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Claws and Effect

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  • 2 min read

Claws and Effect: Domestication

The journey of the canine from wild to domesticated seems intuitive to us: dogs are inherently loyal and generally friendly. We can picture the day our great ancestors slowly lured a gentle wolf to their camp with food, a warm fire and scratches behind the ears. Cats, on the other hand, are a bit more stoic, disinterested and aloof (or at least they appear to be). So how did we get the wild cats from thousands of years ago and turn them into the soft, loveable and sometimes affectionate friends we know today?

Alongside our domestic cats are tigers, pumas, and other wild cats belong to the Felidae family, both big and small. They’re generally untouched by humans, and aren’t effectively domesticated. The African wildcats, however, or their most distant ancestors, were. The domestic cat's closest ancestor is the African wildcat, scientifically known as Felis lybica. These wildcats lived in the Fertile Crescent in the Near East during the Neolithic period. They prowled in grasslands, hunted smaller animals and built their home in the grasslands. Until human agriculture, they were — not quite king of the jungle, but certainly rulers of their kingdom — then the humans came, as they do. The wildcats were attracted to the rodents that infested grain stores, feasting on their prey and protecting human crops, leading to a mutually beneficial relationship. 

Over time, wildcats which hung around human agricultural areas became more tolerant of human presence, they became less aggressive and as a result lived longer and reproduced more. Likely the protection of humans increased their survival and, thus the friendlier and more agreeable survived and evolved, becoming more suitable for domestication. Interestingly, these cats were represented in specific genes, such as those related to coat colour, size, and behaviour. This likely meant that humans were visually able to recognise cats which were more likely to be friendly and that, in return, the variety of cats shrunk and became specific enough to create cat “breeds” as we know them today.  

Once humans became more sophisticated and became interested in the idea of domesticated animals, selective breeding began. Selective breeding has played a significant role in shaping the diverse breeds of domestic cats we see today. Breeders have focused on specific traits, such as coat patterns, body structure, and temperament, to create unique cat breeds. 

Through natural selection, genetic adaptations, and human interaction, these once-wild creatures have evolved into the loveable and playful cats we know today. While tigers and pumas remain untamed, we can appreciate their beauty and respect their wild nature. So the next time you hear someone say cats are unfriendly, temperamental and not as good as dogs — or maybe when you yourself feel snubbed by your own  independent cat — remember that we got to where we got to because some very brave kitties many years ago took the leap and hung out with us. 

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