Chinese mountain cat is a subspecies and is not the ancestor of domestic cats in China

I am picking up on a study that I have written about before which genetically analysed the Chinese mountain cat to confirm (1) that it is a subspecies of wildcat and not species in its own right and (2) that it was not domesticated at the time the African wildcat was domesticated about 10,000 years ago.

Chinese Mountain cat
Chinese Mountain cat. Photo: SONG DAZHAO/CFCA
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All domestic cats originate in the Middle East, specifically, it is believed, The Fertile Crescent, even those in China. It was plausible to believe that domestic cats in China might have evolved from domesticated Chinese mountain cats. But no, according to DNA tests. That means that all domestic cats were transported around the world over thousands of years by traders.

Some conservationists believe that confirming this cat as a subspecies is a demotion which may affect its conservation. I don’t believe so. I have always thought that this cat was a subspecies. That’s what the books tell me.

It was hard for Peking University geneticist Shu-Jin Luo to get the DNA for analysis! Some locals hunt the cat for their pelt which is a shame as it is ‘vulnerable’ to extinction in the wild. They call it the ‘grass cat’. They never found a live specimen. They’re that rare and elusive.

Chinese mountain cat
Chinese mountain cat. Screenshot from video.

They got their DNA from roadkill which is also sad. They also used old pelts and cats in museums and zoos. They collected DNA from 27 Chinese mountain cats, 239 domestic cats and 4 Asiatic wildcats (I presume this is a reference to the African-Asian wildcat aka North African wildcat or Near Eastern wildcat).

All the domestic cats in China were found to be the same genetically as other domestic cats in other countries. This confirmed that they had the same origins namely the Middle East.

Until 2007 the Chinese mountain cat was classified as its own species. But mitochondrial genetic analysis found that the Chinese mountain cat was a subspecies of the wildcat (F. silvestris). F. bieti became F. sylvestris bieti. It joined five other felines—including the Asiatic wildcat (F.s. ornata) and the domestic cat (F.s. catus) as subordinate to the wildcat.

The conclusion is not universally accepted. It is said that genes alone cannot determine whether the cat is subspecies or not.

Carlos Driscoll, a geneticist at the research nonprofit Galton Corp said that this study is about politics and not science. He says that the experts don’t agree on the taxonomy of the Chinese mountain cat. They don’t know ‘what the Chinese mountain cat is’.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the taxonomy of the wild cat species is still in flux despite DNA analysis.

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