The BBC Horizon
documentary The Secret Life of the Cat
makes a concerted attempt to answer that and many other questions. Can it really be true that we know more about big cats in the wild than we do about our domestic moggies? That does appear to be the case, although we should know a lot more about them after this unique experiment.
This documentary is currently on BBC iplayer for those who can receive it, but if you miss it, check YouTube as usual. It was recorded in the Surrey village of Shamley Green where together with a small team of scientists the Horizon
team followed a tranche of local cats round the clock. They did this by fitting the animals with tiny, lightweight cameras around their necks.
So what do we learn from this exercise? Well, we knew already that cats are territorial animals, but it appears they go out of their way to avoid actual confrontation, and in this small but relatively crowded village (cat-wise), they timeshare their territory, although they have been known to "steal" the food of their fellow catizens.
Cats are natural born predators, but when they are fed well - as in this case - they hunt very little, which is good news for some of the birds we see here. If there is one conclusion to be drawn from the impressive but limited data compiled in Shamley Green, it is that cats are still evolving, and that most of this evolution is down to us.
This is an experiment which will doubtless be repeated in an urban area, which may show different patterns of behaviour, but these creatures will always be an enigma; as Arthur Tessimond wrote:
"Cats, no less liquid than their shadows,
Offer no angles to the wind."