All of today’s 600 million domestic cats descend from at least 5 female wildcats

African wildcat compared with domestic cat
African wildcat compared with domestic cat. Image: MikeB from images in the public domain.
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It is an astonishing thought. About ten thousand years ago at least five different individual female cats of the Near Eastern wildcat (aka North African wildcat) population living in the savannah had the courage to overcome their fear of humans to live in an agricultural settlement in the river-rich lands that form an arc from the Nile River up through the present-day Israel Lebanon and Turkey and through to Iraq, Iran to the Persian Gulf (the Fertile Crescent).

They moved there because this human-made landscape protected them from larger predators in the area and there was a concentration of rodents; a ready supply of food. Life was easier. That simple fact has affected the appearance of the wildcat over the many thousands of years of evolution as evidenced in the image above.

The cat walked in by itself

Bruce Fogle

It is believed that these five individuals are the foundation cats of the today’s entire domestic cat population of around 600 million (estimated). They are the five matriarchs; the females who are at the head of the creation of the domestic cat.

These precious five cats were not the first wild animals to live with humans as a major reason for their presence among humans was the earlier decision by the aboriginal mouse to take advantage of this niche human-created habitat. This is today’s house mouse.

The five friendly female cats had a ready-made source of food. They were accepted by the human. Over the following eons through natural selection which was a form of artificial selection – as only wildcats with a personality able to live with humans were created – the domestic cat as we know it evolved.

The progeny were able to stay calm around humans. They were tame wildcats. A symbiotic relationship between cat and human developed. Humans initially found them useful in keeping down the mouse population and then they found the kittens attractive and entertaining. The concept of domestic cat companionship took hold.

It was the Ancient Egyptians who then fully domesticated the wildcat over the period from 7000 BCE (BC) to 30 BC. There was a change from tame wildcats to domesticated wildcats. Domestication is near full human/cat integration while tame wildcats accept the human’s presence.

My thanks to Dr Bruce Fogle for the 5 matriarchal wild cat thought.

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