In last week's column, I featured Karen Jackson's photos of a Gray Fox interacting with the Jackson family's house cat, and mentioned that one of the great things about living in the Tehachapi Mountains is the frequent opportunity to see wildlife and to observe their behavior.
Another good example is this week's photos shared by my friend Toshimi Kristof, who spotted a Bobcat as it caught a mouse near the Kristof home in Bear Valley Springs. After initially grabbing the mouse, the Bobcat (Lynx rufus) proceeded to play with it before dispatching it and carrying it off.
This same behavior can of course be witnessed in house cats, and some people believe it to be an example of cruelty, or evidence of some moral degeneracy on the part of cats (which sounds more like a dog lover's bias).
In fact, a cat's instinct to toy with and tire out prey is actually more self-preservation than sadism. Cats typically kill their prey by severing the spinal cord with a bite to the neck. This of course requires the cat bring its mouth onto the prey, and in doing so it risks injury. Cats have a short muzzle, and their face and eyes are by necessity brought dangerously close to a prey animal's sharp teeth and claws.
Rodents, birds and other prey are typically not helpless, and in defending themselves they can injure a predator like a cat. There are no first aid stations in the wild, and even minor injuries can become infected and potentially lead to serious complications or death.
So wild animals prefer to avoid injury whenever possible. This is the reason that small animals, or ones that are typically considered prey species, are able to rebuff predators at times — the predator does not want to be injured, and will quickly perform a cost/benefit analysis and decide whether it makes sense to attack a riled up prey animal, even if it is much smaller.
Animals like gophers, ground squirrels, rats and mice have little teeth but lots of bite power and can inflict wounds. So a cat will risk its paws rather than its face, and bat and smack the intended prey around to tire it out and maybe injure it before making the final kill bite. A cat will use the speed and agility of its paws to try to keep prey from escaping while letting it getting exhausted and less threatening.
Unlike canids like coyotes and foxes, cats eat almost nothing but meat, they won't forage for the fruit, nuts, insects, carrion and the other food sources that some predators utilize. So cats have to be able to catch and kill live prey or they go hungry, which gives them added incentive to hone their hunting skills and protect themselves from injury.
The Tehachapi Mountains are home to a healthy population of Bobcats, and it would be hard to estimate just how much prey they consume each year. But these resourceful hunters are out every virtually every day, feeding themselves (and their kittens, in the case of female Bobcats) and surviving solely by their skills and hunting prowess.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com