Of Wild Cats, Cat Charming, Etc

WITHOUT entering into any very lengthened details, I will here make room for a few natural history notes, collected from various sources:The Cat belongs to the same family as the lion, tiger, panther, leopard, puma, serval, ocelot, and lynx. The tribe is, perhaps, one of the best defined in zoology, all its members having characteristics of structure and habit not to be confounded with those of other animals. The rounded head and pointed ears, the long, lithe body, covered with fine silky hair, and often beautifully marked; the silent, stealthy step, occasioned by treading only on the fleshy ball of the foot; the sharp, retractile claws, the large, lustrous eyes, capable, from the expansive power of the pupil, of seeing in the dark; the whiskered lip, the trenchant, carnivorous teeth, and the tongue covered with recurved, horny prickles, are common to all.

In their habits and manners of life they are equally akin: they inhabit the forest and the brake, sleeping away the greater part of their time, and only visiting the glade and open plain when pressed by hunger. They are for the most part nocturnal in their habits, being guided to their prey by their peculiar power of vision, by their scent, and by their hearing, which is superior to that of most other animals. Naturally, they are strictly carnivorous, not hunting down their prey by a protracted chase, like the wolf and dog, but by lying in wait, or by moving stealthily with their supple joints and cushioned feet till within spring of their victims, on which they dart with a growl, as if the muscular effort of the moment were painful even to themselves. Whether the attack be that of a tiger on a buffalo, or that of a Cat on a helpless mouse, the mode of action is the same - a bound with the whole body from the distance of many-yards, a violent stroke with the fore foot, a clutch with the claws, which are thrust from their sheaths, and a half-tearing, half-sucking motion of the jaws, as if the animal gloated in ecstacy over the blood of its victim.

This mode of life has gained for these animals the common epithets of "cruel, savage, and bloodthirsty," and has caused them to be looked upon by the uninformed as monsters in creation. When its natural instincts shall die out, then also will the tiger cease to exist; and were the whole world peopled and cultivated equally with our own island, the feline family would be limited to a single genus - namely, the humble Cat. But as things are at present constituted, the valleys and plains of the tropics are clothed with an extensive vegetation, supporting numerous herbivorous animals, which could only be kept within due limits by the existence of carnivora, such as the lion, tiger, leopard, and panther.

The distribution of the feline animals is governed by those conditions to which we have alluded; and thus the puma inhabits the North American prairie; the jaguar the savannahs of South America; the lion the arid plains of Africa and Asia; the tiger and panther the tropical jungles of the old world; the minor species, as the ocelot and lynx, have a wider range in both worlds, while the domestic Cat associates with man in almost every region. With the exception of the latter, none of the other genera have been tamed or domesticated, so that they are strictly "wild beasts," against which man wages a ceaseless war of extirpation. It is true that, in the East, one species of leopard is trained for hunting, but this only very sparingly, and even then he does not follow the game by scent, but is carried by the hunters, and only let loose when he is within a few bounds of the animal. It must not be inferred, however, that they are untameable, for every creature is capable, more or less, of being trained by man, provided it receives due attention; and we have sufficient evidence in the wonderful feats performed by the lions and tigers of Mr. Carter and Van Amburgh, that the felinae are by no means destitute of intelligent docility. The truth is, there is no inducement to tame them, and thus the Cat, the most diminutive of the family, and the only one of direct utility to civilise, is likely to continue, as it ever has been, the sole domesticated member.

The wild Cat is more plentiful in the wooded districts of Germany, Prussia, and Hungary than in any other part of Europe. It is found also in the north of Asia and in Nepaul. Besides the true wild Cat, there are other species of felis which, on account of their resemblance to the tiger, are called "Tiger-Cats": they are found in all parts of the world, with the exception of Europe. The largest of this family is the Rimau-Dahan, an inhabitant of Sumatra. When full grown, it measures over seven feet from the nose to the tip of its tail, which appendage, however, monopolises three feet six of the whole. It is nearly two feet high at the shoulders: its colour is light grey, striped and spotted with jet black. One of the first specimens of this Tiger-Cat seen in England was brought here by Sir Stamford Raffles, who procured two of them from the banks of the Bencoolen River.

"Both specimens," writes this gentlemen, "while in a state of confinement, were remarkable for good temper and playfulness; no domestic kitten could be more so; they were always courting intercourse with persons passing by, and in the expression of their countenance, which was always open and smiling, showed the greatest delight when noticed, throwing themselves on their backs, and delighting in being tickled and rubbed. On board the ship there was a small dog, who used to play round the cage and with the animals; and it was amusing to observe the playfulness and tenderness with which the latter came in contact with their inferior sized companion. When fed with a fowl that died, they seized the prey, and after sucking the head, and tearing it a little, amused themselves for hours in throwing it about and jumping after it, in the manner that a Cat plays with a mouse before it is quite dead. This species of Cat never seems to look on man or children as his prey; and the natives assert that, when wild, it lives chiefly on poultry, birds, and small deer."