Report from George Markie
FEW things divide humankind quite so surgically as cats. You're either a lover or a loather.
Lovers tend to be anti-dog people who admire cats' cunning, independence, love of luxury and guileful ability to turn on the affection and charm whenever a can of Whiskas could be in the reckoning. Loathers, on the other hand, are suspicious of cats' devious, manipulative ways, preferring trustworthy, loyal, loving dogs.
But either way, there's something fascinating about the cat kingdom - and from ancient times to the present day, feline creatures have had the power to inspire, fascinate and amaze us.
Whether they are fierce or friendly, wild or domesticated, lions or pussycats, they have captured our imagination and influenced fashion, religion and culture across the globe.
And now a new exhibition at the Royal Museum in Chambers Street has gathered all of the world's cat species together.
Cats: The Ultimate Predators, which opens next Friday, will feature all 37 known wild cat species, from the largest - the lion, king of the jungle - to the smallest - the rusty spotted cat from India and Sri Lanka, which weighs in at a little more than a bag of sugar and is 200 times smaller than a lion.
"This is the first time that all the cats of the world have been brought together in one place, and the result is a fun, visual and exciting exhibition which will reveal the secrets behind one of the world's most successful families of predators," says Andrew Kitchener, curator of birds and mammals at the National Museums of Scotland.
"Cats are the ultimate mammalian predators. They show the most specialised adaptations for hunting and killing their prey amongst all the mammals.
"Their senses are adapted for seeing and sensing prey; their claws, paws and teeth are adapted for grabbing hold of and killing prey - and their teeth for processing the meat after they've killed - and they've got an amazingly flexible skeleton which allows them to get into all sorts of situations in order to hunt successfully."
As for why they arouse such fascination in people, he says: "People are very much in awe and admiration of cats because of their strength and power and their deadly killing skills."
And for those who have ever wondered why their pets behave the way they do, the exhibition gives an insight into the behaviour patterns inherited from their wild ancestors.
Visitors will be able to explore cat communication, from visual signals such as facial expressions and body language, through to cat calls and scent marking to find out first-hand how cats see, hear and use their whiskers as sensors.
Tracing the history of cats from their ancient fossil origins to their evolution as the most specialised mammalian predators the world has ever seen, the exhibition also examines their survival and adaptation to extreme habitats, from bleak cold mountainsides to sweltering tropical forests and deserts.
Ranging from Canadian lynxes hunting in the snow and an Amur tiger chasing a deer, to a Sumatran tiger carrying its cub and sand cat kittens at play, specimens on show will vividly convey the speed, strength, ruthless power and beauty of cats. Rare species include the bay cat and the Scottish wildcat, which is threatened with hybridisation with the domestic cat.
Many of the cats on show also have individual stories to tell, such as the mummified cat discovered in the Royal Mile during restoration work in 1999.
For nearly three centuries it was preserved in a wall, and is believed to have been placed in the fabric of Moubray house - next to John Knox's House on the High Street - in about 1725 to fend off evil spirits.
Then there's Zeus, a male Iberian lynx - the most endangered cat species in the world - who was radio-tracked from the age of two.
And to keep the children amused, there are games, experiments and hands-on interactives through which they will be able to test how cats' claws work, feel a tiger's tongue, learn the difference between cat calls and even identify feline scents such as jaguar urine - unlikely to end up as eau de parfum on their mother's dressing table.
Cats: The Ultimate Predators will show at the Royal Museum, Chambers Street, from February 13 until May 30. Opening hours are Mondays to Saturdays, 10am to 5pm, Tuesdays, 10am to 8pm, and Sundays, 12 noon to 5pm. Admission is £4 per adult (£3 conc), £2.50 for children aged five to 15 and £12 for a family ticket, while under-fives go free.
Edinburgh Evening News, 4 th February 2004.
|Return to index||Return to Scottish Big Cats||Return to Education and Exhibitions|