An insight into animal perceptions and understanding can be obtained from an experiment by farmers in southern IndiaA. Farmers painted black stripes and spots on dogs. To monkeys who were raiding crops of coffee and areca, these ‘tiger dogs’ are an effective deterrent. The monkeys stay away. On the face of it there can only be one reason: they think the dogs are tigers (or perhaps leopards if the dog had painted spots).
This begs the question as to what dogs and cats see and perceive. It touches on how domestic cats see their human companions. Do cats see us as big mother cats or as human animals who happen to provide food, warmth and security in a symbiotic relationship of two different species?
If, as the ‘tiger dog’ experiment suggests, striped dogs are seen as real tigers by monkeys, it might be fair to say that domestic cats don’t see us as cats. This is because when monkeys confuse painted dogs with tigers at least there is a great similarity. Dogs are much smaller than tigers but the general anatomy is similar and above all else humans are bipedal compared to our four-legged friends.
Perhaps it is a question of the quality of monkeys’ eyesight rather than perceptions. But I doubt that. I’d say it is more about monkeys’ perception and a cautious approach. Perhaps the monkeys have not actively decided if the painted dogs are tigers or not. Perhaps they are simply acting on instinct having made an emotional connection between an animal with stripes and possible injury and death.
Initially the famers used large soft tiger toys. These, too, proved to be a monkey deterrent but there pattern and coloring faded at which point the monkeys were no longer scared of them.
However, I am more inclined today to suggest, on the basis of the striped dog test, that domestic cats see us as a different species of animal that walks on two legs with whom they have a close relationship (normally). The domestic cat’s relationship with humans is simply another example of an interspecies relationship. And it is one that is by far the most common but there are many other examples, some of which I have linked to below.
Note A: the first farmer to try it was Srikanth Gowda in the state of Karnataka as reported by The Times hard copy newspaper.
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