jaguarCats of all sizes are fascinated by smells. I always sort of assumed cats favored more natural smells over synthetic scents, as if they were little feline hippies. Yet if this were true, how does one explain the apparent obsession some big cats have for … Obsession?

According to the Wall Street Journal, big cats of all sorts love the smell of Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men. This odd fact was first discovered by Pat Thomas, general curator for the Wildlife Conservation Society‘s Bronx Zoo in New York. Zoos often spritz various scents around an animal’s enclosure to keep the animal stimulated and curious. Thomas decided to observe how two cheetahs would react to 24 different colognes. There was a wide range of reactions: “Estée Lauder’s Beautiful occupied the cheetahs on average for just two seconds. Revlon’s Charlie managed 15.5 seconds. Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps took it up to 10.4 minutes. But the musky Obsession for Men triumphed: 11.1 minutes.”

Why are big cats so taken with this particular Calvin Klein fragrance? It’s probably the civetone. Civetone is one of the oldest ingredients in perfumes, and in nature is secreted from by the civet cats of Africa and Asia. Most modern perfumes use synthetic civetone, often made from palm oils. Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men is a fairly civetone-heavy cologne, which explains its animal attraction.

There are more ways to use feline fondness with Obsession than just keeping zoo-bound cats stimulated. The Wildlife Conservation Society uses the cologne in the field to monitor the status of big cats living  in the wild. It’s especially helpful when dealing with reclusive, shy cats.

For example, it has been difficult for the WCS to determine the size of the jaguar population in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve. To accomplish this goal, researchers use heat-and-motion-sensitive cameras stationed along animal trails in the jungle. If they can get a good shot of a jaguar’s unique spot pattern, they add it to a database, similar to keeping fingerprint records. In the past, the jaguars wouldn’t be close enough to the cameras to obtain conclusive photos. But things got easier once researchers started spraying Obsession for Men near the cameras. The camera stands spiked with cologne attracted three times as many cats as those without it, making it much easier for researchers to obtain clear footage of jaguars. The scent also seemed to inspire some rarely seen mating behavior in the big cats.

While the Wall Street Journal piece has attracted a fair share of attention, there was a brief mention of the use of Obsession by the WCS in a 2007 issue of Natural History. According to the article, “jaguars cannot resist the smell of Calvin Klein cologne, specifically Obsession” and they “seek out the fragrance from miles away.”

The Wildlife Conservation Society has found all sorts of animals to be smitten with Obsession, including pumas, ocelots, tapirs, peccaries’ and coatis.

Oddly, the makers of Obsession, Coty, have declined to comment about their product’s use by animal researchers. You would think they would be proud that their cologne was being used for something more worthwhile than just making guys smell better.

Photo Credit: Emmanuel Faivre