There are an estimated 100 million pet cats in the U.S. But unlike dogs, pigs or even goats, cats are uniquely ill suited for domestication.
As solitary animals, they don’t have social hierarchies. They’re hard to physically control, and don’t tolerate confinement well. Nearly half of all house cats have physically attacked their owners. And (as we mentioned in our last post: https://www.prime-earth.org//post/adaptation-in-action) cats may be using an allergen similar to the venom of slow lorises as a defense to keep people away from them.
Which raises the question: why did humans ever domesticate cats?
…Or have we? Have cats actually just tricked us into thinking they’re our pets?
Research into feline behaviour and domestication actually supports the second option. They've just tricked us, and we put up with their allergens and antics as a result.
Cats are extremely adaptable, and it’s likely small wildcat’s hi-jacked our emotions when they sauntered in to our first settlements 10,000 years ago to eat our accumulating trash (at the time when humans were transitioning from hunter-gatherer living to agricultural farming).
How could that be?
Austrian zoologist, Konrad Lorenz, developed a potential explanation for this in the 1940s, he called kinderschema.
Kinderschema is a specific set of characteristics that determine “cuteness”: big eyes; small nose; large, rounded head; plump faces and body; short limbs, and a small retreating chin. All the things, in fact, that define the look of a human baby. Lorenz argued that these traits had an evolutionary purpose to trigger a human adult’s care-taking instinct to ensure helpless babies survive.
Thanks to their adaptability and kinderschema, house cats have essentially become the king of beasts. But has our cuteness bias impacted the rest of the animal kingdom in more damaging ways?
More on that in our next post… stay tuned!