Let us suppose you have a dog. You decline to keep this dog on a lead or in a run ? in fact, you don?t constrain its right to roam in any way whatsoever. It simply comes and goes as it pleases, duly marauding across gardens, fields and woodlands, attacking wildlife, pets, domestic animals ? anything small enough to be munched, shredded or chased.
Is such a scenario realistic? I don?t mean, do some people allow their dogs to behave like that? I mean, should society at large expect this behaviour to be broadly acceptable and tolerated as a normal part of everyday life? Of course not ? any dog that routinely behaved like that could, in certain circumstances, be shot with the backing of the law. More to the point, the owner of such an animal would be liable to prosecution on all sorts of grounds. Society and the legal system would most certainly not condone such behaviour from a dog and its owner.
But then, let us consider the domestic cat. Of the behaviour I outlined above, which aspect does not apply to the humble but inherently murderous moggie? The same little old ladies who assiduously feed birds in gardens also unleash feline bird-killers into the neighbourhood each evening and think nothing of it. The RSPB knows full well that the UK?s cosseted domestic cats kill something like 27million small birds each year. But the organisation brushes off the ecological impact of such mass killing, saying that songbirds are more than capable of making up the shortfall through overproduction. (You have only to imagine the RSPB applying the same logic to the persecution of raptors to realise that fund-raising trumps ecology every time.)
However, I have to make a shameful confession: I like cats. Until recently, I have always lived in a home with a cat, with the inevitable consequence that no home feels quite right to me unless there is a cat about. I was genuinely saddened when our last cat (I dare not reveal his name, lest it exposes me to ridicule) departed this earth. He died of that most unnatural cause, old age ? a notion practically unknown in wild mammal populations.
At the same time, however, I was rather relieved that he had finally gone the way of all flesh and I am fighting a fierce rearguard action against the massed ranks of my family, who have mounted a campaign to install a new kitten. The fact is that dear old Pumpkin (damn! It just came out) was an accomplished assassin, who made no distinction between rats and red squirrels. He would take on anything with a pulse ? even adult rabbits ? and he decimated our local songbird fledglings.
David chases Goliath
Speaking of rabbits, I saw a weasel chasing a rabbit the other day. I was driving along a country lane when a rabbit lolloped across the tarmac on to the verge. A weasel, moving as though powered by a remote-control electric motor, zipped across after the hapless bunny. The rabbit seemed either tired or dangerously complacent. It waited until the weasel was almost upon it, before hopping back across the road again, whereupon the weasel zipped back after it. And so they went on, back and forth across the road, for some minutes, until I lost sight of them.
On several occasions, I have seen a stoat pursuing a rabbit, but I have never before seen a weasel doing so. The disparity in size between predator and prey is remarkable. An adult rabbit weighs more than 15 times as much as an adult weasel. To put this into context, the average domestic moggie weighs about 4.5kg. Multiply that by 15 and you get 67.5kg. Now, think of all the animals in that weight range and you start to get an idea of the sheer ferocity of the rabbit-hunting weasel. It equates to a domestic cat attempting to bring down an adult roebuck. Even in his murderous prime, Pumpkin wouldn?t have attempted that (I think).