Very occasionally, you can read a story on the Internet about a person finding a wild cat kitten (cub). In America, this might more typically be a bobcat kitten. It might appear to the person that the kitten’s mother has abandoned her offspring. She takes in the kitten because she wants to do the right thing and protect this vulnerable creature. She might even believe that this wild-looking kitten can become a nice domestic cat companion.
Or she might be unaware that the kitten is a bobcat kitten because at that age they look like tabby cats although if you know your cat’s they certainly look wilder than your typical tabby kitten.
But under the circumstances described, it is best to leave the kitten alone on the reasonable assumption that the kitten has not been abandoned by their mother but she, alternatively, is out hunting and has been forced to leave her kittens alone. This is a time of vulnerability for her kittens certainly but it is the way nature works.
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It is wise to remember that cubs and kittens of the small wild cat species learn from their mothers how to hunt and what to eat. These are skills that the human cannot teach them.
A bobcat kitten raised by a person will become tame but they will never lose their wild personality. As a kitten they will be adorable but as an adult, on reaching maturity, they might and probably will become a wild cat in terms of behaviour or at least some wild cat personality traits which can place demands on the relationship.
There is a legal context as well in many countries. To not leave the kitten of a small wild cat species alone might well be a violation of federal wildlife law. In the US each state has their own laws on owning a wild cat or other exotic animal. It varies from outright bans, to licensing and freedom to do as you wish.
There is a difference between domesticating and taming cats. Domestic cats have been through a 10,000-year domestication process. Picking up a wild cat kitten and trying to domesticate them will not achieve the same level of domestication as presented by a domestic cat.
The same argument pertains to the sometimes-popular idea of turning a medium-sized wild cat species such as a caracal or a serval into a pet. They just don’t make good pets. You end up with a tame wild cat living with you in your home which to many people would be intolerable.
If you are a dedicated ‘exotic cat’ aficionado you might tolerate it. You might create a successful TikTok or other social media account to show off your tame caracal but it’ll be an effort to make it work as demonstrated by a well-known so-called pet caracal that I written about in the past in which you can read by clicking on this link if you wish.
Experts, James Sanderson PhD and Patrick Watson, on the small wild cats writes that “The difference in behaviour between a tame small [wild] cat and a domestic cat is substantial. Even when raised from a kitten, small cats can retain their wildness. A small cat can sometimes be tamed to eat from a bowl and allow itself to be petted, but it will still be more at home in the wild than in its owner’s home.”
They go on to explain that professional animal trainers can train small wild cats to be tame after several hours or more of daily training but “nevertheless, without constant reinforcement a small cat will forget its training and opt for the wild.”
There are two cat species which have been routinely, in the past, tamed and exploited to be companion hunters to normally rich maharajas in India namely the chertah and the caracal. The caracal’s leaping ability was useful when hunting birds such as pigeons. And often the cheetag went out with a Maharajah to hunt blackbuck, a small engine antelope. These events occurred in the 1800s and early 1900s and they are entirely different to trying to domesticate these animals to become a pet.
There are some small wild cat species which are more affable than others such as the margay. The jaguarundi can be quite tame when handled. I’ve mentioned the serval. The clouded leopard, quite a large medium-sized wild cat species, can be very amiable when tamed. They purr like domestic cats and you will see photographs on the Internet of them as lap cats. But this shouldn’t be confused with domestic cats.
The snow leopard, a much larger wild cat species, can also be very relatively friendly towards humans but once again not a pet. You will see pet pumas and even pet tigers but the same assessment applies.
While on this topic, it brings to mind the domestic cat’s personality. It doesn’t take long for them to revert to the wild. All they’ve got to do is to go outside into the backyard and into the countryside beyond to transform themselves into a wild cat. It is said that they are barely domesticated. Bearing this in mind you can see the problems with trying to domesticate a genuine wild cat.
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