Aren't They Lonely?
People keep commenting, when they see that our cats have enclosures all to themselves, that they must be lonely.
Trust me; if the cats actually wanted to share space with another cat, we would gladly do it because:
- People wouldn't keep insisting that they are lonely
- It would increase our ability to rescue more cats if we could double or triple cats up in a cage
- People just love those rare shots of cats being nice to each other and would share us more
Exotic Cats are Solitary by Nature
Immediately people will argue and say, "Lions live in prides!" That's true, but those are families of lions who were born into their hierarchy, or are the result of outside males coming in, killing all of the cubs and taking over the social system. It is not because lions just love to be with lions. In fact, lions are one of the most temperamental and hot blooded of the cats and will kill over the slightest, perceived provocation. Our lioness, Nikita, hates other cats of all species (lions included) so much that she can't even be housed where she can see another cat. If she can see one, she will spend all day trying to get at them; threatening them all the while. We have found that she is much happier and the sanctuary much more peaceful if we keep the other cats out of her sight.
Some will argue that cheetah males live in coalitions, but that is only because it is a successful hunting strategy and not because they really like sharing resources. Besides, you won't find cheetah in sanctuaries. They fetch too high a price in the retail markets of zoos to ever end up in need of rescue.
What About All Those Photos of Cats Grooming Each Other
Photos and videos of wild cats grooming each, playing together, or napping in a pile are the ones that go viral. Just like the ones of big cats and pigs, dogs, goats, etc. People love the notion of "everyone getting along" and will share those photos and video clips over and over and over. I've been on the Internet since 1996 and one of the first images of a tiger that I remember seeing was the tiger, staged with piglets wearing tiger skins. It's still around and is a horrible place in China that exploits the common human desire to be dazzled; at the expense of common sense.
We share photos and videos of our cats who like each other, but at this writing, in 2016, we have 86 exotic cats. 11 of them live in pairs and we have two sets of trios. The cats who live together at Big Cat Rescue have to have a full cage to themselves, and separate areas for feeding, because even the cats who adore each other at some times, will try to kill each other in the presence of food or treats. Before feeding time, and before handing out medications (in meat treats), enrichment or treats, we have to go through the sanctuary and separate them into their own spaces so they won't fight. We have to make sure all scraps are finished before opening them back up or they will fight over what is left. They are just hard wired to be that way. Nature tells them they won't survive if they share.
All of our cats who live together had been raised together since they were young. Max and Mary Ann were right on the outside limit of what we thought might be a safe age to try and pair them. It worked, but sometimes we have to call a time out because they will get so moody with each other. As long as they continue to show us that they want to be together, we will accommodate that, but when they tell us they are done with each other, then they can have their own space and never have to deal with the other again.
That's what happened with Zeus and Keisha. They seemed to want to be together and we did everything to make that happen for them, but Keisha was just too playful, and with Zeus' failing eyesight she was scaring him all the time and he was lashing out. They seem to like being neighbors without actually sharing a cage.
To reiterate, cats who share have additional enclosures which doubles or triples their territory. Another good reason for our enclosures being built in sections so we can quickly and safely separate cats as needed without any of them being cheated on space. More about our cages here: https://BigCatRescue.org/Cages
How Do Other Places Get Big Cats to Get Along?
When you see a bunch of wild cats living together in captivity, it is either because they are still not mature (even though them may be full size and look grown up) or they are only showing you what works and hiding what doesn't work. We have LIVE webcams all over the place, allow public tours 6 days a week, and will always respond to our fans' questions, if they ask politely.
When we rescued bobcats and lynx from fur farms there were 56 in 1993, 28 in 1994 and 22 in 1995 and we kept many of them in huge groups because they were youngsters. They grew up together, but what happens, even though we spay and neuter them, is that when they become adults, nature tells them to carve out their own territory and run everyone else off. When we would see a cat being picked on we would build them their own cage. That's why we have over 100 cages here. No one should come to a sanctuary and have to fight for their survival.
Some places continue to make the adult cats live together and take the attitude that a sanctuary has been provided and the cats will just have to work out their differences. What you won't see are the cats who were starved out by the pack, the ones with missing tails, ears, limbs or eyes. You won't see the ones who have been mauled to death by their "family." You will never know for sure who lives in a group because if the cats all had names, bios and some way for the public to always check in on them, the gig would be up that it doesn't really work the way it appears to in photos and videos.
About the only method that can keep the peace at all is to over feed the cats to the point where they are so obese they haven't the energy nor the strength to fight. That means shorter life spans for the cats too though because studies show that being overweight is the single most contributing factor to disease and death in all animals. Even that method of controlling the fighting doesn't work and Teisha Tiger is the perfect example.
Photos of her at her previous home showed that she and her cage mates were morbidly obese. This is often from the fact that the cheapest food to feed big cats is the fat that is trimmed off meats cut for human consumption. It's usually free and is enough to keep them alive, if not healthy. Teisha's owner reportedly told the government agents who seized his tigers that she couldn't walk because the other tigers "beat her up all the time."
At Big Cat Rescue we try to give the cats in our care the best life possible. No cat born in a cage can ever be set free, so it is up to us to make sure the rest of their lives are as free from stress as possible. Not making them share space, when it is against their nature to do so, is just one of the ways we do that.