Sokoke

sokoke cat
Sokoke cat. Photo copyright Helmi Flick
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Introduction

Is the Sokoke the rarest of all domestic cat breeds? Is this breed the missing link in the evolution of the classic tabby pattern in cats? No, I am speculating wildly it seems.

Is the breed, in fact, a domestic cat or a tame wild cat?  And how do you tell the difference between the two, anyway? There are mysteries surrounding this elegant cat.

Helmi’s photographs on this page show you very clearly what this cat looks like. When you put a picture of a high filial Savannah cat (this breed was created in 1986) side by side with a picture a Sokoke (discovered in 1978 but see below) you can see a marked resemblance (barring the coat color and pattern) particularly in their posture and the way that the spine bends at an angle rather than being gently curved. Although the Savannah is a larger cat.

savannah catSavannah Cat © Helmi Flicksokoke catSokoke Cat © Helmi Flick

I have seen this marked bend in the spine, when sitting, in pictures of rangy cats such as the Maine Coon, Savannah and the Sokoke. The Savannah is a cross between the Serval (a wild cat) and a domestic cat and later on in their development, the Bengal was introduced. The Serval inhabits the African Savanna and the African Savanna crosses from North Tanzania to South Kenya.

A theory – impossible theory

The breed’s history is fascinating and a little hazy.  According to the those who know, this cat is a naturally occurring breed found in the Arabuko Sokoke Forest District, South East Kenya, Africa (the green arrow on the map below marks the area – map courtesy Google maps). The Sokoke Forest is reasonably near the African Savanna.

As the Serval’s habitat is near the location where this cat was discovered it would seem to be not beyond the bounds of possibility to suggest (& that slightly wild look – see above – might indicate this) that the original Sokoke is a cross between a wild Serval and a local domestic cat. This could have occurred a very long time ago. Although this is purely provocative speculation on my part. I am playing devil’s advocate. Remember please that this website is not meant to be an encyclopaedia regurgitating or recycling the usual “facts” – what is the point? I prefer to speculate and question where appropriate. But where facts are stated as facts, they are good and well researched.

{Note: a breeder in Norway has made it clear that there is no wild blood in this cat. I accept that}. Read on please.

A current (at Oct 2008) breeder of this cat in Norway says that this cat breed is a mix (a hybrid) of a feral/domestic African cat and domestic cats belonging to British colonialists. This argument is based on the presence of the Sokoke’s modified classic tabby pattern that originates in England from the late 1800s.

“Old line” Sokokes came out of Africa in the mid 1980s to mid 1990s. “New line” cats of this breed have been imported from Kenya in the not too distant past. Seven Kenyan Sokokes were imported into Scandinavia and several have been imported into the United States. For this, one needs a Kenyan/Watamu vet certificate, I am told.It would seem that this cat breed is mainly due the efforts of European and Scandinavian breeders.  I’d like to see one of the imported cats. Are they as refined as the cats we see on this page? This would seem very unlikely. Are the old line cats different from the new line ones and if so in what way and why?

africa map

Wild/domestic

It is also accepted that wild cats can and do mate with domestic cats.

Because of the potential hybridization of wild/domestic cats it is difficult to separate domestic cats from wild cats genetically.

When differentiating wild from domestic cat researchers use “a set of diagnostic morphological traits” (a variety of indicators working backwards from what is evident to examine the root cause)

Sokoke Forest Cat
Sokoke Forest Cat

However, DNA testing on the Sokoke indicates that the breed is a domestic cat, I am told.

Origin

It is not uncommon for new breeds to be discovered (e.g. the American Bobtail and Munchkin – there are others).

This breed was discovered in the back garden of a plantation owner and wildlife artist, Jeni Slater, who I presume lived in or near the forest.

Before the “discovery” the cat had been well known to local people (the Giriama tribe) for a considerable time. Indeed, they had eaten this cat on a regular basis as a sweet tasting delicacy (thankfully, no longer it seems). This practice is indicative of how cats are treated in the poorer countries (think of China too – not so poor but a very poor animals rights record).

Back to the Sokoke. It is said that this is, in fact an ancient breed inhabiting an area near to Watamu, Kenya. Watamu is about 20 miles north east of Sokoke town and on the edge of the Sokoke Forest. This cat then it seems originates from the Sokoke Forest.

Local people gave the cat their own name, “Khadzonzo”. This word means “look like tree bark” reflecting the coat pattern and color.

The Giriama tribe differentiate this cat from the wild cats that live in the Forest and the domestic cats of the area, which are cobby in conformation. In contrast, the Sokoke has an elegant rangy look (“foreign” – see cat body types).

sokokePhoto ©Helmi Flick, click for large imagesokoke catPhoto ©Helmi Flick, click for large imagesokokePhoto ©Helmi Flick, click for large image

This cat, being genetically a domestic cat, would seem to be a feral domestic cat. They are obviously rare in the West but also seem to be rare in Africa as there was a time after their discovery when none were seen until 2002 (see table).

As Jeni had experience of breeding animals (horses) the discovery interested her. She decided to care for two of the kittens and invited a Danish friend Gloria Moeldrup to see. Read on……….

DateEvent
? to 1978This breed created and evolved without human interference.
1978Discovery of the breed by a person from the Western World.
1984Two cats from the breed taken to Denmark by Gloria Moeldrup.
1984This breed was shown in Copenhagen, Denmark.
1987Jeni breeds her queens with a black Watamu feral cat. This could be the origin of the Snow Sokoke.
1990 or 1991Gloria imports 3 more cats from Kenya to strengthen breeding stock.
1992One cat imported into Italy.
1993Recognized as a new breed by FiFe and granted full status (can show cat in competition).
1998Importation of one female and one male into the USA by Shabengals Cattery.
1999The US pair above produce first litter.
20028 new “original” cats found around the forest in Kenya. This is important for breeders are the gene pool is narrow and inbreeding a potential problem.
29-8-03TICA (2nd biggest cat registry based in USA) accept the breed for registration.
Current – De. 2010Registered under Preliminary New Breeds at TICA.

Characteristics of note

Medium sized cat with an “elastic” coat that is short haired with no undercoat. Snow Sokoke’s are being developed. The coat is a slightly modified classic tabby pattern (see cat coats tabby) and is different because the hairs in the center of the swirl are “ticked” (meaning “salt and pepper” look) causing a hollow looking center to the blotch. The pattern it seems is mutated from the mackerel tabby in the UK.

This breed is friendly (no aggression apparently), active, talkative and intelligent. Being domestic cats there are no permit issues that may accompany the keeping of wild/domestic hybrids. They are muscular. They deal with water better than most cats.

Sokoke
Sokoke. Image: copyright Helmi Flick

Breeding is strictly controlled to keep the breed uniquely Sokoke so there is no out-cross breeding.

New keepers who intend to show and breed should be prepared to give consideration to the purity of the genetic make-up by careful breeding and showing. TICA, in their breed standard, say that this cat breed bonds deeply with their human companion; a nice quality. This is a feature of F1, F2 wildcat hybrids. Although as stated this is a purely domestic cat. The Sokoke can show a vocal possessiveness of their human companions demonstrating this bond.

Sokoke Cat Facts For Kids
Sokoke Cat Facts For Kids. Photos copyright Helmi Flick

Health concerns

The coat is thin so that this cat feels the cold more. At the beginning of the development of this breed of cat (in Denmark) they picked up infection easily but that seems to have been resolved. Perhaps keeping warm helps.

How rare?

Apparently there are only 10 breeding adults in the US and 3 in Canada (at 2008). I am not sure how many in Denmark or Europe generally but it would seem that the total population in the Western World in less than 50. Since building this page I have researched rare cat breeds and this cat breed I would rank 10 on a scale of 1-10. This will no doubt change.

Breeders

There are no active breeders in Canada as at Oct 2008. Breeders can found in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Uk, Czech Republic and soon in Estonia (as at 2008 – things change).

Sunbright Cats
Update: Dec. 2010 – website no longer there. USA based breeder of Sokoke, Abyssinian and Bengal cats. The website has an Alexa traffic rank in the 4m and no PageRank (but not greyed out). Nice site in fact. One negative for me – they don’t say or at least don’t make it obvious where they are located. This may be deliberate for security purposes but for a business (where location is important) it seems odd. If you disagree tell me on the forum page (see NavBar).

This is the only breeder to feature (independently, meaning not as part of a directory) on any of the first three pages of a Google search.

Arabuko Cattery Jeannie Knocker
corncon@africaonline.co.ke
No website – based in Africa

MaManon Charest – Chatterie Catzonzo
catzonzo@hotmail.com
No website – based in Canada

Kimburu
Based in Norway – Site in English and Norwegian. Run Anita H Engebakken. No Alexa traffic rank as this is a Tripod Site (integrated hosting as opposed to free standing site). There is a Google PageRank, however.

There are a few other North American breeders but it seems no websites. This is a rare breed and the breeders are rare too. I would contact Sunbright cats if you live in North America and go from there.

Sources:

  • Messybeast
  • http://www.livescience.com
  • http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org
  • Wikipedia
  • http://web.archive.org/web/20141217125829/http://kadzonzo.dk/
  • CFA
  • http://www.fanciers.com/

Return from Sokoke to All Breeds page

43 thoughts on “Sokoke”

    • Paula, your cat is a beautiful blotched tabby cat as is the Skokoke. The difference is that the Skokoke is a cat breed registered with a cat association and your cat is not as far as I know. There may be some Skokoke in your cat but it is very unlikely because this is a rare breed. The more definitive connection is that both your cat and the Skokoke have the tabby gene. Thanks for sharing Paula.

      Reply
  1. I recently rescued a pair of brothers and they have very similar markings to the sokoke, they like to follow but aren’t really into cuddles, as long as they can be near someone they seem happy, they were ferals so are taking a bit of time to adjust bless them. They have very distinct cinnamon swirl markings and golden stripes down their brown backs, could they be distant relatives of this beautiful cat?

    Reply

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