History & Domestication
Domestic cats are descendants of the African Wild Cat, a species which still exists today. African Wildcats lived in the Middle East in the Savannah. They were, and still are a solitary species; this is for several reasons but primarily due to the fact that the cats survive on a diet of rodents, which are sparse in the environment, therefore distance reduces competition and increases survival. A solitary lifestyle also reduces the spread of disease.
African Wildcats are crepuscular (most active at dusk and dawn); this matches their prey. The cats eat small meals frequently, catching around 10 – 12 rodents per day; although not all hunting attempts are successful, about 1 in 4 on average equals a meal.
As Wildcats are solitary they have had no evolutionary need to develop facial expressions as a method of communication within a social group, they rely on scent profiles – such as scratching, spraying and rubbing. The earliest evidence of man and cat cohabiting comes from around 9,500 years ago, where a cat and a human were found buried together in a grave in Cyprus.
Domestication probably began with farmers in the Middle East. A change in human farming activities meant that quantities of grain were harvested and stored around human settlements, which attracted large number of rodents. African Wildcats would have had to increase their tolerance of man to hunt in these areas. Humans valued this resource through protection of their grain stores as a result of rodent control and encouraged this mutually beneficial relationship.
The result was a divergence into two populations of wildcats – those more tolerant of living near humans in higher cat density areas (which have evolved into today’s domestic cat, found all over the world) and those more fearful cats which continued to live out on the sparse savannah (and are still found as today’s African wildcat).