CATNAP: Valerie Steinmann and Messi."One of the articles that fascinated me was a discussion on why big cats had evolved over the years, but not big dogs," writes Biggs. Picture: Carolyn Frost
I am not usually a keen magazine reader, but a friend recently introduced me to a publication I’d never heard of, and I immediately became a devoted fan.

The magazine is called (appropriately) Very Interesting, and it certainly is. It’s published by BBC Studios and Science World, with some input from South Africa. I have only seen it in one local shop, but I suppose it’s on sale elsewhere.

One of the articles that fascinated me was a discussion on why big cats had evolved over the years, but not big dogs.

There don’t seem to be any canine equivalents of lions, tigers, cheetahs or leopards. The theory is that dogs and cats are unrelated species and survive in different ways in nature.

Dogs are pack animals and rely on teamwork for hunting. They work together and basically surround their prey and chase them (I suppose I should say “hound them”) until they drop from exhaustion.

In order to do this, dogs need to be tireless and speedy. Lightness is a bonus. Cats, on the other hand, hunt alone. They need to conserve their energy for a quick dash and a fierce kill. Size and weight obviously count.

As a cat lover I have often wondered why my cats spend about 16 hours of every day sleeping. I’ve also noticed that a sudden noise, like a pot dropping on the kitchen floor, for example, will have a sleeping cat airborne in less than half a second. All that stored energy is explosive.

I also find it interesting that humans adopted two such different species as their companions of choice.

Dogs were obviously used as hunting partners and fitted in well with the human style of hunting.

Humans usually hunt in packs, too. A dog is your teammate. But cats? How did cats ease their way into the human environment?

My guess is that cats cottoned on to another human trait - laziness.

If you can lie around doing nothing all day and still be provided with food and shelter, man, you’re onto a good thing.

Of course, there’s a price to pay. There always is. You have to develop the cute look (gets those humans every time) and occasionally exercise that hunting skill by bringing in a mouse. Humans are undecided about this.

It helps to be a clown from time to time, too. Pretend to fight with a soft toy or chase a ping-pong ball and those humans are hooked. Bread and circuses they understand since Roman times.

I suppose cats are like politicians in a way. Useless and often irritating, but sometimes hilariously funny. But we pay them anyway.

Last Laugh

The father of the family brought an important business associate home to dinner. When the family was seated the mother carved the meat and set it on everyone’s plates.

The youngest boy prodded his slice of meat and said: “Hey, mom, this is just ordinary beef!”

“Yes dear, it is. What did you expect?”

“Daddy said we were having an idiot for dinner.”

* "Tavern of the Seas" is a daily column written in the Cape Argus by David Biggs. Biggs can be contacted at [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus