sokoke cat
Sokoke cat. Photo copyright Helmi Flick
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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


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.


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……….

? 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. 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.


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
No website – based in Africa

MaManon Charest – Chatterie Catzonzo
No website – based in Canada

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.


  • Messybeast
  • Wikipedia
  • CFA

Return from Sokoke to All Breeds page

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

43 thoughts on “Sokoke”

    1. 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.

  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?

  2. Guys, we took a cat in a shelter. she is about three to four months old

    It’s very similar to Sokoke, is not it?
    But I certainly understand that it can not be real Sokoke.
    I saw her fellows – they too tabby, but did not seem to have a marble coat.

    Our girl has the character of Sokoke – walks on the heels of the owners, gets up with my husband at 4 am, goes with him, if she is not allowed – she cries and asks the company.

    Taking her home, we noticed that she was unusual. It is too tame and allows children to caress it. She never bites or scratches.
    She speaks very pleasantly in her voice, plays a lot, and runs about the house.

    Her gait is special – as if she is a model, because she takes the hips forward with the step. Hind legs are like the truth above the forelegs.
    Such a sociable and affectionate cat, we have never seen!
    For this reason – because of her unusual and graceful beauty, I decided to look for a possible breed by its coloring and found Sokoke.

    Tell me, does it look like sokoke? Can it be a relative of this breed?

    1. Yes she does look like a Sokoke but that does not surprise me in truth because the Sokoke is also a tabby cat but ‘refined’ by selective breeding. Your cat is a gorgeous grey classic (blotched) tabby. Thanks for visiting and sharing.

      1. Michael, thanks for your respond! We are happy with her!

        who knows, maybe in the recent past a man from Kenya brought with him to New York the original Sokoke and she gave illegal offspring))) Maybe we are thoroughbred!

  3. Lynn Schafer-Russell

    I have TICA reg. Sokoke Kitetns available now in USA.I have imported the original Jeannie Knocker cats from Kenya,Watamu and worked the lines with old original Danish for several yrs.I am happy to report that Ndume,first import of the New Line is still alive and well at advanced age.There are Sokokes in Kenya,feral as they always have been,and unless captured before four mos. of age they will always want to be outdoors and less likely to be totally domesticated acting. Mine sleep on top of me and right next to me if able to all night.Recent DNA test performed by UC Davis on a Sokoke looking girl in Tanzania showed Egyptian,Indian and Eastern Mediterranean Origins,not European.Her pattern was African Tabby which the Sokoke’s is as well.I can be reached at so********@ya***.com Pics available at Sokoke Cat Breeders International page on Facebook.

  4. I have a male Sokoke, who is not castrated. He is just over 5 years old and goes by the name of Diesel. He has the beautiful dark makings, long legs, strong feet, and the most sweet disposition of any cat I have ever seen. I would love to breed him and help out with the gene pool. He’s too beautiful to not pass on his genes which is why we never got him castrated. It’s a very long story on how we “found” our little furry angel. He’s not a small cat weighing in at 18.5 pounds. He’s solid muscle and has bonded to me. He has to patrol the house and when he loses me, he cries until I call him and he finds me or I find him. His dog-like behavior is probably one of his best characteristics. He loves people however, he is a bit shy when new people come over until he thinks that they are okay at which time he comes out and has to show everyone his spotted belly. He loves to be groomed and talked to. He does a lot of “trilling” and purr/meows. He seems to be a very happy cat. Here’s a baby picture.

    1. Hi Kasandra. Indeed he has a fabulous coat. Very special. And his character is very distinct. And, as you say, he is a large cat. This guy is impressive and rare. Many thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi,
    I have researched the breed on the Internet and found it fascinating. I am just wondering if there is a possibility to obtain any Sokokes from their homeland, Kenya. This would be great both for the breeders and the cats thmselves to add some new blood to their slim gene pool. To be honest I have never found any info if the cats still exist in Kenya or have gone extinct in the country of its origin…

    1. I believe that this cat is still in existence in Kenya. I don’t know how rare or commonplace it is in that country but I suspect it is not that rare but I also suspect that you will see variations of this breed other than the appearance with which we are familiar in the West (i.e tabby). Here are 2 more pages about the breed which may interest you:

      In the link below you will see at the bottom right-hand side of the montage a young girl with a Sokoke kitten:

      Thanks for commenting.

    2. The breeders in Europe have looked into importing new cats. Not as easy as it sounds… You basically need someone there to help you. But we are also convinced there are Sokokes in the Watamu area in Kenya.

    3. Lynn Schafer-Russell

      They exist.You have to go there,offer cash reward for cats,and hope you get them young enough to tame them.Swahili herdsmen and their children dig them out of dens.Showing up for a week hoping to find kittens to export doesn’t work.Local contacts and ability to reach tribal members in outlying areas is key.

  6. Hi,
    I bonded with 2 male Sokokes each at separate locations. I have also noticed they can understand and learn local spoken languages just like small children do. Everytime they see a group of people containing at least 1 trusted friend of the human family members, they would snuggle to the feet of the group and listen in just like spies and try to pick up spoken words. I noticed they can fully understand medium length sentences in the local spoken language and if I speak to them in a foreign language their ears get sharper with curiosity. They also instantly understand gestures when I signal them to be more discreet, sneaky or just go hide. Another trait is that they are physically protective of their owners just like dogs are. When I ask them to do something unusual, they give me the startled asking face.

    1. I liked your comment. If you have had a reasonable amount of time with this rare cat breed, I wonder if you could write some more about your experiences and I can then convert your comment to an article. Thanks for commenting.

    2. Lynn Schafer-Russell

      Yes the Sokoke has several different voices and communicates by observing facial expression,body language and picking up on intent and emotion.All of mine either get stiff and slowly fall over at my feet,showing their tummies,and have very developed memory of people they bonded with.My tomcats growl like dogs if strangers surprise them,and if I whisper they will immediately get quiet and look to me with an inquisitive look and get hyper vigilant.All survival techniques intact!

  7. I live in Roodepoort Johannesburg and would like to purchase a Sokoke Cat. Can you please tell me where to get one.


    1. I have responded with a stupid comment because I didn’t read your comment properly! Sorry. I see you are in S. Africa. There will be no Sokoke breeders in S. Africa. They only exist in America as far as I know. The ones list on the linked page I provided in my other comment might ship out to South Africa. Some breeders do ship internationally.

  8. I’m trying to figure out if my kitty is a sokoke. She showed up at my door a year ago and I brought her in to join are family.

    1. Hi Amanda. Thanks for visiting and asking. She is a red classic (blotched) tabby and white cat. Beautiful, sweet appearance. She is not a Sokoke in my opinion because the Sokoke, under the breed standard, can be any shade of brown tabby. This does not include red tabby. Thanks again.

  9. I’m glad I came across this page since it has some fairly recent activity. I was lucky enough to have two sokokes in my home. Mida-Sana and Buluu were brought over together to the US from Denmark and were almost immediately re-homed with me by the breeders who imported them. I lost Mida-Sana to cancer when she was almost 20 years old, and Buluu followed just over a year ago. I was already missing them, which explains why I was doing a web search on “sokokes,” but I miss them even more as I read the descriptions of the breed and their wonderful, energetic disposition. I tried to find a kitten after Mida-Sana died and even sent a large payment to a breeder in Florida, but didn’t ever end up with a new sokoke friend (or get the $$ back). Although both of these girls had serious health issues (both were on insulin for diabetes for a number of years and Mida-Sana had recurring mammary tumors), I would love to have another sokoke in my home.

    1. Beautiful cat. This is a rare cat breed. Thanks for sharing. I am sad to read that both your girls had serious health problems. But pleased that Mida-Sana lived to 20 – a very good age. I sense that you did a great job in caring for them both.

  10. My daughter who lived with me when we (she) obtained our (her) sokokie was very excited as was I at the rarity and doglike personality of this breed. Kipenzi (Kippi) was obtained by a breeder in Florida. – Now out of business thank goodness. Her family was from a breeder in Colorado. Kippi is now 7 years old. When she was a kitten before we adopted her was photographed by Helmi Flick and when you google Sokokies – her photo is often seen with her two siblings. The one above on this website of the sokokie with a profile picture is Kippie – she is now 7 years old and doing great. We are certainly blessed to have her in our lives (she was not cheap) but a very unique and loving cat.

    1. Hi L Black. It is great to hear from you. Thanks for sharing. I would very pleased if you could take a little time to write a few more words about Kippie. It is very rare for me to be able to hear from owners of some of the beautiful pedigree cats that illustrate this site. Please tell us what Kippie is like and how you find living with her.

  11. I have sokoke cat, a friend found her and gave her to me, she is marked beautiful,, i am glad to find out that she is a sokoke, i was ondering what breed of cat she was , and this morning i was watching animal planet and they were showing cats 101 and when they showed the sokoke it was my cat on there and this is when i found out what breed of cat she was, she is truly a wonderful cat,, she is a little temperamental but a good cat, and i love her,

  12. I live in Tanzania and have owned 3 Sokokes (from Jeannie Knocker) for 5 years now. I have always been a “cat person” and find these 3 very different from most cats. As is written often they are very dog like, they run to meet me at the gate and jump up as dogs do. However some characteristics I have not seen written about them and wonder if others have found the same.
    As Forest Cats they are very good climbers and love to be up high either on the roof of my house via a tree or else high up in trees. Sometimes they go to about 60 feet. I have noticed that all 3 have very long toes compared with other cats I have owned and presume this is to do with their tree climbing background.
    I have also found that they do not like to be on their own and are distressed when alone. They always sleep cuddled up together and if one is separated he will be very vocal until he rejoins the others.
    Also I have noticed that they seem to have a fat deposit with longer hair between their hind legs. They are castrated males but they have had this since very small and I have noticed it on other photos of Sokokes including females.
    My three definitely like to be with me and lie beside me on the bed but hate to actually sit on me, nor are they keen to be picked up but love being stroked and follow me around the garden. As is written they are very vocal and answer when called before all three come running with long ratty tales held high. Mine have complete access to the farm where I live and are as one would expect, good hunters. They run up walls to knock down ghekkos, catch bats on the wing and any amount of rates, shrews, mice etc. They are very definitely snake aware and know which ones should be avoided. My gardener killed an Egyptian Cobra, over 6 feet long and put in the dustbin for me to see. When I looked inside one of the cats lept up to peer inside the bin and took one quick look and promptly jumped two metres backwards. He would not walk past the bin after that. I had to remove it. Small house snakes they will attack quite happily as they seem to know these are harmless.
    Locking them inside is also not easy and they will fling themselves at glass windows if they get stressed and want to get outside. Vet visits are now cancelled and I vaccinate them myself as being less stressful for all concerned. This maybe was because they were 11 months to 14 months old when I got them.
    I wonder if other Sokoke owners have found similar with their cats?

    1. Great comment. Love your comment. Very informative. Thank you for commenting. There seems to be a wild cat element in the Sokoke. Their general behavior seems to be very sharp and in tune with nature. You would almost think they could be wild cat hybrids.

      1. Your comment is published Kadzonzo. Thanks for visiting and I hope that you receive a response. All future comments of yours will be published automatically and immediately.

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