Tag: domestication

Happy International Cat Day: The World Is A Better Place With Felines

Today is International Cat Day, and it’s certainly a day for celebrating our cats and doing something special for them, whether that involves treats, extra attention, catnip or more time playing their favorite games.

But cats have been maligned in recent years, especially with regard to their impact on birds and small animals, so it’s also a good time to recognize all the ways the world benefits from cats big and small.

Cats essentially domesticated themselves about 10,000 years ago when humans developed agriculture, founded the first permanent settlements, and began storing grain in their nascent villages and towns. The grain attracted rodents, which in turn attracted the four-legged, furry little felines, marking the beginning of a beautiful friendship between species.

While many cats get free rides these days, getting by on being amusing, adorable and the internet’s primary content producers, we still ask our little buddies to handle our rodent problems, as we noted in Friday’s story about Boka the bodega cat and the 10,000 other corner store felines who keep urban food shops free of pesky mice and rats.

Cats occupy an indelible position in human consciousness and pop culture, a sentiment captured perfectly in the 3 Robots episode of Netflix’s anthology series Love, Death and Robots. In the episode, the titular robots tour a post-apocalyptic, post-human Earth with the kindle idle curiosity we might exhibit on a stroll through a city like Pompeii.

“What’s the point of these things?” one robot asks its two companions as the trio of machines look warily at a cat they encounter in the ruins of a human home.

“Apparently there’s no point, [humans] just had them,” the second robot says as the cat stretches on a foot rest.

“Well, that’s underselling their influence,” the third robot says. “They had an entire network that was devoted to the dissemination of pictures of these things.”

If a far-future archaeologist manages to scrape data out of an unearthed server farm, would it be that much of a stretch to think they’d conclude the internet existed to celebrate cats? (Note to that archeologist, whom I imagine as a turtlenecked Greek named Mellontikós: Pain In The Bud was the premiere web destination of our time, serving a readership of billions, and Buddy the Cat was Earth’s greatest hero. Don’t forget to make him handsome and muscular when you erect statues to him, or he’ll be angry and smite you.)

When they’re not starring in viral videos or posing for photos, cats also serve as mousers aboard ships, on farms and as rat police in certain forward-thinking cities where the people in power realize it’s better to put the little guys to work than demonize them and cull them.

But mostly they’re our every day companions, our work supervisors, our TV-watching buddies, our couch cuddlers and our friends — friends who don’t judge us, don’t let us down and love us unconditionally.

While house cats aren’t endangered, we’re at a critical juncture now, one that will determine if future generations put their kids to bed promising to take them to zoos to see tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards and cheetahs, or if they’ll kiss their kids goodnight after explaining, sadly, that the majestic animals in their storybooks were extirpated from the Earth a long time ago along with elephants, orangutans, gorillas, whales and virtually every other example of charismatic, iconic megafauna.

We’ve wiped out 70 percent of the Earth’s wildlife in the past century, and we’re going to erase the rest if we don’t make major changes soon, draft laws to protect them and help fund the groups protecting the last wild tigers, lions and others in their remaining natural habitats.

The world is a better place with cats, and we’re lucky to have them. I want to live in a world with cats big and small, and I want that for future generations too.

The New York Times Is Back To Spread Misinformation About Cats

Prompted by the recent news that Polish scientists have added cats to a list of invasive alien species, the New York Times ran an enterprise story on Tuesday titled “The Outdoor Cat: Neighborhood Mascot Or Menace?”

I’m highly critical of print media stories on animals because I’ve been a journalist for almost my entire career, and I know when a reporter has done her homework and when she hasn’t. Unfortunately it looks like Maria Cramer, author of the Times story, hasn’t.

Her story identifies the stray cats of Istanbul as “ferals,” cites bunk studies — including meta-analyses based on suspect data — and misrepresents a biologist’s solutions “to adopt feral cats, have them spayed or neutered and domesticate them.”

Doubtless the biologist understands cats are domesticated, but Cramer apparently does not, and her story misrepresents the domestication process.

Individual animals can’t be domesticated. Only species can. It’s a long, agonizingly slow process that involves changes at the genetic level that occur over many generations. Domestication accounts for physical changes (dogs developing floppy ears while their wolf ancestors have rigid ears, for example) and temperamental ones. A hallmark of domestication is the adjustment to coexisting with humans.

agriculture animal beautiful cat
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In other words, if cats were wild animals it would take hundreds of years to fully domesticate them, and I’m sure no one’s suggesting we wait hundreds of years to solve the free-ranging cat problem.

Ferals can be “tamed,” but the majority of cats living in proximity to humans are strays, not ferals. The difference? Strays are socialized to humans and will live among us, while ferals are not and will not. Strays can be captured and adopted. In most cases ferals can’t, and the best we can hope for is that they become barn cats.

To her credit, Cramer does make efforts to balance the story and quotes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the U.K., which places the majority of the blame squarely at the feet of humans, noting “the decline in bird populations has been caused primarily by man-made problems such as climate change, pollution and agricultural management.”

Even our structures kill billions of birds a year. That’s the estimated toll just from the mirrored surfaces of skyscrapers, and no one’s suggesting we stop building skyscrapers.

Indeed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud (MBS), the de facto ruler of Saudi Araba, has been busy commissioning science fiction city designs when he’s not murdering journalists critical of his policies. The design he’s chosen for his ultra-ambitious future city, which he hopes will rival the pyramids in terms of lasting monuments to humanity’s greatness, is a 100-mile-long mirrored megacity called Neom, which is Arabic for “Dystopian Bird Hell.” (Okay, we made that up. Couldn’t resist.)

Take a look:

The point is, of the many factors driving bird extinction, humans are responsible for the majority of them, and if we want to save birds we have to do more than bring cats inside. Additionally, sloppy research portraying cats as the primary reason for bird extinction has resulted in cruel policies, like Australia’s effort to kill two million cats by air-dropping poisoned sausages across the country.

This blog has always taken the position that keeping cats indoors is the smart play, and it’s win-win: It protects cats from the many dangers of the outdoors (predators like coyotes and mountain lions, fights with other neighborhood cats, diseases, intentional harm at the hands of disturbed humans, getting run over by vehicles), ensures they’re not killing small animals, and placates conservationists.

At the same time, we don’t demonize people who allow their cats to roam free, and we recognize attitudes vary widely in different countries. Indeed, as the Times notes, 81 percent of pet cats are kept indoors in the US, while 74 percent of cat caretakers allow their pets to roam in the U.K.

We have readers and friends in the U.K., and we wouldn’t dream of telling them what to do, or suggest they’re bad people for letting their cats out.

Ultimately, tackling the problem depends on getting a real baseline, which Washington, D.C. did with its Cat Count. The organizers of that multi-year effort brought together cat lovers, bird lovers, conservationists and scientists to get the job done, and it’s already paying off with new insights that will help shape effective policies. To help others, they’ve created a toolkit explaining in detail how they conducted their feline census and how to implement it elsewhere.

Every community would do well — and do right by cats and birds — by following D.C.’s lead.

Dear Buddy: How Did Cats Acquire Human Servants?

Dear Buddy,

We take human servitude for granted as the natural order of things, but I was wondering: When did we cats first recruit humans to serve us, and how did we tame the humans?

– Wondering in Wisconsin


Dear Wondering,

Ah, an excellent question!

First we must understand the concept of domestication. Domestication is the process of taking humans and making them our domestic servants.

Before they served us, humans were nothing more than apes — wild, unpredictable animals who were constantly running from one place to another in search of food. The primitive primates also moved around excessively, expending too much energy on pointless activities when they could be napping.

The First Felids arrived and offered a wondrous gift to the human race.

“This is a box,” the Felids said, teaching the sacred geometry to humans, who used it to build the first dwellings and design the first crop fields.

neoncube
A gift from felinekind to humankind: The concept of a box.

Cats taught the humans how to dig up the Earth and deposit their waste to render the ground fertile and increase crop yield.

Then they hunted all the vermin who tried to eat the human food, and schooled the nascent civilization in the arts of napping and expending as little energy as possible to accomplish goals.

In return humans offered their endless fealty, promising a thousand generations of warm laps, affectionate chin scratches and delicious treats.

Today humans still serve us, either by choice or because we have infected them with toxoplasma gondii.

Cheers,

Buddy the Wise

catworship