The Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST) has been widely used to demonstrate that the bond between both children and dogs to their primary carer typically meets the requirements of a secure attachment (i.e. the carer being perceived as a focus of safety and security in otherwise threatening environments), and has been adapted for cats with a similar claim made. However methodological problems in this latter research make the claim that the cat-owner bond is typically a secure attachment, operationally definable by its behaviour in the SST, questionable. We therefore developed an adapted version of the SST with the necessary methodological controls which include a full counterbalance of the procedure. A cross-over design experiment with 20 cat-owner pairs (10 each undertaking one of the two versions of the SST first) and continuous focal sampling was used to record the duration of a range of behavioural states expressed by the cats that might be useful for assessing secure attachment. Since data were not normally distributed, non-parametric analyses were used on those behaviours shown to be reliable across the two versions of the test (which excluded much cat behaviour). Although cats vocalised more when the owner rather the stranger left the cat with the other individual, there was no other evidence consistent with the interpretation of the bond between a cat and its owner meeting the requirements of a secure attachment. These results are consistent with the view that adult cats are typically quite autonomous, even in their social relationships, and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of security and safety. It is concluded that alternative methods need to be developed to characterise the normal psychological features of the cat-owner bond.
Lions (Panthera leo) feed on diverse prey species, a range that is broadened by their cooperative hunting. Although humans are not typical prey, habitual man-eating by lions is well documented. Fathoming the motivations of the Tsavo and Mfuwe man-eaters (killed in 1898 in Kenya and 1991 in Zambia, respectively) may be elusive, but we can clarify aspects of their behaviour using dental microwear texture analysis. Specifically, we analysed the surface textures of lion teeth to assess whether these notorious man-eating lions scavenged carcasses during their depredations. Compared to wild-caught lions elsewhere in Africa and other large feliforms, including cheetahs and hyenas, dental microwear textures of the man-eaters do not suggest extreme durophagy (e.g. bone processing) shortly before death. Dental injuries to two of the three man-eaters examined may have induced shifts in feeding onto softer foods. Further, prompt carcass reclamation by humans likely limited the man-eaters' access to bones. Man-eating was likely a viable alternative to hunting and/or scavenging ungulates due to dental disease and/or limited prey availability.
Tigers and their close relatives (Panthera) are some of the world’s most endangered species. Here we report the de novo assembly of an Amur tiger whole-genome sequence as well as the genomic sequences of a white Bengal tiger, African lion, white African lion and snow leopard. Through comparative genetic analyses of these genomes, we find genetic signatures that may reflect molecular adaptations consistent with the big cats' hypercarnivorous diet and muscle strength. We report a snow leopard-specific genetic determinant in EGLN1 (Met39>Lys39), which is likely to be associated with adaptation to high altitude. We also detect a TYR260G>A mutation likely responsible for the white lion coat colour. Tiger and cat genomes show similar repeat composition and an appreciably conserved synteny. Genomic data from the five big cats provide an invaluable resource for resolving easily identifiable phenotypes evident in very close, but distinct, species.
The leopard’s (Panthera pardus) broad geographic range, remarkable adaptability, and secretive nature have contributed to a misconception that this species might not be severely threatened across its range. We find that not only are several subspecies and regional populations critically endangered but also the overall range loss is greater than the average for terrestrial large carnivores. To assess the leopard’s status, we compile 6,000 records at 2,500 locations from over 1,300 sources on its historic (post 1750) and current distribution. We map the species across Africa and Asia, delineating areas where the species is confirmed present, is possibly present, is possibly extinct or is almost certainly extinct. The leopard now occupies 25-37% of its historic range, but this obscures important differences between subspecies. Of the nine recognized subspecies, three (P. p. pardus, fusca, and saxicolor) account for 97% of the leopard’s extant range while another three (P. p. orientalis, nimr, and japonensis) have each lost as much as 98% of their historic range. Isolation, small patch sizes, and few remaining patches further threaten the six subspecies that each have less than 100,000 km(2) of extant range. Approximately 17% of extant leopard range is protected, although some endangered subspecies have far less. We found that while leopard research was increasing, research effort was primarily on the subspecies with the most remaining range whereas subspecies that are most in need of urgent attention were neglected.
Domestic cats have a unique breeding history and can be used as models for human hereditary and infectious diseases. In the current era of genome-wide association studies, insights regarding linkage disequilibrium (LD) are essential for efficient association studies. The objective of this study is to investigate the extent of LD in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris catus, particularly within its breeds. A custom illumina GoldenGate Assay consisting of 1536 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) equally divided over ten 1 Mb chromosomal regions was developed, and genotyped across 18 globally recognized cat breeds and two distinct random bred populations. The pair-wise LD descriptive measure (r(2)) was calculated between the SNPs in each region and within each population independently. LD decay was estimated by determining the non-linear least-squares of all pair-wise estimates as a function of distance using established models. The point of 50% decay of r(2) was used to compare the extent of LD between breeds. The longest extent of LD was observed in the Burmese breed, where the distance at which r(2) ≈ 0.25 was ∼380 kb, comparable to several horse and dog breeds. The shortest extent of LD was found in the Siberian breed, with an r(2) ≈ 0.25 at approximately 17 kb, comparable to random bred cats and human populations. A comprehensive haplotype analysis was also conducted. The haplotype structure of each region within each breed mirrored the LD estimates. The LD of cat breeds largely reflects the breeds' population history and breeding strategies. Understanding LD in diverse populations will contribute to an efficient use of the newly developed SNP array for the cat in the design of genome-wide association studies, as well as to the interpretation of results for the fine mapping of disease and phenotypic traits.
Large “hypercarnivorous” felids are recognized for their role as apex predators and hence as key elements in food webs and ecosystem functioning through competition and depredation. Here we show that cougars (Puma concolor), one of the largest and the most widely ranging apex felid predators with a strictly carnivorous diet, could also be effective secondary long distance seed dispersers, potentially establishing direct and non-herbivore mediated interactions with plant species at the bottom of the food web. Cougars accidently ingest and disseminate large amounts of seeds (31,678 seeds in 123 scats) of plant species initially consumed by their main prey, the Eared Dove Zenaida auriculata. The germination potential of seeds for the three plant species most abundantly found in cougar scats (19,570 seeds) was not significantly different from that observed in seeds obtained from dove gizzards, indicating that seed passage through cougar guts did not affect seed germination. Considering the estimated cougar density in our study area, dispersal of seeds by cougars could allow a mean, annual seed spread of ~5,000 seeds per km(2). Our results demonstrate that strictly carnivorous, felid predators could have broad and overlooked ecological functions related to ecosystem structuring and functioning.
Human-carnivore conflicts challenge biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, but the role of diseases of domestic animals in their predation by carnivores is poorly understood. We conducted a human-leopard (Panthera pardus) conflict study throughout all 34 villages around Golestan National Park, Iran in order to find the most important conflict determinants and to use them in predicting the probabilities of conflict and killing of cattle, sheep and goats, and dogs. We found that the more villagers were dissatisfied with veterinary services, the more likely they were to lose livestock and dogs to leopard predation. Dissatisfaction occurred when vaccination crews failed to visit villages at all or, in most cases, arrived too late to prevent diseases from spreading. We suggest that increased morbidity of livestock makes them particularly vulnerable to leopard attacks. Moreover, conflicts and dog killing were higher in villages located closer to the boundaries of the protected area than in distant villages. Therefore, we appeal for improved enforcement and coordination of veterinary services in our study area, and propose several priority research topics such as veterinarian studies, role of wild prey in diseases of domestic animals, and further analysis of potential conflict predictors.
Cost-benefit trade-offs for individuals participating in social behaviors are the basis for current theories on the evolution of social behaviors and societies. However, research on social strategies has largely ignored solitary animals, in which we assume that rare interactions are explained by courtship or territoriality or, in special circumstances, resource distributions or kinship. We used directed network analysis of conspecific tolerance at food sources to provide evidence that a solitary carnivore, the puma (Puma concolor), exhibited adaptive social strategies similar to more social animals. Every puma in our analysis participated in the network, which featured densely connected communities delineated by territorial males. Territorial males also structured social interactions among pumas. Contrary to expectations, conspecific tolerance was best characterized by direct reciprocity, establishing a fitness benefit to individuals that participated in social behaviors. However, reciprocity operated on a longer time scale than in gregarious species. Tolerance was also explained by hierarchical reciprocity, which we defined as network triangles in which one puma (generally male) received tolerance from two others (generally females) that also tolerated each other. Hierarchical reciprocity suggested that males might be cheating females; nevertheless, we suspect that males and females used different fitness currencies. For example, females may have benefited from tolerating males through the maintenance of social niches that support breeding opportunities. Our work contributes evidence of adaptive social strategies in a solitary carnivore and support for the applicability of theories of social behavior across taxa, including solitary species in which they are rarely tested.
Little is known about the cat’s (Felis silvestris catus) need for human contact, although it is generally believed that cats are more independent pets than e.g. dogs. In this study, we investigated the effect of time left alone at home on cat behaviour (e.g. social and distress-related) before, during and after separation from their owner. Fourteen privately owned cats (single-housed) were each subjected to two treatments: the cat was left alone in their home environment for 30 min (T0.5) and for 4 h (T4). There were no differences between treatments in the behaviour of the cat (or owner) before owner departure, nor during the first 5 min of separation. During separation, cats were lying down resting proportionally less (T = 22.5, P = 0.02) in T0.5 (0.27±0.1 (mean±SE)) compared to in T4 (0.58±0.08), probably due to a similar duration of higher activity early in the separation phase in both treatments. Comparisons of the time interval (min 20-25) in both treatments indicated no differences across treatments, which supports such an explanation. Towards the end of the separation phase (the last two 5-min intervals of separation in both treatments), no differences were observed in the cats' behaviour, indicating that cats were unaffected by separation length. At reunion however, cats purred more (T = 10.5, P = 0.03) and stretched their body more (T = 17, P = 0.04) after a longer duration of separation (T4:0.05±0.02; 0.03±0.01; T0.5: 0.01±0.007; 0.008±0.003). Also, owners initiated more verbal contact (T = 33.5, P = 0.04) after 4 h (0.18±0.05) compared to after 30 min (0.12±0.03). There was no evidence of any correlations between the level of purring or body stretching by the cat and verbal contact by the owner implying that the behavioural expressions seen in the cats are independent of the owner’s behaviour. Hence, it seemed as cats coped well with being left alone, but they were affected by the time they were left alone, since they expressed differences in behaviour when the owner returned home. The increased level of social contact initiated by the cats after a longer duration of separation indicates a rebound of contact-seeking behaviour, implying that the owner is an important part of the cat’s social environment.
Olfactory stimulation is an often overlooked method of environmental enrichment for cats in captivity. The best known example of olfactory enrichment is the use of catnip, a plant that can cause an apparently euphoric reaction in domestic cats and most of the Pantherinae. It has long been known that some domestic cats and most tigers do not respond to catnip. Although many anecdotes exist of other plants with similar effects, data are lacking about the number of cats that respond to these plants, and if cats that do not respond to catnip respond to any of them. Furthermore, much is still unknown about which chemicals in these plants cause this response.