A brave tabby saved two baby chicks… after they came under attack from another bird.
A lucky bystander, whose full video is below, filmed our heroic tom cat carefully tucking the puffy yellow pair underneath his chest and from a very unwelcome dinner guest.
Hawks, eagles and other large birds of prey often catch and eat other birds, but, if they’re particularly hungry, small cats and kittens are sometimes on the menu too.
It’s no surprise, then, that kitties are on the lookout for these predators, but it’s something special to watch two species — arch nemeses, no less— have each other’s backs against a common threat.
There are a number of reasons why predators turn into protectors. A cynic might argue our orange savior is already full so didn’t want to eat the chicks himself.
A more optimistic viewer could make the case for a confused mama cat (although it’s rare for an orange tabby to be female). Or maybe, just maybe, this brave boy, who stared down its own predator, is expressing what animal behaviorists call altruism.
What is animal altruism?
In an article with the Ian Somerhalden Foundation, Megan Frison explains that “Altruism among animals involves the sacrifice of an animal’s own well-being for the benefit of another animal.”
Frison also notes that it is particularly prevalent among domesticated animals. When two species are raised alongside each other, they are more receptive — even caring — towards the other species and are less likely to prey upon them.
Animal altruism is not to be confused with kin selection, however, where an animal will adopt an orphan of the same species due to a natural instinct to help the species survive.
Famous cases of altruism in the wild
One of the most prominent examples of animal altruism is the famous Kenyan lioness who adopted not one, but two, antelopes throughout the course of her life. Once researchers determined she was not mistaking the hoofed kiddo for her own cub (an example of kin selection), Jim Cavenor told The Guardian she was just “one extraordinarily maternal cat.”
So, which is it? A case of mistaken identity or simple, honest empathy. Many experts debate an animal’s capacity to empathize. Some say there’s just not enough definitive evidence.
But, it doesn’t take an expert to break this scene down: a pink nose nudges little legs towards its belly. A lithe orange back arches and tenses. Two amber eyes flick towards the sky and in a split second, a cat decides to save its own prey.