Be Glad Our Cats are Small

I’m working on a post about the comparative behavior of wolves, coyotes, African Wild dogs and domestic dogs, but here’s a short digression for the cat lovers.

An adult lioness in the Maasai Mara marks a bush after rising from a nap. You can clearly see the stream of urine in the photo. Aren’t you glad our house cats don’t weigh 260-450 pounds?

A female cheetah marks a tree.

We found this cheetah right after landing in the “Kenyan Serengeti,” the Maasai Mara. After we landed at a tiny airstrip and loaded up in safari vans on our way to our lodging, we ran into a hunting cheetah who was stalking Impala. After a few minutes she made her move, and dashed at the herd. She was too far away for us to take any photographs, but none of us will ever forget watching one Impala leap over five feet high and fifteen feet horizontally over the tall grasses as the cat charged toward the group. The cheetah was not successful, and strolled away (the rolling gait of a cheetah, with their long, absurdly loose bodies, is a beautiful thing to see).

Here she is, scratching the ground after marking (looking almost dog like at that point, if you’ll forgive the comparison).

The downside of seeing her? Cheetahs hunt during the day, unlike most cats, and appear to be affected by tourism. Our van and several others followed her for awhile as she walked across the savannah, and I was relieved when she cut away and disappeared from view. If she hadn’t I would have asked us to leave, it felt like we would have been harassing her if we had continued.

Not far away we came upon 3 males, probably the grown young of our female friend, snoozing as only cats can in the shade under a solitary tree. Overall, the Kenya trip resulted in seeing more cats up close and personal than any of my other trips (lions especially (more photos to come), cheetah, leopard (briefly), servals and some people (not me) even saw an African Wild Cat, the progenitor of our house cats on a night drive in Botswana.

Here’s a lioness greeting one of the pride’s cubs in the golden light of an African morning:


  1. Liz F. says

    My, what pictures! Can’t begin to imagine seeing them in person- thanks so much for sharing (AWD photos, too). How rich life can be!

  2. says

    As a cat as well as dog lover, I really appreciate these photos. They make me remember watching the lions at the National Zoo in Washington years ago and noticing that they behaved exactly like my cat – the same routine of napping, pacing, grooming – and realizing that house cats are great pets only because they are small and can only chase your feet or hands, not all of you!

    The big cats are truly beautiful animals.

  3. Alexandra says

    Trisha, may I ask what kind of camera you use? Your pictures look great.

    And yes, I am glad my housecat only weighs in at 8 lbs! One thing I love most about pet cats is how they act so much like their large wild cousins.

  4. Trisha says

    Alexandra: Canon Rebel Digital, though I can’t remember the specific model (will look up numbers for you tonight). The lens is 28-300 mm. Thanks for the kind words about the photos! Jim just put a bunch up on Flicker and I’ll see if I can send that link soon…

  5. Susan Mann says

    I remember reading a book as a kid (a century ago…) about a cheetah- Pippa? Author was maybe a Joy somebody- ring a bell to anyone? being raised and returned to the wild, and the pictures just drew me in completely.

    Your pics are great!

  6. Joanna says

    Beautiful photos! I’m looking forward to your post comparing dogs/wolves/AWDs/etc. Though I am very sad to read that this was probably your last trip to Africa.

  7. Sonja says

    By the way, I wasn’t requesting a dingo post. That would be very selfish. If anyone reads this and knows a good book or article, I’d be super-fascinated. :p

  8. Lisa says

    Beautiful photos. But the behavior geek in me couldn’t really couldn’t focus on anything after reading “comparative behavior of wolves, coyotes, African Wild dogs and domestic dogs”. Very much looking forward to that post!

  9. Alessandro Rosa says

    Welcome back, Dr. McConnell!

    Sorry this question is going to be off topic, but I am hoping that you or one of your readers would know what is going on and could point me in a direction.

    A friend of mine has a rescue dog (Maybe pitbull, minpin mix?), female, about a year old (She has had her for about seven months) and spayed (at least my friend says that she has the certificate from the vet that the rescue took her to).

    I noticed yesterday that some of the dogs in the park were acting very agressively towards her. They would approach normally, sniff and then growl, bark and snap at her and most play kept escalating to near fights (Pressuring, bared teeth, tackling, piloerection, etc.). Then the same thing happened in a different park with different dogs (dogs that she has played with) this morning. She has had problems with fear and anxiety, but usually does well around other dogs. She has had mange which was treated, but may be coming back. Also the last two or three weeks, she has started to bark charge at random people.

    My dog (7 month old, male, neutered) didn’t seem to react differently to her, but they have been playing together at least once a week or more for almost four months, so I thought that maybe familiarity overrode whatever is going on with her.

    Is it possible that there is something hormonally wrong or a disease process at work on her that changed her scent to the other dogs that would make them react aggressively towards her? If she weren’t “fixed” I might have thought she was going into heat. Could her anxiety/fear issues actually change her scent and the other dogs are having none of it?

    I appreciate it. I took a break from your blog while you were away, so I have some reading to catch up on.

    Thank you

  10. Trisha says

    I wondered if the Cheetah book might have been by the author of Born Free, and indeed it was Joy Adamson who wrote Pippa, the Cheetah and Her Cubs (and also Pippa’s Challenge). I haven’t read either, but the I don’t remember reading Forever Free either, about Elsa (the lion they raised) bringing her 3 cubs to the, dying prematurely and what it was like to try to raise 3 lion cubs. Sounds like I need to find another book to read!

    To Alessandro: Oh dear, poor thing. Obviously I can’t tell much from a brief post, but I have had clients whose dogs were ill and attracted aggressive behavior from other dogs during the course of their illness. I would definitely have a full health check done. It is possible that I small amount of tissue was left and is influencing her hormonal state and even causing a ‘mock’ heat. I had a client who Bernese Mtn Dog severely attacked her friend and neighbor, truly out of the blue. When she came for a consult, the dog urinated in the lobby, and the smell was so strong and unfamiliar I suggested she go back to the vet. Turns out the dog had tissue left from a spay, and when it was removed she went back to normal. Before that, she couldn’t be anywhere near the neighbor without becoming dangerous.

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