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Right so we have been on safari in South Africa recently and before encountering big cats (lions) we have been told to hold still and not reach out beyond the boundaries of our safari vehicle because the cats would see it as uninteresting "object", unless something sticks out or moves.

Having a bit of background in biology I tried to map this to a more "scientific" explanation but wasn't successful so far. How would you describe the cognitve perception of vehicles by big cats (or lions specifically)?

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It's basically the same as humans, they include higher predatory associations and less logical and word associations. The neural circuits study all the images received from the eye and compare new objects to previously learnt categories: Bird/Log/Horn/flailing upside down limb/face/car/rhino... You can feel your own neural networks at work when you focus on an unidentified detail (bird/branch/rock) and class them into right and wrong results. Moving objects occupy a moving class of their own, i.e. in your garden, they are a potential threat or a prey.

When the truck is rolling along normally, the cat has extensively studied this kind of object already and has made these associations: Glass windows he can't get into, faces inside glasses, rubber tires, slight smell of humans, major smell of petrol and artificial stuff, indestructible, square and round bits, sees it every day from all angles and has interacted with trucks plenty of times. He rarely gets any food from safari trucks, they all look a bit the same. A truck occupy the same prey opportunity as birds in trees which can just fly away.

The brain behaves differently towards known objects and movements and new, unknown animate objects, the unknown animate things result in: the capture of attention.

When there is an arm waving out of the window, the cat's brain is receiving an unidentified living thing attached to the truck, perhaps some kind of living meat! A living thing, a prey. Is it a leg of lamb? is it inside or behind the box? Can he get into this truck? Is it a bird? The cat will be interested in the unidentified, new kind of living thing until he has figured it out.

general reading.

visual cortex of monkeys and cats.

Activation of the hypothalamic feeding centre upon visual prey detection

other research.

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Any animal may see something moving in its territory as a challenge. Big cats and other predators are very intelligent and have an excellent sense of smell. Just because you're not sticking your arm out, doesn't mean that they don't know you are in there. Lions are basically lazy and will rarely attack people in a car, but it would depend on the animal's prior experience with other vehicles. If they have been harassed or fed by tourists trying to get a photo, big cats (and other predators like bears) are more likely to approach a car. I have seen cheetahs and leopards jump through an open window into a Jeep. You can watch this video or search youtube.com for others. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LFTJ-BFWms Hippos, elephants and rhinos have attacked cars for no apparent reason, especially during breeding season. Best advice? Stay in the car with your windows all the way up!

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  • $\begingroup$ Right - that's exactly what you hear when talking to guides etc. I am interested in the scientific answer to why? Is being lazy the real reason for lions etc not showing interest people in cars? And btw. windows up is a nice advice - most safari vehicles are complete open... $\endgroup$
    – gapvision
    Feb 29 '20 at 14:08

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