If you click on this you’ll be taken to a map that shows information about how the domestic cat – all domestic cats, genetically speaking – are clustered into four groups. The link opens a new page so you can flick between this text and the map.
The map (created by Michael using Google Docs) is a partial visual representation of an interesting study¹ into how the domestic cat, from the standpoint of genetic data, can be grouped into four areas as marked. These areas are Asia, Mediterranean Basin, Western Europe and East Africa.
This clearly excludes North and South America. These massive continents with Central America have no say in the origin of the domestic cat. Everything to do with the modern domestic cat in North, South and Central America is an import from other areas and continents. I presume that this is because of the Atlantic Ocean. It prevented trade and the early domestic cats were dispersed through trade. Australia is another land mass where there are no cats other than imported domestic cats.
That is not meant to be critical of the Americas (obviously) or to upset anyone. It is just a fact. This means that all the cat breeds in America are ultimately imports. The study concluded that most natural cat breeds are indeed from the areas which we are told they are from. For example, the rare Sokoke is from Kenya as stated.
However some breeds are not. The Persian has been so bred over the years that it has lost its original DNA. It is now associated with Western Europe meaning genetically it comes from Europe. The American Turkish Angora is not the same cat as the Turkish Angora in Turkey. It is “Made in America.”
Another cat that has been made in the USA is the Japanese Bobtail. Its DNA originates from Europe. And again the famous Egyptian Mau has almost lost its original DNA because of breeding with cats that originate from Europe. In short the Egyptian Mau has little or no connection with the original in Egypt, which is still there, incidentally, only it is a maligned, ill-treated, street cat, which gives me a clue as to how the Ancient Egyptians treated their cats contrary to well established history.
The original domestic cats originate from the Mediterranean Basin and probably specifically from the Fertile Crescent which is to the east of the Mediterranean Sea (where Syria is, approximately). However, it is probable that domestication took place over thousands or hundreds of years in different areas of the Mediterranean Basin.
Cats spread to virtually all parts of the Old World, probably along trade routes between ancient civilizations. In spite of their rapid spread, cats have remained amazingly similar to their wild felid ancestors (Felis silvestris subspp.) in form and function….
As stated in the map, it seems that once the domestic cat had been shipped out to Asia along trade routes with traders and so on, the cat evolved there in isolation from the remainder of the domestic cats in other parts of the world.
The Southeast Asian breeds, including Birman, Burmese, Havana Brown, Korat, Siamese and Singapura, form a grouping that is distinct and at the opposite end of the genetic spectrum from the Western breeds¹
One last point, the genetic variation of random breed cats is less than that found in humans (86% compared to 93-95%) and purebred cats have significantly less genetic variation at 61% due to breeding practices.
(1) The study: The Ascent of Cat Breeds: Genetic Evaluations of Breeds and Worldwide Random Bred Populations. (link) – My understanding is that I am allowed to quote sections as the document is published under a creative commons license. I have deliberately been selective and simplified it as it is a technical subject. I hope I have not changed the meaning when doing this.