Yes, sometimes male feral cats (and unowned domestic cats) do kill kittens normally for the same reasons that male lions commit infanticide. I’m going to rely on two sources for the information. The first is a study titled “Infanticide in rural male cats as a reproductive mating tactic” by Dominic Pontier and Eugenia Natoli dated October 27, 1999. I only have reference to the summary. The scientists reported six cases of infanticide in “the domestic cat” (I suspect that they were semi-domesticated or semi-feral). They were studying cat populations in the countryside. I believe that the country was France. They state that their study was the “first time that infanticide in a domestic cat has been witnessed directly and described”.
They found that the males who committed infanticide were fully adult and sexually mature but unknown. All the kittens killed by these males were within the first week of their life.
They state that what happened is similar to what happens in lion prides when incoming males take over a pride and kill the cubs of resident males in order to create their own line of offspring with the females who come into heat and become sexually receptive once they have lost their cubs. The scientists are saying that intact domestic cats in rural France behave somewhat like lions in Africa in this respect.
They state that the females tried to prevent the killing of their cubs, reacting aggressively but they couldn’t stop it happening. They propose three reasons as to why the infanticide took place:
- This male domestic cat behaviour is a “remnant of cat male reproductive strategy selected in the original environment”. By this they seem to be saying that it is a throwback to wild cat behaviour in the wild;
- The conditions for the cats studied in a rural environment placed upon them selection pressure which encouraged some males to be infanticidal and some not to be infanticidal. It’s a form of evolution in order to enhance survival;
- Thirdly, they state that domestic cat infanticide is an abnormal behaviour caused by certain environmental conditions such as disturbance by humans.
The refer to ‘domestic cats’. I suspect that they were semi-domestic but I’ve not read the full study. Perhaps they studied barn cats.
My second reference is Sarah Hartwell (messybeast.com). She is more bullish in her response to the question. She states that unowned domestic and feral cats frequently organise themselves into groups i.e. colonies a bit like lion prides. They are dominated by females and males come around when females are sexually receptive. The male cats establish a territory which contains a number of females and their territories. Males repel other males from these territories and it is in their interests to “destroy kittens which have been fathered by another male and which contain the genetic complement of his rival.”
She states that if a tomcat smells the scent of a rival tomcat, he may decide that the kittens have been fathered by this tomcat and he may kill them. The result is that the female does not raise kittens fathered by a rival male and secondly the female comes into oestrus within a few days and he can then mate with that female to have kittens of his own. This pretty well replicates what happens in lion prides.
SOME MORE ON INFANTICIDE: