Caturday felid trifecta: Cat intimidates serval; Geoffrey the poetic cat; the personalities of tigers; and lagniappe

April 22, 2023 • 9:40 am

I think it’s legal in several states to own servals (Leptailurus serval) , so long as they’re bred in captivity. (Their genes went into producing the “savannah cat” breed.) But owning wild felids isn’t recommended. Here’s a pet serval intimidating a housecat just by touching it lightly with its paw. Enlarge the video and turn the sound on to hear the low rumblings of the serval:

to intimidate a serval
by u/HornyDiggler in therewasanattempt


Every week in the Free Press Douglas Murray publishes thoughts on his favorite poems, and I have to say that he has good taste. This poem, “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry“, is a fragment of a larger poem, “Jubilate Agno” (“Rejoice in the lamb”) written by Christopher Smart (1722-1771), probably while he was confined in St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in London.  The data of the poem is unknown, and it wasn’t even published until 1939.

Still, in my view it remains the best poem about cats ever written, and although some of the “lunacy” might be evident, it hangs together as a great piece of work. I must have mentioned it, if not reproduced it, several times on this website. The second best poem about cats is, of course, Pangur Bán, a fragment written by a ninth-century Irish monk in his notebooks.

Here’s Murray on the poem (an extract from his article):

. . . at some point, his mind started to become lost to him. Dr. Johnson described his “poor friend” Kit Smart as showing “the disturbance of his mind, by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place.” Johnson noted with characteristic clarity and charity that there was no reason why those who fall to their knees and pray in the street should be regarded as displaying any “greater madness” than those who do “not pray at all.” But the rules then, as now, were unclear and Smart found himself on the wrong side of them. Devout Christian piety was expected. But not that much.

So, in a deeply religious society, poor Kit Smart still ended up in the madhouse. And it was there that he created the work for which he is now best known.

That work is “Jubilate Agno” (or, translated from Latin, “Rejoice in the Lamb”), an ecstatic, long poem that claims all of nature is always and forever by its nature praising God. It adheres to a strange logic. For example, Smart decided that his Psalm-like verses must fall into two categories: sections in which every verse begins with the word Let and those that begin with For. The surviving manuscript throws up multiple textual and interpretational problems.

For these reasons, among many others, it took centuries for Smart’s work to reach outside the madhouse walls. Though he composed the poem in a mental asylum between 1759 and 1763, it was not published until 1939.

The visions contained in “Jubilate Agno” hover between the sublime and the absurd. Sometimes the poet is in a state of religious ecstasy—about which, who is to judge? At other times, he seems to be banging his head against a padded wall. Amid the exultation of all nature praising God, there are also occasional moments showing a knowledge of his situation that are almost too painful to read. At one point, Smart scribbles onto his densely packed pages: For in my nature I quested for beauty, but God, God hath sent me to sea for pearls.

And the bit about Jeoffry:

A few years ago, a young biographer, Oliver Soden, wrote a fanciful biography of Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat. Nobody knows where Jeoffry came from or went to; Soden describes him in the asylum with Smart, keeping the poet company.

. . . .In the imaginary biography of Jeoffry, the cat has moved on after his master’s death, and has found a new home. Nobody knows who he is or what he has seen, but at the end, as he is quietly dying, his biographer writes, “All the while nobody knew that Jeoffry had once danced in the rain with Christopher Smart.” What an image. What an honor.

Read the Jeoffry bit of the poem; I require it of you, especially if you have a cat. It is not long but quite evocative.

Benjamin Britten wrote music for parts of Jubilate Agno, which he called “Rejoice in the Lamb”.  Here’s the music about Jeoffrey, with the YouTube notes:

Miranda Colchester sings “For I will Consider my Cat Jeoffry” from “Rejoice in the Lamb” by Benjamin Britten. Ulf Norberg playing on an Allen organ in Hedvig Eleonora church, Stockholm, Sweden. Recorded and edited by Pär Fridberg.

Samuel Barber set “Pangur Bán” to music, too, and it’s a lovely piece.


Is this conclusion from a piece in Science really surprising? Tigers are complex animals, and anyone studying wild mammals quickly learns their varied quirks. Here’s the rational for this study of the “personalities” of Siberian tigers studied in zoos (that, of course, can change their behavior). There’s a link to the original paper:

In the first study investigating the dispositions of tigers in a semiwild setting, researchers surveyed the caretakers of nearly 250 Siberian tigers about the cats’ personality traits. The findings, published today in the Royal Society Open Science, suggests the psychological makeup of Siberian tigers may affect their hunting, mating, and even social standing among their peers.

The work could help conservationists manage these endangered animals, says Ellen Williams, an ethologist at Harper Adams University who was not involved in the new study. With only about 500 Siberian tigers left in the wild, insights into how they interact with their environment are vital, she says.

Click to see the précis in Science:

An excerpt:

So when scientists led by Rosalind Arden, a cognitive researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science, wanted to plumb the psyche of these fierce felines, they turned to 248 Siberian tigers living in two wildlife sanctuaries in northeastern China where groups of tigers roam in fenced-in swaths of forests or snowy grasslands. The team invited more than 50 feeders and veterinarians to fill out questionnaires with lists of 67 to 70 adjectives that described tiger personality traits for each cat in their care. These words ranged from “savage” and “imposing” to “dignified” and “friendly.” The researchers designed the questionnaires to mimic human personality tests.

In total, the caretakers completed more than 800 questionnaires, offering the researchers multiple personality surveys on each tiger. A battery of statistical analyses revealed whether particular adjectives clustered around certain tigers.

Two distinct personality types emerged that accounted for nearly 40% of the tigers’ behaviors. Tigers that scored higher on words such as confident, competitive, and ambitious fell under what the researchers labeled as the “majesty” mindset. Those that exhibited traits such as obedience, tolerance, and gentleness were grouped together under the “steadiness” mindset. Together, these two personalities explained 38% of the behavioral differences displayed by the tigers in the study.

According to Williams, the new findings resemble past data on both wild and domestic cats. She cites a review article that found the most common personality types across felines are sociable, dominant, and curious. “It would seem that ‘majesty’ aligns quite closely with a ‘dominant’ personality component,” she says, “and their ‘steadiness’ component aligns with components such as ‘calm.’”

These personality types seem to make a difference. Based on their weights and eating habits, the tigers with majesty mindsets were generally healthier than those with steadiness personalities. They also hunted more, mated more often, and had more breeding success. Tigers that scored higher on majesty traits also appeared to have a higher social status than tigers that scored higher in steadiness traits, according to their caretakers.

So it pays to be aggressive, which isn’t a surprise. However, as author Tamisea notes, this doesn’t hold true for all mammals. In chimps, our closest living relatives (along with bonobos), a reproductive advantage appears to accrue to those individuals


Lagniappe: From the Miami Herald:

A live broadcast captured the moment a cat interrupted an imam’s nightly Ramadan prayer in Algeria, and the internet went crazy for it

.The clip was posted to Imam Walid Mehsas’ Facebook page on Tuesday, April 4. It shows a white cat with orange and black patches pop out from behind a wall next to the imam and meow up at him as he prays. The cat climbs onto a ledge that’s supporting a microphone for a better vantage point, then jumps down and paws and rubs at the imam’s legs to get his attention.

Here you go:

h/t: Jez, Peter, Ginger K.

One thought on “Caturday felid trifecta: Cat intimidates serval; Geoffrey the poetic cat; the personalities of tigers; and lagniappe

  1. Will you complete this sentence?
    In chimps, our closest living relatives (along with bonobos), a reproductive advantage appears to accrue to those individuals

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