Introduction species within the felidae family. The African

Introduction

This
report aims to investigate the evolution of behaviour of the domestic cat (Felis catus) from its ancestor the
African wildcat (Felis lybicus) and
the influence external and internal factors have on these behaviours.

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There are 22 subspecies of wildcat,
but a study in 2007 examined the genes of 979 domestic cats, and the results
not only reflected a history of domestication and breed development but that
they were domesticated in the Near
East, meaning they descended from the African wildcat which is also
called the Near Eastern wildcat and, despite many years of evolution and
selective breeding, still maintain a lot of anatomical and behavioural
similarities to their ancestor as they are one of the
most recently evolved species within the felidae family.

The African
wildcat is found across northern
Africa, in the Near East, around the periphery of the Arabian Peninsula to
the Caspian Sea. In Africa, it ranges from Morocco into Egypt,
and inhabits the savannas of West
Africa from Mauritania to the Horn of Africa. It inhabits a broad variety of habitats, especially in
hilly and mountainous landscapes such as the Hoggar Mountains. They are also found in deserts such as the Sahara, but at much lower densities.

Morphological
adaptations

The African wild cat’s appearance is similar to the domestic
cat with their fur, ears, whiskers, claws, eyes, teeth and tail serving the
same purpose with a few differences that help it to adapt to its environment.  The wild cat’s short fur varies from sandy
brown to yellow grey in colour, with orange coloured ears, an orange
underbelly, and black rings around the bottom of its tail and legs. The overall
lightness and darkness of their fur colouration is dependent on the cat’s
surroundings which helps camouflage it from its prey and predators. The
domestic cat’s fur comes in a range or colours and length from selective
breeding and due to them not needing to be camouflaged for their survival,
however, certain breeds have retained this colouring such as the Abyssinian and
the Tabby. The African wild cat’s hind legs are noticeably longer than the
domestic cat which is advantageous for keeping their body away from the hot
ground, running with longer strides, leaping, pouncing, and climbing trees to
escape predators. The domestic cat’s legs are shorter, but they still exhibit
the same behaviours like pouncing on toys, climbing trees or furniture and
leaping at flying insects.

In addition to phenotype, domestic cats have retained the
ability to survive with a very little water intake through the production of
very concentrated urine and the production of semi-dry faeces which helps
minimising water loss. They can also tolerate extreme temperatures, not showing
signs of discomfort until skin temperature exceeds 52 oC.

Environmental
Influence

A wild cat’s days are governed by the sun as they are crepuscular
and tend to be most active at night and in the early morning as this is when
the temperatures are lower and when their prey is also more active. This
crepuscular behaviour has remained in domestic cats no matter what climate they
live in with most cats sleeping in the daylight hours and playing, vocalising
or hunting in the early hours of the morning or the evening. Their activity at
night is also due to a cat’s eyes being designed to be most effective is low
light as the retina at the back of the eye reflects light
from an area called the tapetum lucidum, and it consists of a high proportion
of rods which gives cats excellent vision in poor light, which helps them to
hunt around dusk and dawn.

Competition
for Resources

When hunting for food, prey can be
very sparse and therefore African wild cats must defend a large territory from
other cats and are therefore solitary animals. As they are rarely near each
other, the wild cat has had no need to develop a complex visual signalling
system, like more naturally social species have. Instead of utilising facial
expressions and body postures, wild cats rely on olfactory communication
signals to avoid conflict such spraying urine marks which can fade and allow
other cats to distinguish whether the sprayer is likely to still claiming the area.
Although domestic cats still show solitary behaviour, they have also easily
adapted to living in groups to share a resource. This evolution of behaviour is
mostly due to human interference thousands of years ago when grain stores
attracted large numbers of rodents which became a reliable food source that
could be exploited by many cats. For many cats
to benefit from this new and rich food source, they had to become less
territorial and learn tolerate the presence of others which eventually altered
their DNA. These cats, however, will still hunted independently and the group
size never rose above that which the environment could support as severe
aggression would shown to those that are considered outsiders as they were seen
as a threat to their resources.

In the domestic situation, this
instinct is still present and, although a cat’s owner provides enough food, cats
are still inclined to mark and protect their territory from other cats that are
not seen as part of their social group, whether this other cat is a member of
the same household or a neighbouring cat. As the inability to show complex visual
signals is still present in the domestic cats, despite living in social
groups., so they can often fight or get stressed as the don’t have appeasement
signals that easily diffuse conflict. A good indication that a cat sees another
as part of their group is when they rub against each and sleep next to each
other as this transfers their scent on each other from various glands located
around their body.

Domestication

It is often thought the
domestication of the cat occurred in Egypt about 3600 years ago, however more
recent evidence shows that feline domestication probably occurred about 10,000
years ago or more in the Middle East, in the region of the Fertile Crescent.
The earliest true record of domestication comes from a cat that was found
deliberately buried with its owner in a grave in Cyprus, around 9500 years ago,
and it is assumed that domestication will have begun some time before this as
there were no native cats on Cyprus. As previously mentioned, it is
thought that cats were welcomed by human once they realised their usefulness
for keeping rodents away from their grain harvest and then reward them with
food to encourage them to stay.

“When compared with
wildcat genomes, domestic cat genomes showed evidence of recent selection
in genes linked to memory, fear-conditioning, and stimulus-reward learning —
which are all related to the evolution of tameness.” (Michael Montague, 2014)

Cats are also only thought of as
semi-domesticated and not truly domesticated as this is defined as breeding,
care and reproduction being wholly under the control by humans producing a
reproductively isolated population. This only really applicable to pedigree pet
cats, which only form a very small proportion of the total pet cat population.
They also have only recently split off from their wild counterpart and still
retain a close relation to the wild cat giving them the ability to breed with
the species and producing fertile offspring. Also, as they have not undergone
any major changes, unlike dogs, the are not as reliant on humans and can
survive in the wild and reverting to a feral or wild state.

Selective
Breeding

Cat have been bred for many decades to produce
felines with minor physical distinctions such rounder or slimmer faces, shorter
snouts, ears that curl outward or inward, and fur in a variety of colours,
textures, lengths and even fur that doesn’t cause an allergic reaction.

According to the Cat Fancier’s Association, there are currently 42
recognised breeds of cat which is a small amount when compared with the 211
breeds of dog currently registered in the Kennel Club. The reason for this
thought to be because cat’s have the same overall look and do not share the
extreme differences in looks and behaviour that dog breeds do due to them being
still so closely related to their ancestor.

Unlike other animals selectively bred for traits that could make
them useful like dairy cows for their milk yield, cats are selectively bred
mostly just for their looks and that is thought to be because the breeding of
cats is quite recent compared with other animals with the start of the cat
fancy in the late 19th century and the first cat show in Crystal
Palace in London in 1871.

The main reason for the late popularity of cats is due the
changing opinion humans have had about cats over the years. At one time they
were seen as useful for vermin extermination and then revered by the Egyptians
and respected by the Romans, but as time went on they were associated with
witches and Satan in the Middle Ages before eventually gaining favour with
humans again.

Neutering and spaying cats has become a common practice for
cats and is mainly done to control their population. It also alters the
behaviour of the cat, especially among males. Males are neutered as it reduces
their instinct to roam as they lose the desire to roam for the purpose of
reproduction but not for hunting. It also reduces their aggression, so they are
less likely to fight but, again, cats are territorial, so it doesn’t eliminate
the behaviour entirely. Neutering also stops a cat from spraying his urine but
cats have other ways of spreading their scent, so it doesn’t stop them from
marking their territory.

Conclusion

Even after thousands of years, the cat has managed to remain
a close relation to its ancestor and never truly domesticated by humans. They
have managed to retain most of their DNA and ancestral behaviours while forming
a relationship with humans where they rely on them for food and shelter but not
so much that they couldn’t survive on their own if they had to. The only real effect
human interference has had is their phenotype, but even certain questionable
breeds such as the Persian which has a flat snout and is susceptible to a range
of health problems, has retained it ancestor’s DNA, instincts and behaviour which
asks the question “Can humans ever really own a cat?” 

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