In analysing the differences between the cat breeds using DNA testing, I am compelled to come to the conclusion that it’s all a mashup. Nothing is what it seems. Everything is blurred and grey without clean distinctions. The breeds, themselves, have a different and distinct appearance – they have to, to be a cat breed – but at a DNA level there are some strange groupings and overlaps, but not much in the way of distinctive traits. I have written about the Persian which has no connection with Persia. This page goes a bit further.
I am using information from Sarah Hartwell’s site which in turn is based on scientific studies – all good sources. Ms Hartwell summarises information from the studies. When you read her article everything becomes a blur. If you try to find a handle on the subject, a pattern or some sense, you fail.
So, other than the Persian, what examples of a “cat breed mashup” are there? Below is a selection. I’ll start with a breed that is more or less how I like it.
One cat breed at least makes a bit of sense: the Sokoke. This is a rare cat breed that breeders say comes from the region of the Sokoke Forest in Kenya, Africa. Well, surprise, surprise, this breed is closely related to moggies (random bred cats) from the Kenyan islands of “Lamu and Pate group”. Where are these? Well Lamu is an island that is about 150 kilometers north of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. I find that interesting because at least it is somewhere near the forest but why isn’t it the Sokoke Forest itself? At least we are near Kenya. That is a result. Another scientist, Kurushima et al (2012), says the Sokoke cat is associated with the region around the Indian/Arabian Sea. That would include Kenya, it seems to me, but it also includes many other countries and places. It is vague.
There is a lot of folklore surrounding this cat breed. It is said to be related to ancient Egypt.
The Egyptian Mau was worshipped by pharaohs and kings.. (CFA breed profile)
Yet DNA testing concludes that the Egyptian Mau is related to Turkish and Tunisian random-bred cats, with European influences. It is a bit like a recipe from the kitchen. This breed has been grouped with the Russian Blue, Siamese, Korat and Abyssinian cats and “clustered” with American Turkish Angoras and Turkish Vans, but not a sign of anything ancient or Egyptian. Where is that ancient, exotic blood; the connection with the pharaohs that we crave? If you want to see an Egyptian Mau go to Cairo and look at a grubby, spotted, persecuted street cat instead.
This cat breed has a tenuous connection with Burma. I doubt whether you’ll find a Birman in Burma. We are told that the Birman was imported into France in 1920 or thereabouts, in the form of one male and one female, but after than things become grey, very grey. The male cat died, which left things up in the air. The surviving female and her daughter were mated with other cat breeds such as the Siamese. Then along came WWII which meant the breed had to be recreated again. In America, a couple of “Tibetan temple cats” were imported into the country. We’re told they were Birmans. They were crossed with other breeds. It’s another mashup. The Birman is meant to be a Burmese cat but is no longer.
I’ll end on the famous Japanese Bobtail. This is another cat with a long history, supposedly, of evolution within Japan and a long standing connection with the country. We are told that it has been in Japan for over a thousand years, being imported from China in the 6th century.
Well, put your preconceptions aside, the modern Japanese Bobtail is more closely related to European and American cats than the cats of Southeast Asia. This is because of that wonderful process called “selective breeding“.
These are personal views and I could be wrong. The desire to create new cat breeds – there are too many, in my opinion – from a domestic cat that looks pretty much the same throughout the world has resulted in losing what distinctions there were between cats of certain regions.
However, what has happened is to be expected. Little attention and respect has been paid to the origins of the modern cat breeds. It has all been about what breeders fancied. There are many other examples in addition to the ones I have selected.
The overwhelming conclusion, for me, is that the cat breeds are a mashup, to use modern parlance; modern breeding and modern concepts coming together to erase what history and distinctions there were amongst the “natural cat breeds”. I think it is a shame from a purely commercial standpoint. The cat fancy would have done better financially and gained more respect, if it had been more honest and respectful of the domestic cat.
Note: if someone wants me to address some more breeds just ask.