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An ordinary tabby cat can clear a wall five times its own height in one easy leap.
Domestic cats can weigh up to 40lb, and reach 30mph. They can seemingly survive for weeks without eating, and fall from high buildings and land on their feet. They also kill birds, slaughter rats and terrorise dogs. And now, a fearless feline has made history by picking a fight with a bear.
The 10-year-old ginger tom, which weighed about 15lb, took umbrage when a 105kg black bear wandered out of the woods into a garden in West Milford, New Jersey, and attacked with enough ferocity to send the bear scuttling up a garden tree. Veterinary scientists, wildlife experts and cat lovers were not particularly surprised: Felis sylvestris catus has been domesticated for at least 7,000 years, and routinely spends 16 hours a day sleeping in the sunshine or in the warmest corner of the house, but it remains the personification of violence.
Last year in households in the UK spent an astonishing $1,288 million on cat food, and an estimated eight million moggies turned up to eat it; yet Britain’s domestic and feral cats are still thought to kill around 300 million other creatures every year.
Around 55 million of the victims are birds, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Robins, chaffinches and greenfinches are some of the main victims, alongside house sparrows. But these barely make a mouthful. Cats have also been known to bag pheasants, bring down pigeons, pluck partridges and devour ducks. “They are able to take the majority of birds with ease that occur in the British countryside,” says Graham Madge of the RSPB.
Almost without exception, the world’s big cats are sauntering towards extinction in the wild. But their distant relatives Tiddles and Tabitha long ago reached an accommodation with humankind. The human-feline partnership began at least 9,500 years ago, and yet we can hardly claim to have “tamed” this pint-size killer with its talon-like claws and needle-sharp teeth.
French researchers unearthed a Neolithic grave in Cyprus and found, close to the interred remains of a human, the skeleton of a formally buried cat.
Since then, cats have been part of the picture: the poet Petrarch is supposed to have loved cats. So did, the prelate Cardinal Richelieu and the statesman Winston Churchill. But did cats love them? “When I play with my cat, how do I know that she is not passing time with me rather than I with her?” asked the essayist Michel de Montaigne 500 years ago.
Dogs moved in earlier: they were probably domesticated 15,000 years ago, when a family of wolves befriended humans in eastern Asia, to the benefit of both species.
Dogs double as guards, hunters and even sled-haulers. But the cat-citizen relationship is entirely one-sided, unless you count the companionship that cats seem to offer. Cats carry their own form of leukaemia, they can contract rabies, they can carry an unpleasant little infection called toxoplasmosis, they spread fleas and ear mites, tapeworm and ringworm and millions suffer from cat allergy.
Scenes in ancient Egyptian tombs seem to suggest that ancient Egyptian cats may have gone along on hunting expeditions in the Nile delta, but then the ancient Egyptians revered cats, honoured a cat goddess and mummified their household moggies when they died. This close link with the cat world may have done them more harm than good.
One story has it that 2,500 years ago Persian warriors carried cats into the frontline in battle against the Egyptians, knowing that the Egyptians would not attack in case they killed a cat.
Cats proverbially have nine lives, but take plenty of risks with their real one. They served in the trenches during the First World War – they were the first to register the advance of poison gas – and a famous naval cat called Oscar was rescued from the sinking hulk of the German battleship Bismarck in 1941. Oscar then spent five months on a British destroyer called HMS Cossack, and when that was sunk, transferred to the aircraft-carrier Ark Royal. In time this, of course, was also torpedoed. Oscar died in a sailor’s home, which was more than most sailors did.
The lesson, as the black bear could tell you, is that cats know how to come out on top.
· Cat bites are more likely to become infected than dog bites.
· Cats respond better to women than to men
· It has been scientifically proven that stroking a cat can lower one’s blood pressure.
· Cats must have fat in their diet because they can’t produce it on their own.
· A cat will tremble or shiver when it is in extreme pain.
· If a cat is frightened, put your hand over its eyes and forehead, or let him bury his head in your armpit to help calm him.