Feb 19, 2008

The Tribe of Tiger

Cats and Their Culture
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

This is not a scientific examination of cat behavior, but rather a collection of anecdotal stories from the author's life, friends and acquaintances, together with her personal thoughts and speculations. The first part of the book talks about housecats: their social organization, communication methods and whether or not they have "culture" (specific behaviors which they pass on to their kittens, that differ from how cats in other locales may behave). The second part is about time Marshall spent in Africa, and relates in detail relationships between groups of lions with native Kalahari bushmen who were hunter-gatherers, and later how that relationship changed when the bushmen were forced to leave or keep livestock, particularly cattle. The last section discusses mountain lions in America, and tigers in captivity. Throughout the book there are observations on various other cat species, and comparisons between the big cats and our domesticated housecats. Overall this book is not as good as The Hidden Life of Dogs (same author). But I still found it interesting.

I learned a number of new things, like that mountain lions share characteristics with cheetahs and bobcats can bring down deer. But some of her conclusions I questioned. For example, she surmises that cats mark people (rubbing against their legs) because people are their food source, so they stake out a claim on them like a wild cat would a territory that supplies his food. In my own household it doesn't appear to be so. Both our cats mark both of us, but my husband has never once fed them. If I were absent for a few days, he'd have to ask for specific instructions on how to do it!

Later in The Tribe of Tiger she states that tigers (if well-treated) are happier and longer-lived in circuses than zoos, where they are bored and stressed from being stared at by strangers all day. The more I think about this the less I know what I think: certainly I've never seen much of big cats in zoos, they are always hiding when I visit. Would they really prefer a circus where they have more privacy, but are confined in much closer quarters? Do they find the interactions with a trainer, intellectually stimulating, and enjoy traveling around seeing the different sights and people? Is that better than a zoo where except for the weather, nothing much would change day to day? Although most zoos nowadays have "enrichment" programs for their animals to stave off boredom, don't they? If only we could ask a tiger himself, and he could speak!

Rating: 3/5          
240 pages, 1994


  1. Ha! If only my cat could talk. :) Yes, that's Maggie on the picture to the right. I found a little cartoon book at mom-in-law's last weekend about understanding the weird things our cats do. One section discussed cats rubbing on our legs--but nothing about food! Incidentally in the picture, Maggie is rubbing her head on my book stack. Certainly, my books are not going to feed her! Cats are fascinating.

  2. That's funny. One of my cats is always marking my books! Whenever I sit down to read he comes and rubs his face all over the books. I always wonder why he does it (quite annoying, sometimes!)

  3. This sounds so interesting...I don't read enough animal stuff, and I want to.

  4. Bybee- it's a very interesting book. However, I would suggest trying The Hidden Life of Dogs first, it's much better. (Especially if you like dogs better than cats?)


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