No, big cats do not play with laser pointers. We can thank Big Cat Rescue (BCR) for finding out conclusively how big cats relate to laser pointers. The term “big cats” is rather vaguely defined but for the sake of this article I’ll state that they are the lion, tiger, leopard and Jaguar. BCR checked the response with a lion, a tiger, and a jaguar (or leopard as it is hard to tell in the video).
For instance, the video below opens up with a serval enjoying playing with a laser pointer. There appears to be no difference at all between how a serval reacts to a laser pointer and a domestic cat. But when it was pointed at the ground in front of three species of big cat they were either a little frightened or completely disinterested. The jaguar didn’t even notice it.
The puma noticed it and appeared to be either disinterested or slightly disconcerted by it. They also found that the smaller wild cats did react positively to the laser pointer although one appears to have ignored it. The conclusion has to be that the big cats are not stimulated to play with laser pointers.
Comment: this begs the question as to why. I have to try and find an answer. The reason why laser pointers are effective normally is because cats are very sensitive to movement. They associate movement with prey items and want to attack. The smaller wild cats including the serval, which is a medium-sized cat, attack small mammals as their primary prey. The laser pointer is a bit like a small mammal rummaging around the undergrowth.
The big cats’ primary prey are large animals such as large ungulates. They need to attack and kill large animals in order to sustain themselves although they are opportunist hunters and will eat pretty well anything that is before them. However, my initial assessment is that the big cats are not stimulated by small mammal movements as are the smaller wild cat species. They are stimulated by large, slower moving animals which stand well above the grass in which small mammals like rodents live. It is about what interests the big cats and large prey animals do and small ones usually don’t.
This is my common sense assessment. However, I am a little surprised that the big cats were disinterested. Before I watched the video I thought I would see them enjoying playing with laser pointers.