Recent research tells us two things about the Chinese mountain cat aka Chinese desert cat: they are hybridized and they were not involved in the cat domestication process.
Hybridization is sometimes referred to as ‘genetic admixture’. Over many years the Chinese mountain cat has mated with both domestic and feral cats and other species of wildcat. Therefore, we have to conclude that many individuals are not purebred. I don’t believe that the scientists know how purebred this species of small wild cat is (twice the size of domestic cats). The researchers reported on hybrid wildcats being wild x domestic crosses in the Northwest of China. The same dilution of genetic purity exists with regard to the other species of wildcat: Scottish wildcat (same as the European wildcat?), European wildcat, African-Asian wildcat.
The research indicates that “genetically distinct cat populations interbred extensively in the past, and this happened not just between wild and domestic cats, but also between wildcats” said Claudio Ottoni a paleogeneticist at the Sapienza University of Rome. He was not involved in the research referred to.
There are Chinese mountain cats currently in zoos. I believe that they mean that the African-Asian wildcat aka the North African wildcat, also called the Near Eastern wildcat has mated with the Chinese mountain cat to create hybrid offspring. They don’t know how often and how many hybrid cats there are.
For many years it has been believed that the North African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica) is the foundation cat of all domestic cats. It is believed that this species of wildcat was first domesticated around 10,000 ago in the Fertile Crescent. The domestic cat was then ‘exported’ with commercial travellers to other countries.
But it has been speculated that the domestication of the wildcat might have taken place at different places at similar times. Is it possible that the Chinese mountain cat was domesticated as well?
This research confirmed that the North African wildcat is the foundation cat of all domestic cats. It also found that there was no genetic difference between domestic cats in China to those in other countries which indicates that the domestic cats in China have the same ancient history as domestic cats in other countries. This means that the domestic cats in China are from the North African wildcat and not the Chinese mountain cat.
Comment: It does seem strange, though, that the Chinese mountain cat was not domesticated. Perhaps the reason is that they did not live near human settlements as was the case in North Africa. When wildcats live near people, they sometimes end up being domesticated. And it is in these villages that they mate with domestic cats and become hybridized.
P.S. The link to the study is broken so I can’t point you to it. Sorry.
P.P.S. The name of this cat is somewhat confusing. The term ‘wildcat’ is part of the name and it is a wild cat species. Note the separation of the words. And the name ‘Chinese desert cat’ is probably a misnomer as it lives in mountainous landscapes up to 4,100 meters. It is believed to be related to the jungle cat, sand cat and Eurasian wildcat. Others say it is a subspecies of the Eurasian wildcat. The classification of the species (taxonomy) in not fixed but has become more settled due to DNA analysis.
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