A look at Animal Social Groups

Animal social groups are as varied as the animals on our planet. While I do not consider myself capable of understanding the inner workings of an animal social group, I have been a privileged observer to one particular group for the last 14 years.

As an avid cat lover I have had the extreme pleasure of watching my cat “pride” grow from one timid and isolated female to a group of four. This group of cats contains a very diverse range of personalities, and has led to the most interesting experience of my life.

Bringing in the second member of the pride, a young male, 6 months later was somewhat stressful on the timid female. She hissed and chased the newcomer until he finally submitted to her seniority. As time went by he slowly managed to inch his way into a more equal standing in the group of two. Eventually he was on the same level as the alpha female and they shared everything. #2 was, however, still required to back off when she presented herself to me.

Today he is a mild mannered and easy going member of the pride. He makes no waves and accepts any and all changes easily. He is not pushy or demanding except when he wants his share of the attention. Then, he makes his presence know with a very light and tiny tap on my arm.

The pride maintained it’s level of respect for one another for the next 9 years until the arrival of the third member, an orphan baby. He caused quite a disruption in the pecking order of this tiny pride and I had the opportunity to watch nature work at her finest. The orphan had no social skills for interacting with others of his kind. He was a happy, friendly and energetic youngster that knew no boundaries.

Consequently, he spent his first few months within the pride getting his face smacked, his feelings hurt and his self esteem shattered. The matriarch had no use for or interest in the tiny, unruly and socially inept newcomer. She not only put him in his place, which was at the bottom of the pecking order, she saw to it he stayed there.

As this newcomer grew he began to figure out who was actually in charge and spent all his efforts in winning me over. I watched him terrorize the senior female for the next 4 years. He never learn to give her the respect she demanded despite being put in his place on a daily basis. My sense is since he had no siblings to grow up with, he learned none of the required skills needed to interact with like kind.

An interesting side note, #3 seemed to relish in the daily harassment of the female and took his beating like a man. Today he is a strong, handsome and extremely demanding force in the pride.

The fourth and last member to enter the pride was a newborn orphan only a day or so old. She was helpless and vulnerable and required all of my time. The alpha female paid little to no attention to this tiny creature as long as it stayed in it’s place.

But as time went on and the infant grew into a large and regal member of the pride it was obvious that there was going to be a power struggle between the new comer and the alpha female. While there were absolutely no physical altercations observed, it became very clear early on that #4 had risen to the top of the pecking order and was slowly taking over the alpha cat position.

With the change of power #1 slowly retreated into a submissive position, #2 became almost invisible to everyone, hanging at the very edge of the pride and #3 decided the way to maintain his position was to become extremely needy.

The household was required to move and available space to claim became much harder to find. Watching the 4 members of this happy and content pride vie for space was so subtle it was barely noticeable. However, the time came when the stress became to much for #1 and she became ill and passed on. This left the alpha position open and #4 stepped in immediately and took over. #2 did not care at all and just became more invisible than ever. #3, however, has issue with this action.

The war for alpha cat began. There were often visible fights. #4 decided to attack sick and ailing #2. The stress level grew daily until #4 decided to mark her territory by urinating on my new sofa. The response by #3 and #2 was interesting to say the least as they had never experienced this action before.

#2 just hid deeper and deeper and was barely ever seen. He stayed in his hiding place and only came out when hungry. I actually referred to him as my invisible cat #3 became needier and more demanding of my time and attention. He also became very vocal with loud and continuous crying. This was a new behavior for him, something he never did before. Since he was unable to move freely and safely about the space, he would cry demanding to be picked up and carried.

As the attacks and urination continue to increase it became very clear that a change was needed. It was time for me to take the position of alpha cat and oust the current leader. Once this was done and #4 had moved on to live somewhere else, life in the now tiny 2 member pride settled down to a serene and blissful life.

#2 has come out of hiding and is flourishing in the lime light as he is no longer feeling the need to be invisible. #3 is still dealing with emotional issues dealt to him by #4’s ruthless reign but is slowly recovering from his apparent terror.

This was an insight into an animal social group I will truly not soon forget. The inner workings of the social order, the physical actions and reactions were fascinating.

A life experience I will always treasure.