I have noticed that some Maine Coon breeders say that the Maine Coon is native to America. And the UK’s Premier cat Association, GCCF, says the same thing. If you believe in the scientific concept of non-native species, they are incorrect.
A native species is one which completely originates in the place where that species resides. It evolved in that place and it resides in the same place today. There can be no human intervention if an animal is to be described as native or indigenous to an area.
Although we don’t know precisely how the forerunners of the Maine Coon were brought to North America, we do know that longhaired and shorthaired random-bred cats were brought to America by European settlers from the 1600s onwards probably as ships’ cats. But sometimes they were pets. There are about 8 different theories as to how the Maine Coon originated in America but none of them state that the Maine Coon evolved from a wildcat which is native to that continent.
No wild cats were domesticated in the US to produce the domestic cat
In fact, it’s quite clear that today or a thousand years ago, in America, there were or are no wildcat species that could have been the forerunner of domestic cats. America has quite a few wild cat species but none of them were domesticated to produce the domestic cat. If that had happened the Maine Coon would be native to America. But I stress, it didn’t happen. Instead, there was human intervention in a big way.
All the invasive non-native species in any country were brought to that country by people, normally settlers. Sometimes traders, often on ships but sometimes overland.
And those longhaired and shorthaired cats that came with the settlers originate in the North African wildcat. They were first domesticated in an area which is now Syria and then after domestication they were brought with traders to other parts of the world including Europe and Britain.
Even Britain’s British shorthair is not native to the UK. The first domestic cats in the UK were brought to that country by the Romans in about 100 A.D. Although there is a much closer connection between the British Shorthair and the wild cat because, in the U.K., they had at that time their own wildcat. It was a different subspecies of wild cat to the North African wildcat but very similar. It was theoretically possible for Britain’s wildcat to have been domesticated to produce a domestic cat. If that had happened the British shorthair would be native to the UK. But there is no record of it happening.
Argument for doing away with the concept of ‘non-native’ species
There is not much more to say. Well, a bit. The only interesting point to make again is that people in the cat fancy sometimes think that the Maine Coon is native to America. It’s not. Although I don’t personally agree with the concept of non-native and native species.
The Maine Coon and its precursor has been in America for 400 years. That should be long enough to call the cat native. There is, actually, a good argument for doing away with the concept of invasive species. There are so many of them and some have been in a place for many hundreds of years where they’ve become part of the ecosystems of those places. There should come a time when non-native becomes native, I believe.
Breed versus species
One last point actually comes to mind; the Maine Coon is not a species of cat. It is a breed of cat and a domestic cat. The domestic cat is a species of cat and part of the same group that makes up the African wildcats both north and south, and the European wildcat. There is a distinct difference between a breed of cat and a species of cat. All breeds are one species of cat.
Postscript: my mind turns to Australia as usual. If you want to study a very good example of how people classify species as non-native or invasive, you could do a lot worse than taking a look at how Australians relate to the feral cat on their continent. Over and over again they recite the mantra that the deadly feral cat which so mercilessly preys upon their small marsupials and mammals (precious native species to Australia) needs to be eradicated because it is non-native. It was imported with European settlers 200 years ago. A very similar story to that of America.