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While volunteering with Running Wild Conservation in South Africa, I got to meet Stewie the African Caracal for the very first time. He was purchased along with two other caracals that were for sale in South Africa. To avoid them becoming pets, RWC bought them. I sat down with the three and Stewie joined me for a snuggle.
Stewie is 1.5 years old and an adult caracal. Though an adult, he acts like a cub. It was incredible how welcoming this wild but tamed cat was to me. Stewie accepted me like I was his friend and mother…. actually closing his eyes, suckling, and purring once it found my finger.
The suckling behavior can follow baby mammals into adulthood if they are removed from their mothers before they are weaned or still nursing. In the wild, a mother caracal (or any mammal mother) ends the nursing at some point… either because the lactation of milk has ended or the cub or young are weaned to their natural foods.
The adult staged suckling behavior occurs with many of our domesticated pets as well… from cats to dogs. When humans buy a puppy or kitten, it’s normally removed from their mother before the weaning period has ended… that can result in the pet continuing to suckle into adulthood because the mother never got the chance to end it.
I don’t know what to think about it. We become a mother to these captive animals and it does create a stronger bond with the animal, but is it natural? Maybe… maybe not.
I don’t think it hurts and actually relaxes the animal to be allowed to suckle. It certainly earns you trust between you. For more dangerous predators, it could be safer. For instance, a bear or large cat that suckles and purrs before it’s keeper; thinking you are its mother, is less likely to attack you versus someone it does not see its mother. Then that leads to the whole debate about captive animals and interaction. I’m not blind to it and still forming my opinions on the matter.
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