Domestic and feral cats sometimes live in groups and the lion, a big cat, lives in groups (prides). These are not the only two cat species who live in groups as male cheetahs also form coalitions.
Domestic and feral cats
Domestic cats often live solitary lives and they’re considered to be solitary animals but they can live in groups around a food resource and become sociable animals. I’m mainly referring to semi-domesticated feral cats normally under TNR programs or informal groups of community cats where food sources are consistently available. In these groups, the females compete for food and safe areas to rear their young while the males compete for access to the females. It’s a social system controlled largely by the predictability of the food supply and its quantity. The timing of females going into heat is also a factor. The females support each other in rearing their kittens.
Domestic cats in multi-cat homes also live in groups satisfactorily, a lot of the time. It’s a forced situation but domestic cats are adaptable and we see thousands of photographs of domestic cats living in groups in happy homes although there is always a potential for antagonism between individuals because of the innate character of the independent-minded domestic cat.
To conclude, food is a key factor in promoting group living for domestic, stray and feral cats. TNR programs support managed feral cat groups. These cats are not genuinely feral because lots of them are semi-domesticated. Volunteers feed the cats and trap and neuter them. They also check on their health and vaccinate them under some programs. But they are evidence that domestic and semi-domestic feral cats can and do live in groups when the circumstances are right. Although all the documented cases of domestic cats living in groups occur around artificial food sources.
I don’t think I need to discuss this in much detail because all the world knows that lions living prides i.e. groups, and they are the only big cats who do this. The social system of lions is different to that of other wild cat species. In other wild cat species, the social organisation consists of a male range that overlaps the ranges of several females. In lion prides such as in the Gir Forest of India (Asiatic lion) males and females lead separate lives and associate during mating and at large hunts. The prides are made up of related females, their young and subadult male offspring. The average number of adult females in a pride is between 4 and 5 (within the range 1-11). The males make up coalitions of 2-6 individuals.
In the Serengeti of Africa, a pride is made up of 2-18 adult females, their cubs, and 1-7 males. All the females are related and are the core of the pride which is made up of sisters, daughters, cousins and aunts. The females do most of the hunting and killing but the males displace females and their cubs at kills.
The social organisation of the cheetah is unique among the cats. Although females are solitary or accompanied by dependent offspring, males are either solitary or live in stable coalitions of 2-3 individuals. Some of these coalitions are made up of brothers but sometimes unrelated males can also create groups. Cheetah male groups mate with as many females as possible in contrast to groups formed by male lions which remain attached to and mate with the females in a single pride.
Although female cheetahs travel a lot and over large distances sometimes covering several hundred square kilometres as they follow prey, the majority of male cheetahs in the Serengeti live in coalitions i.e. groups and they are also more sedentary than females. They have small territories of about 30 km² where there is good vegetative cover and a good abundance of antelope.
My thanks to the best book on the Wildcats to help me through this article: Wildcats of the World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist.