How To Reintroduce Big Cats
People often ask why we don't let our cats all live together in one big yard. I used to think they were just baiting me to snap at them, because exotic cats will kill each other and at the end of the day there would only be one cat left standing. As the years rolled into decades I realized that most people just don't know anything about wild animals; especially wild cats. Their questions are sincere and we have answered countless queries about why big cats don't like sharing space. The question I am addressing here today is:
Why Do You Have to Reintroduce Cats Who Have Always Lived Together?
The reason is that cats are solitary by nature. They don't like sharing space for the most part. It is our human interference, based on our primate mentality that likes companionship, that insists cats would be happier in pairs or groups too. It just isn't true.
When we say this, we inevitably get the "Oh yeah, well what about lions? or cheetah?"
Those are social groups of family members. Lions don't just head out looking for new friends to add to their pride. Males take over prides by killing the competing males and all of the cubs. Cheetah who work in groups are usually male siblings who find it easier to work in a pack until they develop better skills. Cheetah are so inbred and thus so rare in captivity that they almost never end up in sanctuaries and there have never been any here. We have tried, over the years, to introduce lions to each other, but it's never worked for us. Other places do it, but I don't know how they can give individuals the care they need when they are in large groups.
There will always be spats, over the best sleeping spots, the best lookout spots, the best toys, and especially over food. It's kind of like the old joke about men and remote controls; "They don't want to know what is on T.V., they want to know what else is on T.V." The same goes for cats in groups. It doesn't matter how much food there is or how often they get fed, cats always want to know what the other cats got, and that leads to fights. At Big Cat Rescue we separate cats at feeding time until everyone in the pair or group is done eating so we can be sure they had plenty of time to eat in peace and to make sure that any who are on meds got their medication. The minute you open the gates back up they are checking out the other feeding lockouts to see what the other cats might have had.
When a cat is pulled from a group for surgery or medical care there is always a tense process of reintroducing them. First we put them back into the enclosure, but separated into their own section. We may switch them out between sections to get their scent on things again and to re acclimate them to the terrain. When possible we will make the reintroduction in the heat of the day when no body wants to exert energy on fighting. We make the reintroductions brief and stand by ready to break it up with water hoses, noise makers or fire extinguishers. As long as the fights are just noise and not involving any actual contact we will continue the sessions together for longer periods of time until we are sure they are going to get along.
Why Do It At All?
It is such a tedious and dangerous process to introduce wild cats to each other and to reintroduce them, you might wonder why we do it at all if they would rather have their own space. There are a few reasons.
1. As the cats age they are less apt to fight and more apt to actually help each other groom spots they can't reach. They need to have learned to live together when they were younger if they are going to trust each other when they begin losing their sight, hearing or mobility.
2. Captivity is boring and sometimes just having someone to fuss with or about is better than nothing.
3. This could be a sub heading to #2 above, but cats are highly intelligent and problem solving keeps them from losing their minds in captivity. For those cats who will tolerate company at all, it is an opportunity for them to work things out with their cage mates.
Sometimes you will see us post comments about how much the cats love each other or we might say other anthropomorphic things about our cats, but that is just to entertain and engage with our audience. We know cats have their own way of doing things and their own agendas. We are just trying to help get their issues out to the masses who may become more involved in doing what is necessary to protect these cats in the wild and to end the practices of breeding them for life in cages.