How did humans domesticate cats?

While they can often behave as though they deem humans to be inferior, cats have stayed by our side for millennia

With their independence, frequent aloofness and tendency to wander off for hours or even days at a time, cats don’t sound like ideal pets, and yet they’re one of the most popular animals on the planet. Thanks to the adoration of self-confessed ‘cat people’, they’ve claimed many a heart, home and YouTube view.

Their attitude towards humans is unlike that of any other pet, and that’s partly because their history with us is a little different to the domestication story of other species. While people captured and kept animals like pigs, birds and dogs, cats have always sauntered in and out of our lives. When humans started farming and storing grains over 10,000 years ago, rodents were attracted to the huge quantities of food, which in turn drew African wild cats to settlements. The relationship worked for both parties; the cats had access to prey and the farmers’ crops were protected from vermin.

Once the cats had become tame enough for people to get close to them,  they were taken to other continents until they had spread across the globe. Their role gradually developed from just pest controllers to companions, and different breeds with distinct characteristics began to emerge, but they’ve all retained a streak of wildness.

Kittens are born with a set of predatory instincts that they develop as they play with their mother and siblings. These instincts are so ingrained in a cat’s brain that they govern the actions of even the most laid-back of moggies. Lots of their amusing and baffling behaviour makes a lot more sense when you consider the lifestyles of their wild cousins: climbing to high-up spots gives them a good vantage point for surveying the area, and scratching your sofa spreads their scent and keeps their claws in good shape. Even their peculiar love of cardboard boxes can be explained, as confined spaces provide security and strategic hiding places for ambushing prey and avoiding predators.

 


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