Cats Who Cache!

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Hello Friends, and happy weekend!  I hope this finds you and yours well in all ways as we are in full swing of winter.  Here in the northeast we are preparing for a major winter storm, so this will be a (relatively) short post.

🎙For those who prefer to listen to this blog post, you can access the audio version here.🎙 You can also watch a short video summary here.

Let’s get to it!  It’s Caturday! So let’s talk cats.


If you are fortunate to be the guardian of a feline, then you are blessed beyond measure.  Being “owned” by a cat does have its benefits; albeit frustrations and confusions, too. But any confusion and frustrations are easily mitigated when we understand the WHY behind behaviors.

If you have been flowing with this blog for a while now, you know that house cats are:

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If you have been paying attention, then you now know that all house cats need:

  • Proper, positive socialization to a variety of sights, sounds, and scents
  • Vertical space
  • Daily exercise
  • Daily mental stimulation
  • Ability to exercise their natural instinct to hunt
  • Acceptable outlets for their natural behaviors
  • To feel safe in and around your home
  • Litter boxes that are spacious, clean, and the right fit for each feline’s lifestage
  • Appropriate and species-specific nutrition
  • Regular, species-specific veterinary care
  • Basic positive (fun) training time
  • Choices

Knowing all of this is only part of the pussycat puzzle.  Innate Behaviors are often at the heart of these needs.

‘People have forgotten this truth,’ the fox said. ‘But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.’  ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

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All in the Instincts!

 Many of the behaviors we observe our feline family members displaying are closely controlled by genes. These behaviors are called innate behaviors.  They are behaviors that are inborn; naturally occurring in all members of a species.  Within each species, Innate behaviors are predictable. These behaviors can be performed in response to a cue (changing of the seasons, daylight, etc.) without prior experience /exposure to a particular cue. 

Think of them as reflex responses/actions.  Unlike behaviors such as learning to ride a bike, tie your shoe, or brush your teeth, Innate behaviors do not have to be learned or practiced.  

  • Innate behaviors are instinctive.
  • They are controlled by genes and always occur in the same way.
  • Innate behaviors do not have to be learned or practiced.
  • Innate behaviors generally involve basic life functions, so it’s important that they be performed correctly.

These kinds of behaviors are also called instinctive behaviors.  An instinct is the ability of an animal to perform a behavior the first time it is exposed to something that causes a response, within their body.  

 Examples:

  • courtship
  • mating
  • mothering
  • escape
  • defensive maneuvers

Our cat committee is currently creating a book for families that will discuss more of this in detail. But that’s the basics of what you need to now about today’s topic.

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Hard-Wired Needs

There is one innate behavior I would like to talk about today that really fascinates me about felines. And I really think you’ll enjoy it.  It’s called Caching. 

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Have you ever noticed your cat trying to cover his/her food? All of our cats do it after they have finished eating if there is leftover food.  Well, let’s be honest: Knox never leaves any food. -Pretty sure he’s a direct descent of Garfield.

 

Cats who cover their food are not unusual critters.  Many more species do this behavior than most realize!

Critters Who Cache

Many animals practice the behavior of caching. Here are a few examples:

  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Foxes
  • Hamsters
  • Rooks
  • Woodpeckers
  • Scrub Jays
  • Mountain Lions

Caching behavior is the storage of food in locations hidden from the sight of both conspecifics (animals of the same or closely related species) and members of other species.  For some species, the function of caching is to store food in times of surplus for times when food is less plentiful. However, there is evidence that some caching behavior is done to ripen the food.  Foxes and squirrels tend to spread out their food in small caches (“scatter hoard”) so that, although one may be discovered by another animal, enough will remain.

Scrub Jay Caching

Why Cats Cache

Cats are predators and prey.  Cats who live in the wild, (feral cats, cougars, panthers, etc.) often attempt to bury uneaten food or cover a recently killed carcass.  It’s believed wildcats do this to:

  • avoid attracting any predators to the area
  • attempt to not alert potential prey that a feline hunter is in the vicinity

Once the wildcat has eaten his/her fill of their prey, the cougar will cover their prey with substrate (grass, leaves, or other ground material) to protect it from spoiling or from being eaten by other animals. The cougar will usually remain in the area near his/her cache for several days, occasionally returning to feed on the carcass.

Bobcats will cover the remains of a large kill with debris such as snow, leaves, twigs or grass. The bobcat will revisit the carcass and eat again. Panthers will rake leaves and twigs over a carcass to hide the carcass from scavengers. This behavior is very common and is part of a natural and healthy wildcat. Check out these fascinating felines caching their food in the wild!

F99, an orphaned cougar kitten, caching an elk carcass she discovered. Photograph by Mark Elbroch / Panthera nationalgeographic.org/author/melbroch/

A Caching Cougar In Action!

Below is a time-lapse video an adult female mountain lion who has been followed by Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project. This cougar is in northwest Wyoming, caching a mule deer she killed:

In winter, it’s common for cougars to lose access to at least half of every elk they kill. Cougars tend to feed on one side of an elk at a time, and by the time they are finished with one side, the other can be wedged beneath a solid layer of compressed snow and ice, and completely inaccessible. 
-Mark Elbroch, Teton Cougar Project

This is important to realize because it helps us understand the foraging ecology of cougars. Cougars need to kill a specific amount of meat to meet their energetic demands for living, but they kill much more than this. In summer, bears steal their kills, and in winter, cold weather and snow steal their food. Thus, cougars are often unable to consume all of what they kill, and so they must kill again more quickly. -Mark Elbroch



On Nov 2, 2015 a hunter spotted a cougar caching her prey:


The hunter states, “Came face to face with a mountain lion while out hunting in the Swan Valley (Montana). After some investigation, I found a deer cached under a large amount of debris. Instead of hunting, I went back home and grabbed a game camera and set it up on the cache site.” – Adam Lieberg


A mountain lion burying a deer carcass. The new study shows that such caches provide important habitat and food for hundreds of species.
CREDIT FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS/JON NELSON

Mountain lions typically cache their kills beneath a mound of snow but when temperatures drop precipitously at night, this behavior frequently backfires.  Unlike foxes, coyotes, and wolves, cougars lack the strong feet and stout claws for intensive excavation. Thus, when snows become thick ice that hinders their ability to feed, cougars abandon their kills to hunt again.


Habitats Created from Caching!

Most people think of beavers as ecological engineers, building dams, and creating new habitats from their creations, but a new study shows mountain lions modify their environments in a similar way.

Unlike wolves, mountain lions leave large intact pieces of dead meat on the landscape that draw lots of species that then distribute those nutrients far and wide. It is so important to ecosystem health to maintain carrion on the landscape which supports a huge diversity of wildlife through supplemental feeding, through maintenance of invertebrate community. It just goes on and on. – Mark Elbroch, the Director of the Puma Project

Napping & Caching!

I love this video below.  It’s rare footage of a subadult female cougar.  In the video she’s just waking from a long nap, and is slightly disoriented …  A bit later she is caching the elk carcass she discovered and claimed as her own.

House Cats Who Cache

Caching behavior is also quite common in house cats. A lot of folks think this is because their cat doesn’t like the food, but in fact, it’s an innate behavior inherited from their ancestors.

Even the comfy couch cats who have never set paw outside retains this feline instinct.  A feline’s natural instinct is to cover food from scavengers or potential threats that might be tracking the scent. Unlike their wild cousins and dogs, House Cats are not scavengers; they are both predator and prey, so they don’t bury their leftover food to consume later; with house cats, it’s for protective purposes. But because all cats are individuals within the species, the degree to which the cat attempts to hide/bury the food depends on the individual cat’s comfort level and concern for exposed uneaten food.

What Caching Behavior Looks Like In House Cats:  The cat is burying something.  The cat is pawing at the carpet, kitchen tile, or dragging her front paw on the floor around their food mat, puzzle feeder, or bowl.  The cat may become so focused on burying the food that he/she pushes the food mat/plate around. Some cats may pull a blanket, tissue paper, or food mat over their leftovers, if these items are nearby.

House Cats Caching Food

In this short video you can see one of our feline family members covering his food, and how similar this behavior is to cougars:




Become the Observer of Behavior.

Frustrating felines, puzzling pussycats, and bewildering behaviors common in homes with house cats. But all behavior has roots. Either it’s learned or innate. Caching is just one example of how we so often misunderstand cats and mislabel cat behavior. We label the behavior, make it wrong, or make fun of it. But this particular caching behavior works for cats; it serves an important purpose. Once we begin to understand that all behavior serves a purpose, we gain a new perspective.

We gain compassion.

We know that wildcats and house cats are learning all the time. We can choose to learn as well. It’s up to us as stewards of Mother Earth, and guardians of house cats to learn how to show respect, better communicate with them, listen better to them, and to learn something new from them every day.

“Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it.” – Byron Katie

Now when you see your cat at home doing this behavior, you’ll have a greater appreciation and understanding of WHY!

A Matter of Misperceptions

Cougars, like house cats, are often misunderstood. The video below is a rare and intimate glimpse into the family lives of America’s second-largest cats. The film debunks long-held perceptions of cougars as solitary, anti-social animals and reveals their social and caring side: This footage was gathered by the conservation group Teton Cougar Project, revealing a family who is playful, affectionate, and interdependent.
The footage also shows that sometimes, adult female cougars adopt orphaned kittens that would otherwise perish.

It shows how behaviors are passed down from one generation to the next, how young kittens learn from interactions with their mother and siblings, exhibiting behaviors such as stalking, caching and sharing meals.

I invite you to watch this short film, “The Secret Life of Mountain Lions”:

Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your heart for love.


Recommended Related Reading


This blog post is intended for educational purposes only. Please visit Panthera’s Teton Cougar and Panthera’s Puma program sites for more info!


Learn more about the fascinating felines with whom you share a home, at our Website! 


Citations:

• Panthera pardus (Carnivora: Felidae) Andrew B. Stein Virginia Hayssen: Mammalian Species, Volume 45, Issue 900, 12 June 2013, Pages 30–48, https://doi.org/10.1644/900.1

• Cache-Protecting Behavior of Food-Hoarding Animals: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4613-1839-2_22

• Quantifying animal movement for caching foragers: the path identification index (PII) and cougars, Puma concolor: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29201376

• Cougar Predation Behavior in North-Central Utah, Dustin L. Mitchell: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2509&context=etd

• Some aspects of predatory behavior: 1978: https://doi.org/10.1002/1098-2337(1978)4:4<287::AID-AB2480040402>3.0.CO;2

• Prey preferences of the leopard (Panthera pardus): 01 June 2006 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.2006.00139.x

• Predator size and prey size–gut capacity ratios determine kill frequency and carcass production in terrestrial carnivorous mammals: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/oik.05488

• The interaction of hunger and preying in the domestic cat (Felis catus): An adaptive hierarchy? https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091677376921660

• Behaviors of Bobcats Preying on White-tailed Deer in the Everglades: https://bioone.org/journals/The-American-Midland-Naturalist/volume-139/issue-2/0003-0031(1998)139%5B0275:BOBPOW%5D2.0.CO;2/Behaviors-of-Bobcats-Preying-on-White-tailed-Deer-in-the/10.1674/0003-0031(1998)139%5B0275:BOBPOW%5D2.0.CO;2.short

• Avoiding intraguild competition : leopard feeding ecology and prey caching in northern Botswana: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sabinet/wild2/2015/00000045/00000002/art00012

Foraging Felines!

“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food. That’s living.”—Ursula Andress 

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What do these lions and this bloodsicle have in common with your cats? Find out below.

It’s Caturday! Let’s get our Cat-Care-Chat on!  (OK I am a little stoked about this post.)

I had some down time today, and had a lot of fun with our cats this morning so I was inspired to share one of the tools we have been using. This particular tool helps our feline family members to feel safe, confident, and at ease with each other, and their environment, no matter where life takes them.

Today we are talkin’ bout puzzles.


Did you play with puzzles as a child?  I didn’t. They were boring and frustrated me.  But my younger brother did.  He loved doing puzzles.  Even at the age of 7 he was playing with 1,000 piece puzzles.  I couldn’t believe that someone would want to sit still for that long, for days on end.  I would have died of sheer boredom!  But puzzles were anything but boring to my brother.  In fact, he lived for them.

So what does my brother and his fascination with puzzles have to do with our animal companions?

A lot actually.


Lackluster or Enriched Lives?

Most people have limited knowledge as to how to successfully enrich the lives of their animal companions.  This results in a lack of species-appropriate enrichment with most household pets.  The lack of mental and physical stimulation is linked to a myriad of medical and behavioral issues in animals.  But we can change that!  But making a few changes to their daily routines, we can greatly enhance the lives and longevity of our animal companions!


 

Feline Facts

You may think your cat is fine just hanging out and lounging around all day while you are away, but I beg to differ.  This is a common cat misconception.  Those unwanted behaviors you are seeing are not random.  Let’s look at some startling feline facts.  Some of these stats might surprise you, but they are very real. These facts are at the heart of why I am so passionate about feline enrichment:

  • Cats far outnumber dogs in homes (96 million cats vs. 83 million dogs).  Yet cats are the number one animal euthanized at shelters due to “behavioral issues”.
  • House-soiling (litter box avoidance) is the most frequently cited behavior problem for cats, followed by aggression toward people.
  • Cats with medical or behavioral issues were the ones most likely to be re-homed to an animal shelter, (instead of being re-homed with friends or family members.)
  • Only 1-5% of house cats have access to food toys.
  • Only 0.5% of owners hide food for their cat to find.
  • House cats are significantly lacking in physical AND mental exercise.

Fact:  Many of these behavioral and medical issues can be prevented! 

Fact:  Food Enrichment can be a tool to prevent and manage many behavioral issues in homes with cats! 


“Cats are captives in these environments, akin to zoo animals, and as with zoo animals, cats’ health and welfare may be affected by their surroundings.  Because of this, they sometimes display undesirable behaviors when deprived of appropriate outlets for their expression.” – Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats, by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVBa and C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVNb


 

Puzzles as Mental Enrichment

Now that I am older and more mature, I understand why my brother played with puzzles. It was mentally stimulating for him.  It kept his mind focused and it allowed him to reduce stress.  He was able to accomplish a goal and receive a reward.  Using puzzles for enrichment for our cats are not that different from this practice.

Puzzles are one tool that can be used on a regular basis to encourage an animal’s natural behaviors and alleviate boredom, reduce stress, and increase confidence.  Boredom often leads to frustration, and other unwanted behaviors.


The Value of Enrichment

Let’s take a look at a few very important reasons why enrichment (in general) should be a tool that we use in our homes on a daily basis.  Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, are better adjusted, more relaxed, better able to develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn.

Enrichment can:

  • Curb boredom and restlessness
  •  Reduce frustration and destructive behaviors
  •  Increase an animal’s natural behaviors, and as result, increase their health and longevity
  •  Teach you new ways to engage and play with your animal companion

Animal enrichment promotes naturalistic behaviors that stimulate the mind and increases physical activity.  It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time.

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Exotic animals in captivity have acess to enrichemt, so why dont our cats in our homes?


Types of Enrichment 

Don’t be overwhelmed at the thought of using enrichment. You don’t have to be a wild animal expert to do this at home.  And you don’t need to have a lot of time to implement this important enrichment tool.   It really can be incorporated easily!

There are a variety of enrichment options, but today we will be covering food and foraging enrichment for our felines.  Just so you are aware, enrichment is generally grouped into the following categories:

  • Food based
  • Sensory (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound)
  • Novel objects
  • Social
  • Positive Training
  • Foraging

Foraging for Captive Big Cats 

When I was the enrichment coordinator at Audubon, we utilized foraging enrichment as management tools for several species of big cats (exotic cat species).  Offering our jaguars, African wildcats, snow leopards, and lions various types of puzzle feeders helped to reduce common stereotypical stress behaviors often seen in captivity. This could be anything from pacing in an exhibit or hiding.  We also used puzzle feeders and hiding food to improve one’s body condition (keeping them lean), and to increase exploratory behavior (encouraging them to explore their environment to prevent boredom and increase exercise). We also used food and foraging enrichment to decrease aggression, frustration, and fear.

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My dear feline friends at Audubon: Garth, Ditteaux, and Yaqui


House Cats Need to Forage for Food, Too!

Our fluffy cats are not that far flung from these feline ancestors. The innate desire to explore their environment with confidence, and to hunt for their food is still very alive and well within them!  Fears, frustration, aggression, and boredom are all just as common in our homes as it is for Big Cats in captivity.  A stagnant environment is a breeding ground for medical and behavioral issues.  As cat guardians we need to be encouraging healthy hunting and foraging behaviors. We need to be providing this kind of healthy mental and physical stimulation for our felines.

That’s where enrichment puzzles come into play!


 

The Semi-domesticated House Cat

House cats aren’t that far flung from their feline ancestors and modern day wildcats. But we are treating them as if they are.  Companion dogs are considered fully domesticated. Cats are only “semi-domesticated“.  In fact, the genomes of housecats have changed very little from their wild counterparts. And some house cats still breed with their wild relatives!  Scientists now say there is very little that separates the average house cat (Felis Catus) from its wild brethren (Felis silvestris).  And there is even some debate over whether our house cats fit the definition of “domesticated”.  That’s why I often refer to our cats as wee “house panthers.” Our house cats need just as much enrichment that their wild counterparts receive every day.

“We don’t think cats are truly domesticated.”Wes Warren, PhD, associate professor of genetics at The Genome Institute at Washington University

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Satisfying a Feline’s Innate Need to Forage

The concept of working for food is natural for all hunters. You may see your house cat as a cuddly cat, but beneath sweet exterior is a hunter.  House cats are hardwired to hunt and forage for food just like their feline kin, such as lions, tigers, and jaguars.  All cats, no matter the species,  are hardwired to use their highly developed senses and physical skills to hunt, capture, and kill their prey.

But are we encouraging this in our homes?

Not really.

And if it’s being done, it’s not happening enough, or done properly.

 Although standard diets may adequately satisfy the nutrient needs of domestic cats, their usual presentation may not promote expression of normal hunting (exploratory) behaviors. Meeting nutrient needs in ways that mimic cats’ natural preferences provides additional enrichment. – Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats, by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVBa and C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVNb

Make Them Work for Food!

Cats in the wild hunt for their food.  Not only is it in their nature to capture and kill, but they LOVE it.  Your feline family member should be “working” for their food, too.  Even if they are not living in the wild, they still should have access to this wild instinct!  Hunting is a natural feline behavior, and our couch potato cats need this outlet.  

Why make them work for it?!?,  you might ask.  Great question.  A study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more.  These dogs were also more likely to try to solve the problem again, rather than if they were just given a reward.  The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.

I have yet to see any studies that parallel this with cats , but from my professional experience with exotic cats and personal experience with house cats, all of these species get very excited when they have to work for a treat or for their meal!

Cats who are living in the wild will forage and hunt on and off for hours. They will also eat 10 to 20 small meals throughout the day.  But with our house cats, when we provide commercial cat food, we have removed the ability of housecats to hunt for survival.

But that innate desire and need to hunt is STILL present within your feline friend.

Housecats need foraging opportunities!  Most of them spend as much time eating out of a food dish as they would be foraging and eating in the wild!

“This has led to an obesity epidemic in pet cats.  Many of these cats eat out of boredom. But foraging allows cats the activity and the entertainment of ‘the hunt.’” – Ilona Rodan, veterinarian and co-chair of the AAFP’s Feline Behavior Guidelines.


Foraging Felines

One food-based enrichment foraging tool that you can try at home (or at your shelter) is a “puzzle feeder.”   The old school (traditional) method of feeding animals out of a bowl does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors.  Food based and foraging enrichment keeps animals active and interested, while encouraging natural behaviors!  These help to satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to search for their food.

I have written about this topic at length, but if you are a cat guardian who’s new to this blog, and new to the idea of food enrichment, consider trying out something simple such as the Maze Bowl.  It’s an interactive slow feed bowl for cats.  In the video below Knox shows us how much he loves using it. (And King Albert peeks in at the end to see if there is any leftover.)

Note: If your cat has a sensitivity to Whisker Stress, this might not be the best enrichment feeding tool.


 

Pick Puzzles That Are Perfect for Your Pussycat.

The Maze Bowl is what I consider the beginner puzzle level.  But it’s not for every cat.  It’s easy and fun for very food-motivated felines. Two of our four cats will use it; the other two would go hungry before they used it. – mainly because of their Whisker Stress. That’s why it’s important to know that there are many other styles of puzzle feeders out there!

Here are a few that our cats, or my client’s cats have had great success with, or I trust the people/companies who make them:Catit senses food puzzle maze - small

Note: We don’t feed dry food to our felines any longer. We rotate between premade raw, canned wet food, and various freeze-dried meats.  But for those of you who are feeding dry food, another option you can explore is this feeder. 

Interactive Puzzle Feeder for Cats
Mr. Beaux, one of our senior cats using an interactive feeder. Beaux is an example of a cat who needs plenty of space to feel safe and secure while he “hunts”.


DIY Puzzles

I don’t know what I would do without recycling for enrichment. I have depended on it for nearly 20 years in both a professional and personal setting.  If you love to recycle and if you/someone in your family is creative, there is no end to the puzzle feeders that you can make!

Puzzle feeders can be made of almost anything, as long as it’s safe for the cat. There are mobile devices, stationary, sturdy devices, and even devices that you can hang and they swing. Do It Yourself Puzzle feeders can be used to provide either wet or dry food


Puzzle Feeder Feeding Stations

I should mention that each of our four cats have their own puzzle feeder “feeding station.” In the wild cats are solitary hunters.  Cats who are now living indoors are not exempt from this feline fact.  That means at mealtime in your home, they should be solo (away from other cats).  Forcing our feline family members to gobble down in a group can be very stressful to some cats.

In our home Knox is the food-frenzied feline. He used to inhale his food, then race over to the elderly cats, shove them out of the way, then gobble down their meal like a Meal Monster!  Not only is this rude and stressful, but Knox is on a very portion controlled diet, so he is not allowed to have “second breakfasties.”  Secondly, only one of the other cats (King Albert) will disagree with this rude behavior and set Knox straight.  Mr. Beaux, the more meek and gentle senior cat, will wander off and let Mr. Eats a Lot devour his dinner.

Not cool.

And it’s really not cool for us as cat guardians to allow this behavior to occur.  That’s why I love using Maze Bowls for the food frenzied feline. And that’s also why I give the senior boys their own quiet places to eat in peace.

And speaking of dining alone, any puzzle feeders that you use with your cats should be placed accordingly and safely around your home.  We want these to be novel areas, and novel enrichment items, not new feeding stations that encourage competition for a highly valued primary resource (food).


 Preference and Choice Matters!

 It’s very important to be aware that whenever we are considering changing a high value resource (food), or how it’s offered to the animal, we must offer the new resource adjacent to the familiar resource.  So if you want to try out a new puzzle feeder, such as the Maze Bowl, offer it in close proximity to where your cat’s current feeding platform or feeding bowl is currently.  This allows the cat to display his/her preference for one feeding mechanism or the other.  We don’t want to force our felines to use “this or that”. Cats need choices.  Choice encourages confidence!  When you offer your feline family member a choice, you will quickly see which one your cat prefers, and which one he/she wants to use (or ignore).

Imposing unfamiliar, undesirable resources on a cat may create an additional stressor in the cat’s environment.  –Herron, DVM, DACVB and Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVN


Encourage your Cat!

 Be there with your feline family member as he discovers his new foraging toy or feeder.  Encourage your cat every time she makes a small success!  Don’t just leave her alone with the new toy or puzzle feeder.  You wouldn’t offer a puzzle to a child, then leave him/her alone in a room to “figure it out.”  You would guide the child, and encourage the child when they make progress!  The same is true for our feline friends.  Encourage them.  Praise them when they make small progress, and reward them even when they are just trying to figure it out!

Note:  Many cat guardians perceive their cats to be “finicky eaters,” recent evidence suggests that food refusal is a common feline response to environmental threat.  So it’s important to look at the big picture. See what could be causing your cat to refuse to even explore a new feeding option. Remember to encourage your cat by making changes gradually.

senior cat enrichment_DIY cats
Senior cats like King Albert the Grey need gentle foraging options. This glue-free paper towel roll makes a fun feeder tube at one of his mealtimes during the day. Albert needs a lot of encouragement while foraging.


Keeping Peace with Puzzles

Food puzzles have been an excellent facilitator for making friends among felines. A couple of our cats would rather hang with us, or the dog, when given the choice. -Having another cat all up in their space is less than desirable.  But puzzle feeders have bridged the gap between cats who could care less about each other.

Puzzle feeders have also been a saving grace at times when we want to keep the peace in close kitty quarters.  One example of this is when we were moving.  As I talked about before, all of us were confined to various hotels across the country for nearly a month.  Puzzle feeders (and feeding stations) helped to keep the peace and increase kitty (and canine) confidence.

Since they Kitty Boys (and Hocus Pocus) were already acclimated to various puzzle feeders and their own feeding mats (stations) prior to the move, we were able to easily encourage each of them to focus their minds and energy onto something positive and highly rewarding while we were all crammed together.  Rather than focusing on what might be a very stressful situation to them (new sights, sounds, and smells) they were so excited to forage for their food!  Rather than becoming aggressive to one another, or having a full-on-feline-freak-out-fear-fest every time we had to relocate into a new hotel every day, each animal knew that once we got settled in, play time (puzzles time) was coming their way.

Puzzle feeders saved the day. And night.

Every dang day.

Cat DIY puzzle feeder_conscious Companion_hotel with cats
Thanks to a cough medicine box, King Albert the Grey was able to eat in peace, and Knox overcame his fear of the hotel room door. It was a quick and easy DIY puzzle feeder during our move.

 


Positive Side to Food Puzzles

Not only do feline food puzzles encourage cats to engage in (part of) their natural predation sequence of stalking, capturing, and consuming their prey, but there are other benefits as well.  If your feline is a tubby tabby like ours was, food puzzle toys can encourage cats to lose weight!  And in some instances, the successful introduction of food puzzle toys has helped to resolve litter box issues. (Yes, you read that correctly; mental and physical enrichment can help with other behavioral issues in your home!).

When a cat is actively engaged in getting their food (rather than having it served to them in a boring bowl) this foraging activity encourages cats to be more active. This kind of activity increases confidence, helps to reduce stress levels, and … here’s my favorite part: cats become less demanding of their owners.

Hallelujah!

DIY puzzle feeder for cats.jpg
Knox having a field day with some foraging enrichment


More to Come for Cats!

On October 10th I will be hosting a free member webinar on this topic. It is entitled, “Foraging Felines: Providing House Cats with Necessary Mental and Physical Stimulation Through Fun with Their Food.”  I would love for you to join us!
If you missed it, you can  sign up here for the replay!

For now offer your felines some food foraging fun!

cat enrichment _big Cats
Someone is enjoying a post-foraging-fun nap.


 

Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them. – Jim Davis


Recommended Reading and Videos:

Supplemental Videos for PPG Webinar: ” Foraging Felines: Providing House Cats with Necessary Mental & Physical Stimulation Through Fun with Food”

Senior Cat Enrichment – Scent Work for Senior Felines!

 What’s Environmental Enrichment and Why your Cat NEEDS it.

 Environmental Enrichment for Cats

 Puzzle Feeders for Cats

Food Puzzles for Cats

 Your Cat Would Like Food Puzzle Toys

 Ask Smithsonian: Are Cats Domesticated?

 More cat resources

Honoring a King, Whose Death Sparked Outrage Around the World

All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. – Chief Seattle

Cecil the Lion

I was deeply saddened and angered today when I learned of another senseless and preventable death.  His name is Cecil. He was a 13 year young African male lion (Panthera leo).  Cecil was a regal male who was breeding and helping to increase Africa’s lion populations.  Cecil was -and remains- a symbol of strength, beauty, and courage. Cecil was in the prime of his life just weeks ago.

His body was found decapitated and skinned outside of his preserve earlier this month.

This Was Not an Honorable Death

According the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a charity which focuses on the conservation and preservation of wildlife in the southern African country, Cecil was lured from the safety of the private safari across an old railway line, which acts as an invisible boundary, onto hunting lands.  It was here where the hunters were waiting to take advantage. They used a goat carcass to bait Cecil onto their land -an all too common and dirty practice seen throughout Africa.

Cecil was then shot with a crossbow in the Gwaai concession about 1,100 yards from the protection of the national park. Cecil did not die immediately; it took two days to track the lion and kill him with a rifle.  Cecil was then skinned and his head was removed as a trophy.  They left his body there to rot.

Hwange conservation consortium says this hunt was illegal.

Although it is legal to kill Big Game such as lions, giraffe, elephants in some of these areas, the hunters claim they had not realized who this lion was: “It was a magnificent, mature lion,” they said.  “We did not know it was well-known lion.  I had a licence for my client to shoot a lion with a bow and arrow in the area where it was shot.”

Apparently, there were other irregularities in the hunt which are being investigated, including the fact that in the Gwaai Conservancy no lion hunting quota was issued for 2015, and the GPS collar on Cecil was destroyed by the hunters.

Cecil was wounded by a crossbow and arrow, and then killed, skinned and decapitated 40 hours later


Cecil Was a Part of a Conservation Research Program.

When he was killed, Cecil was wearing a GPS-collar.  A team of researchers in Hwange National Park have been conducting an ongoing study on behalf of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University since 1999.  It’s been an ongoing ecological study of African lions in Hwange.  They are measuring the impact of sport-hunting beyond the park on the lion population within the park, using radio-telemetry and direct observation.  The research they have gathered to date is startling.

34 of 62 tagged lions died during the study period; 24 were shot by sport hunters.  These sport hunters killed 72 percent of tagged adult males from the study area. This caused a decline in numbers of adult males in the population.


Cecil’s Prides

Conservationists are concerned that by killing Cecil, his death leaves as many as 12 cubs vulnerable to infanticide by male lions who will assume leadership of Cecil’s prides. (Males commonly kill the cubs of ousted pride leaders so that they may sire their offspring with the females they inherit.)  Cecil was in coalition with another male lion, Jericho.  Between them they had two prides that consisted of six lionesses, and about a dozen cubs.

Cecil lion cubs pride

Cecil’s death is a tragedy, not only because he was a symbol of Zimbabwe, but because now his cubs will die too; a new male won’t allow them to live, to encourage Cecil’s three females to mate.  Hunting predators on the boundaries of national parks such as Hwange causes significant disturbance and knock-on effects such as infanticide when new males entered the prides.  As a single male, Jericho will be unable to defend the two prides and cubs from new males that invade the territory. This is what we most often see happening in these cases. Infanticide is the most likely outcome.

 -Dr. Andrew Loveridge


 Cecil the African Lion in Hwange, Zimbabwe

The video below shows Cecil, like many of the species in the area, enjoying life on the preserve with his family.

Footage of Cecil with one of his prides

Tourists from only one lodge collectively pay $9,000 per day. Zimbabwe could have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, rather than being shot by someone paying a one-off fee of $45,000.
Tourists from only one lodge collectively pay $9,000 per day. Zimbabwe could have brought in more in just five days by having Cecil’s photograph taken, rather than being shot by someone paying a one-off fee of $45,000.


Lions Are Complex.

A recent study conducted on the socio-spatial behavior of lion population following the perturbation by sport hunting shows that there’s growing evidence that lion populations which are socially disrupted may be more prone to coming into conflict with human communities on the boundaries of protected areas.  They believe this is largely because movement patterns become erratic and lions are more likely to leave the park.

“These cats are complex, which is why disturbance of their social system has such far reaching knock-on effects.” – Dr. Loverage


Lions By the Numbers

  • 600 lions are killed by tourists each year.
  • Lions have vanished from over 80% of their historic range.
  • Lions are listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
  • In West and Central Africa, the species is now classified as Endangered.
  • Lions exist today in 29 countries, including 28 countries in Africa and 1 country in Asia.
  • Illegal killing, relentless habitat loss, and over hunting of wild prey by humans have left lions precariously close to extinction.
  • Kenya loses 100 of its 2,000 wild lions every year due to killing by humans.
  • At this rate, lion experts believe there will be no wild lions left in Kenya by 2030.
  • 100 years ago there were 200,000 lions living in the wild in Africa. Today there are fewer than 30,000.
  • Lions are extinct in 26 countries.

The premature death of this lion highlights a sobering reality: lion populations are in catastrophic decline across Africa. A century ago, more than 200,000 lions roamed the continent; yet recent surveys estimate that in the last two decades alone, lion numbers have decreased from approximately 30,000 to around 20,000. –Panthera

Africa’s Lions Face a Tri-Fold Threat:

  1. Retaliatory persecution by herders and farmers
  2. Dramatic loss and fragmentation of habitat
  3. Scarcity of wild prey due to overhunting by hu­mans.

lion
Graphic from Panthera

Lions have slipped under the conservation radar for too long. If we do not act now, lions will find themselves in the same dire predicament as their Asian counterpart, the tiger. – Dr. Guy Balme, Panthera’s Leopard Program Director


Weighing In

Below are recent statements from sport hunters and conservationists in the area where Cecil resided.

Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides AssociationJuly 23 at 10:33am ·

“Zimbabwe Parks Wildlife Management Authority, are currently still conducting an investigation on the legalities of the hunt that took place and for which they are the appropriate authority to do so. We therefore can not and will not comment on the legal aspect, whilst this investigation is ongoing. ZPHGA are working together with ZPWMA and Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ).  ZPHGA confirms the Professional Hunter in charge of the Safari is a member of ZPHGA. Therefore ZPHGA can make a ruling on the aspect of ethics and his membership at this time.  ZPHGA in the follow up of the investigation concludes that in regarding the responsibility of his membership, the PH was is in violation of the ethics of ZPHGA.  ZPHGA therefore with immediate effect, suspend his membership indefinitely.  The professional hunter and company he works for have been co-operative in the investigation.  ZPHGA re-iterates it will not tolerate any illegal hunting or any unethical practices by any of its members and their staff. ZPHGA will await the completion of the current investigation by ZPWMA before commenting any further.  We ask all members of ZPHGA, as well as the general public, to please respect the ongoing investigation underway by the appropriate authorities ZPWMA.”

——

Bhejane Trust  July 23 at 1:58am · An update on the killing of Cecil, the famed Hwange lion.

“The PH, Theo Bronkhurst, and the concession “owner”, one Honest Mpofu, were arrested and appeared in Hwange Magistrate court on the charge of illegally killing a lion. According to sources, there was no permit for lion on their hunt, and the concession area (Antionette) does not have any lion on quota. They have been remanded out of custody until August 6th. so Parks can continue their investigations.  Cecil was shot at night, no doubt after being blinded with a spotlight, undoubtedly over a bait which would have been dragged along the Parks boundary (supposedly for a leopard!) – indicative of the poor ethics and the poor quality hunter that we see too often these days. Undoubtedly, the PH intended to do a “quota transfer” where Cecil would have been recorded as shot in another area which had a quota and permit – the satellite collar blew the plan ( although Bronkhurst apparently tried to destroy the collar and all evidence of the dead Cecil). Had this lion not been collared, Bronkhurst probably would have got away with this crime, and I very much doubt this is the first dodgy episode in his hunting career.   Lets hope that corruption does not prevail and the full force of the law falls on both these characters – we do not need these types operating in Zimbabwe.”

Latest update on Cecil’s killing, July 28:

JOINT PRESS STATEMENT BY ZIMBABWE PARKS AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY AND SAFARI OPERATORS ASSOCIATION OF ZIMBABWE ON THE ILLEGAL HUNT OF A COLLARED LION AT ANTOINETTE FARM, HWANGE DISTRICT ON 1 JULY 2015 IN GWAYI CONSERVANCY BY BUSHMAN SAFARIS

“Theo Bronchorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris is facing criminal charges (VIC FALLS Police CR 27/07/2015) for allegedly killing a collared lion on Antoinette farm in Gwayi Conservancy, Hwange district on 1 July 2015. The lion named ‘Cecil’ was well known and regularly sighted by tourists in the Main camp area of Hwange National Park. It is alleged that the hunter connived with the Antoinette land owner, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu to kill the lion. Ongoing investigations to date, suggest that the killing of the lion was illegal since the land owner was not allocated a lion on his hunting quota for 2015. Therefore, all persons implicated in this case are due to appear in court facing poaching charges.  Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management as the Regulatory Authority and custodian of all wild animals in Zimbabwe issues hunting permits and hunting quota for all hunting areas in Zimbabwe so that only animals on quota are to be hunted. In this case, both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.   Both professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst’s licence number 553 who was involved in the hunt and the owner of Antoinette farm, Mr. Honest Trymore Ndlovu are being jointly charged for illegally hunting the lion. The two are due to appear in court on Wednesday, 29 July 2015. Efforts are being made to interview the other professional hunter, Zane Bronkhorst, licence number 558, who was also involved in the illegal hunt. The Professional Hunter Theo Bronkhosrt’s Licence has been suspended with immediate effect. The lion trophy has also been confiscated. The relevant stakeholders have been informed and are being updated about this matter.”

Cecil the Lion
Cecil in his prime


Cecil Is Not the Exception. 

The premeditated killing of Cecil is tragic and heartbreaking.  People all around the world are in shock.  But be aware, friends: This situation is not the exception, but rather the rule all around the world.  American hunters kill hundreds of African lions each year. – 600 in fact. That’s almost 2 per day.  Poaching, sport hunting, illegal animal trade, and everything between happens every day.  Most people don’t know about it until a story like Cecil’s strikes a deep nerve.

The loss of Cecil is absolutely reprehensible, and sadly, this case is not an anomaly. Many people around the world are unaware that what happened to this lion is happening all over Africa, dozens of times a day. Illegal killing of lions is a real threat to the species’ survival. If we are to save the lion, the international community must come together, as it has in support of Cecil, to fund conservation initiatives that are mitigating the species’ greatest threats. -Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter

A 19-Year-Old Cheerleader Who Hunts Endangered Species
A 19-Year-Old Cheerleader Who Hunts Endangered Species

We are all outraged today because an iconic animal and protected species was lured out of his sanctuary and murdered for sport, but this kind of business has been, and continues to happen in every country in the world.  And what’s really happening is a much greater problem than we are willing to recognize and admit.  Killing for sport, trophies, profit, and fun is happening within younger generations.  We are even seeing young girls being encouraged to hunt and kill for the thrill of taking life.

Cecil’s story has gone viral within hours, but there are countless other species whose lives have ended for much less profit; species far less iconic and less “attractive” than Cecil.  Whether it’s critically endangered species such as the Blue Iguana, Pangolin, or Northern white rhino, people are treating all species as if their lives don’t matter.

The team of hunters who killed Cecil are going to be prosecuted, but honestly, I am not focused on blaming this guy and his hunting team in particular, because there are a thousand more rich Americans who are willing to do what he did, and they do it legally every day.  In fact, while we all mourned Cecil’s death, 5 of Kenya’s endangered elephants were killed.  This is insanity to me.

I have to ask,  Where is the disconnect?  

When did honor and dignity of life become so undervalued?  

How did we become so disconnected from the other lives with whom we share this planet?  

How are so many of us behaving unconsciously?  

Where is the compassion and connection? 

Big 5: Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to bag the Big 5 African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and lion)
Jones says her first kill was a rare African white rhino, part of her quest to “bag the Big 5” African game animals (rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and lion)


May Cecil’s Death Shed Light On Our Darkness …. and Our Ability to Love.

Conservationists are heavily involved in working to stop this illegal (and legal) activity.  These people and organizations are incredibly passionate and dedicated, but they have their work cut out for them.  I know because I have been involved with various conservation projects for decades.  In the process  I have witnessed incredible people doing amazing things to save species and conserve lands, but I have also witnessed more ugliness, greed, disdain, complacency, and tragedies than I care to recall.

Along the way I learned something: When we are disconnected from ourselves, each other, and the world that surrounds us, people can easily do what we have witnessed with Cecil.

Understanding this fact has helped me to rise above the disgust, anger, and judgement that I initially feel.   When I see blatant disregard and respect for life I am urged to look at the situation from a broader perspective.

Once I get the anger and sadness out, I am free to be able to ask, What can be learned from this?  How can we grow from this?  How can we guide and inspire others to respect all life?  It’s not enough to be angry and judge “the people who did this”, or merely want things to change.  We have to do more.

Change Begins with Each of Us.

If you want to see change, look within.  Once we look within and are honest with ourselves we are better equipped to make a real difference out there in the world.  This current situation with beloved Cecil is an opportunity for that.

If we want to end this kind of heartless and disconnected behavior around the world, we must ask ourselves tough questions:

What are we looking away from that needs to be discussed?

Are we idly sitting by and allowing this to happen?

Where can we take productive and meaningful action?

Have I done something like this to another species?

How can we remove the hate and prejudices that blind us?

Am I  withholding love to anyone or any form of life?  

Have I taken any specie’s life without forethought?

Am I disconnected from others?

Am I disconnected and from nature?

How can we maintain and enhance our connection to all life?

How can I become more connected?

How can we remove judgement and blame and find solutions?

How can we infuse Love into situations like these?

How can we do our part to protect species and the Earth?

How can we encourage children to appreciate all people and all species of life?

What are we teaching our children?

Before we judge anything outside of us, before we throw hate, anger, and blame at others, we must look within.  


Honoring Cecil

Cecil’s death has inspired millions of people to see things from a different perspective, and to take action around the ongoing global issue of animal abuse. His death has shined light on how disconnected so many are from our fellow travelers on planet Earth.   Cecil, thank you for bringing awe, joy, and awareness into countless people’s lives while you were here with us.  Thank you for the lessons that you continue to teach us.  May your soul be at peace.  May the circumstances of your death be the catalyst for change.  May all nations learn from this.  May one day, we all see every living being as our kin.

Cecil the Lion
Be at peace, brother.

I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect.  -David Suzuki 


Recommended Related Reading

As the world mourned Cecil the lion, five of Kenya’s endangered elephants were slain 

Rich American tourists kill hundreds of lions each year, and it’s all legal. 

The State of the Lion.

–> Project Leonardo: Saving Africa’s Lions

–> How you can help Lions right now

–> Panthera and WildCRU Call for Global Efforts to Conserve the African Lion

Petitioning CEO, Delta Air Lines and 4 others to End the Transport of Exotic Animal Hunting Trophies

Who Says Only House Cats Like Toilet Paper?

Who Says Only House Cats Like Toilet Paper?

A surprise attendant was spotted at the restrooms of Ngorongoro Crater National Park.