There is some evidence to suggest that the original Abyssinian cat was a jungle cat hybrid that was imported from the west coast of India to Abyssinia in Africa and thence to England (possibly via Egypt) by an English army officer.
The wild cat hybrid evidence comes from the distinguished scientist, Charles Darwin. In his “The Variation Of Animals And Plants Under Domestication” he writes:
“In India the domestic cat, according to Mr. Blyth, has crossed with four Indian species. With respect to one of these species, F. chaus, an excellent observer, Sir W. Elliot, informs me that he once killed, near Madras, a wild brood, which were evidently hybrids from the domestic cat; these young animals had a thick lynx-like tail and the broad brown bar on the inside of the forearm characteristic of F. chaus.
Sir W. Elliot adds that he has often observed this same mark on the forearms of domestic cats in India. Mr. Blyth states that domestic cats coloured nearly like F. chaus, but not resembling that species in shape, abound in Bengal; he adds, “such a colouration is utterly unknown in European cats, and the proper tabby markings (pale streaks on a black ground, peculiarly and symmetrically disposed), so common in English cats, are never seen in those of India.”
F. chaus is called the Jungle cat. This wildcat is able to integrate with human activity quite well despite being persecuted. It seems they almost mimic, in the 21st century, the gradual domestication of the wildcat some 9,500 years ago when the wildcat become domesticated. The Jungle cat is found in many Asian countries including India (Felis chaus prateri, whose habitat is in the West of India1)
Because of this, as Darwin reports, there has been a natural occurrence of hybridization of the Jungle cat with Indian domestic cats. The jungle cat and Abyssinian cat look alike:
I think we can see the possible origins of the Abyssinian cat in a comparison of these two pictures.
The differences between the two are size and what cat breeders call rufus coloration of the Abyssinian. The Aby has a warm rich color whereas the Jungle cat is a more natural color. The warm rufus coloration is due to selective breeding incorporating polygenes that affect the intensity of yellow. The jungle cat generally is larger than the Abyssinian, perhaps a bit less than twice the size on average but some will be of a similar size (jungle cat weighs from 7 – 22 lbs or 3 – 10 kgs).
Is it not possible that the jungle cat mated with the domestic cats or feral cats of the west coast of India (as described by Darwin) producing an interesting Abyssinian like cat. This cat could have created second and third generation wild cat hybrids, one of which was then noticed, adopted and ultimately transported to Abyssinia by a British Army officer?
This was the time of the British Raj-rule, in India, which commenced in 1858 and concluded in 1947. I speculate that the officer was then ordered to attend the Abyssinian Civil War (the British forces where there in 1867-68) and thereafter he then traveled on to England thereby importing into England the first Abyssinian cat in around 1870, which exhibited at the Crystal Palace (London) cat show of 1871.
Ref and notes:
- Jungle cat – Photo by bv_madhukar (Flickr)
- I have lost the name of the photographer of the Abyssinian cat – sorry
- This page is a modified and amended version of an original article published on a subdomain of PoC about 4 years ago.