Research in captivity

From 2006 to 2012 Barbara Hohage from the University of Duisburg-Essen studied black-footed and sand cats in the Wuppertal Zoo for her PhD thesis. By video recording over several 24 hour-periods she documented their activity rhythms and investigated which factors influence their behaviour.

Barbara focused on black-footed cats, since the captive population decreased substantially in European Zoos in the last years: at the beginning of 2007 only six cats were left. This decline may be attributed to two main factors. Firstly, this cat species shows a high mortality rate due to a disease called AA-Amyloidosis, which is not yet well researched but could be precipitated by stress. The second factor applies to small wild cats in captivity in general: they are rarely seen active, and thus are perceived as less attractive for the public. Therefore increasingly fewer zoos maintain small cat species in their collections.

Prince Charles was born in Houdspruit Endangered Species Centre, South Africa, in December 2002.
Tigger was born in Belfast Zoo in June 2004.
Both photos by courtesy of Barbara Hohage.

Barbara analyzed a total of 248 24-hour periods of six individuals, including one mother-kitten-pair. She observed nine different behavioural patterns: pacing, walking, playing, feeding, self-grooming, being alert, resting, sleeping, staying out of sight.

The cats displayed a bimodal activity pattern with peaks in the early morning and evening. The activity drop during day was much more prominent, which made them being predominantly nocturnal. A regular feeding schedule led to an occurrence of additional activity peaks around feeding time. Nevertheless, the main activity during zoo opening hours stayed relatively low. In total the cats were out of sight 45-58% during the 24-hr period, sleeping or resting. All observed animals showed pacing, mostly along the enclosure boundaries. Interesting to note that the cats covered 1121 km (713 miles) per day within their enclosures as much as their wild counterparts!