THE ART OF JUST BEING A DINOFELIS
If you could travel back in time to Early Pleistocene Africa, and you were lucky enough to come across a sabretooth of the genus Dinofelis, chances are that the animal would be sound asleep. One thing I have learned from my observations of the big cats in the wild is that they are masters of the art of just being there, but that means much more than the plain old fact that predators need to conserve energy.
Dinofelis barlowi was probably well at home in forests and riverine woods. But just in case a bigger sabretooth like Homotherium would happen to pass by, Dinofelis would often choose to sleep in the branches
For one thing, cats dream a lot. Just look at your pet cat fast asleep in the sofa and watch for the moment it enters the REM sleep. Like yourself, it starts to move its eyes rapidly behind closed eyelids as it crosses into the world of dreams, and make no mistake, it has serious business to attend there, because dreaming is an essential step in learning from the experiences gained in the waking hours. Cats spend most of their time doing nothing, but when they do things, it is often quite dramatic things. Each action has decisive consequences, from which they must learn if they want to live another day.
As part of my paleontological reconstruction work I have spent a lot of time measuring bones, studying dissected specimens and checking the anatomical accuracy of 3D models. Such work predisposes me to see the cats as marvels of design, killing machines of refined biomechanical perfection. But when you can spend some time with the real big cats in the wild, you start to pay more attention to how they pass the day. That is how I have got the overwhelming impression that cats are natural born learners, and real learning needs a lot of sleep!. Digesting meat is a simple process, which is why the cats have very short intestines. But digesting experience is far more complex, and a large proportion of the 18 hours they idle away each day is spent doing just that.
This lion I saw at the Masai Mara in 2006 shows that voluptuous joy in doing nothing that only cats can achieve!
So, next time you come across a sleeping feline while on safari, don´t be frustrated. We can see them hunting often enough in nature documentaries. But inactivity is a more important part of the feline essence than we often acknowledge. And sure enough it was every bit as essential for the sabretooths!
Want to see the big cats in the wild with us? Then join our “Drawing the Big Cats” safari! check this video of the 2015 edition: