Cat species that commit infanticide

There are five cat species which commit infanticide which is defined as the ‘intentional killing of infants’. On this page I am referring to the adults of cat species who kill their infants (filicide) and/or the infants of other parents of the same species. That’s a bit different. It is a tighter definition. Cubs of any wild cat species are vulnerable to a wide range of predators but it is relatively rare for cat species to kill cubs of their own species, either related or unrelated. These are the five:

  1. Domestic cat;
  2. Caracal;
  3. Leopard;
  4. Tiger and
  5. Lion.

Lion

Lion infanticide
Lion infanticide. Image: MikeB.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Of these five the lion is very well known to commit infanticide against the cubs of tigresses who belong to a pride which is being taken over by a group of male lions. The incoming males kill the cubs to bring the tigresses into heat so they are receptive to being mated immediately by them. The purpose: males need to create their own offspring. Sometimes females hide their cubs to protect them from infanticide.

Domestic cat infanticide
Domestic cat infanticide. Photo: Dee.

The domestic cat

I have a page on five reasons why mother cats kill their kittens (click here). The book I am referring to, Wild Cats of the World says, “Just as with lions, when female domestic cats cooperate to care for several litters, the behaviour is thought to be an adaptation for defence against infanticidal males”. The authors don’t tell us why the males are infanticidal. The only reason must be to sire their own offspring.

Caracal

In respect of the medium-size caracal, the same book states, “Infanticide has also been observed; five adult male caracals had the remains of caracal kittens in their stomachs”. These caracals lived Cape Province, South Africa (1981).

Leopard

The same reference book also states, “Male leopards have also been observed killing young cubs. In southern Israel at least eleven cubs were killed by three different males over a nine-year period.”

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that female leopards in this area have to travel long distances to find food which entails leaving their cubs unguarded for days on end. This leaves them particularly vulnerable. Why do males kill the cubs? Probably the same reason as stated for lions.

Tiger

Adult male tigers sometimes kill cubs at the site of a kill where tigers are feeding (click for some more). There is competition for a feeding spot at the carcass. It seems that in competing for these spots cubs can be killed. “There are records of males killing cubs, and some of these instances of infanticide occur at kills”. Female tigers are cautious about attending buffalo bait used by commercial enterprises to lure tigers to where the tourists are. Their young cubs are at risk. When the cubs are older she’ll approach the bait as she has to eat 50% more than normal.

There is a story online concerning Jerusalem zoo in which a Sumatran tiger killed and ate her 2 cubs. It is said that sometimes female tigers kill their cubs because of stress or because they are hungry. Zookeepers were very surprised. Perhaps she was stressed. It would be entirely plausible if she was. The reasons given are not stated in the best reference book that I have. This seems to be an open question at the moment as to whether female tigers kill and even eat their offspring under certain extreme conditions. But I need to report it in this article.

Postscript: this is a difficult area of research. I am open to input from visitors to add to the page. If you know better or have information which would help then please comment. It would be much appreciated.

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