Cat owners have often been amazed by the wide range of meows some felines exhibit when making a request. These calls have even been known to mimic a strange variation of human voices saying words. Of course these calls are often for the most part said to be mere coincidence or training. But one species of wild cat has been seen mimicking the call of a small ape with the intention of bringing the apes out.
The mimicking cats were first observed by the Wildlife Conservation Society as they stalked prey far out of sight and lured them to where the cats could catch and eat them. And according to researchers, the strange behavior is met with great success. The creatures have somehow learned to mimic the sounds of apes and then after summoning them with this false call pounce and devour them. Is this a product of evolution or leaning in the Amazon?
After discovering this unusual trait, Fabiano de Oliveira Calleia, Marcelo Gordo, and Fabio Rohe wrote that this unusual cunning mixed with the cats’ natural physical agility warranted further study of the intellect of big cats.
Long ago there was a folk legend that the big cats would mimic the sounds of primates in order to lure them down, but this legend was considered too fantastic to be believed. And yet as is often the case with local legends and lore eventually science caught up to it and now it is accepted as a mainstream phenomenon. The mysterious behavior has been observed over several centuries by the local tribes, but the few accounts observed by naturalists were often chalked up to anomalies or coincidence. It was not until recently that this behavior was actually confirmed.
It’s incredible to think, as the paper went on to suggest that a group of tamarins could be called from the trees by a pained call of one of their companions in distress, only for one of the creatures to later realize they had been trapped and retreat into the trees once again out of reach of the big cat. And it only goes to show how little of the natural world we currently understand in the face of such incredible potential.
And yet is it so unbelievable that wild cats would be able to perform such feats of mental agility to match their incredible physical dexterity? The incredible feats of the Marguay are only one example of this breed of incredible adaptation in one of the world’s most harsh environments. Insects, for example, use deception both to hunt for food and protect themselves. Even the western Owl Butterfly has formations on its wings that when spread give the impression of certain predators that the creature is somehow actually a camouflaged owl. And trap door spiders are known to build nests in which they hide before leaping out at passing prey and devouring it. Of course this case of cunning in the big cats is different as it suggests a sort of learning that is not innate to its natural biology.