Little Cats and Big Cats: Feral Vocalizations and Cooperation — ASN Events

Little Cats and Big Cats: Feral Vocalizations and Cooperation (#581)

Sara Waller 1 , Mariana Olsen 1 , Chris Kloth 2 , Alicia Netter 1
  1. Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, United States
  2. Philosophy, University of Nevada at Reno, Reno, Nevada, USA

Little is known about feral cat vocalizations, or how the vocalizations of felidae domesticus gone wild relate to cooperative communicative strategies of larger cats, such as lions. Beyond the aversive response they elicit in humans, the content of non-mating-based cat calls is unknown. Felis Catus in the feral state will congregate into highly social, matrilineal colonies. Though usually solitary predators, cats cooperate in young-rearing, with colonies often having “nursemaids” who feed many unrelated litters of kittens, allowing mothers to hunt.  While smaller cats do not necessarily form male-female pair-bonds, incidents of male cats hunting and sharing kills with colony kittens have been reported, suggesting affiliative and even (possibly) altruistic responses among males, not unlike their lion counterparts. This study contains both an empirical and a philosophical component.

The empirical study is ongoing, and we have currently recorded the vocalizations of 18 feral cats in June, July, August and September of 2014 and March of 2015, with subjects ranging in age from 3.5 weeks to 14 months, as they were exposed to humans in a foster home. Using Ramirez methods of friendly non-approach and strict association of food with people, to date, 11 cats are fully socialized and adopted into homes within 3 months, 1 was semi-socialized and became a barn cat.  6 are currently in the socialization process. We discuss types of vocalizations produced by the animals as they moved from shelter standards of feral to shelter standards of socialized and adoptable. We compare these calls to what (little) is known about lion vocalizations associated with coordinated action.

The philosophical aspect of the work focuses on the nature of meaning and mental representation in feline communication, honing notions of meaningfulness, intentionality, theory of mind, and self-referentiality in response to the call categories the data suggests.  We raise questions of possible infinite generativity in feline call types and sequencing strategies.

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