ANN/THE STAR – When Sam lived on the street, he hunted. He also starved a lot, and he was very luckily picked up by a rescuer who then passed him to my mum.
Today Sam doesn’t hunt. At all. This is rather unusual.
The idea that cats are hunters by nature is popular but it isn’t really true.
Back in the 1920s, a series of experiments by Professor Kuo Zing Yang, a Chinese psychologist working in China and the United States, showed that cats are taught their hunting skills by their mums.
Interestingly, pets who are not taught to hunt by their mums, will ignore a mouse. In fact, some will adopt it as a companion.
Kuo’s conclusion was, “Our study has shown that kittens can be made to kill a rat, to love it, to hate it, to fear it or to play with it: it depends on the life history of the kitten.”
So how did hunter Sam learn to sheathe his claws? There were two separate drivers.
First, Sam learnt very quickly that the biscuit bowl is endlessly topped up.
My mum knew he was very food insecure, so she drilled it into him that a single meow means a trickle of biscuits in the bowl.
Even so, Sam didn’t hand in his hunter pass overnight.
In the first few months, he was still a rough and tough man cat, straight off the streets. At first, he caught a few birds.
But, when he’d been with her about six months, Sam spotted a succulent baby bird in a nest.
He climbed up the tree – and was promptly attacked by its parents, cousins and friends.
Sam lost clumps of fur from his head and neck, and got no sympathy when he ducked back into the house.
That’s when Sam contemplated the twin joys of his biscuit bowl and the comfy sofa.
Being sensible, he rewrote his job description, erasing street fighter into furry lepak.
Sam is unusual as most cats who have learnt to hunt stay dedicated killers for life. They can’t help it – the behaviour is too deeply ingrained to overcome.
If you have a hunter kitty, you can help them adapt, but it will likely take generations. A simple solution is a bell on a collar to warn the birds and squirrels.