too many mice!) Dick Whittington is a real person. One theory: A cat is a ship formed on the Norwegian model, having a narrow stern, projecting quarters, and deep waist. It is strongly built, and used in the coal trade. According to tradition, Sir Richard Whittington made his money by trading in coals, which he conveyed in his "cat" from Newcastle to London. The black faces of his coal-heavers gave rise to the tale about the Moors. In confirmation of this suggestion, it may be added that Whittington was Lord Mayor in 1397, and coal was first made an article of trade from Newcastle to London in 1381, so the dates are OK.
  • A cat may look at a king.

  • Wildcat

    Scottish wildcat

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