Do Persian cats come from Persia?

Today, Persia is Iran. Fortunately, we have at our disposal a well-known study which evaluated the genetics of cat breeds and worldwide random-bread populations. One objective, as I understand it, of this study was to look at the origins of the breeds and see whether the modern-day cat breeds can be traced back to their purported origins.

Young Persian cat
Young Persian cat has his origins in American and European breeders with no connection to his geographical origins. Image: Pinterest.

This group of scientists state, “Even though the early Persian cat may have in fact originated from ancient Persia, the modern Persian cat has lost its phylogeographical signature”. The phrase “phylogeographical signature” means, on my understanding, the linkage of the appearance of an animal with a certain geographical location. What the scientists are saying is that they can’t find any connection between the modern, contemporary Persian with the flat-face and Iran. The connection has been lost if it existed in the first place. Historically people think that the Persian cat hails from Iran but that conclusion is rather speculative and, as mentioned, has now been undermined by the study.

And the reason why there is no longer a connection between the modern Persian cat and Persia as it was called is because of over 100 years of selective breeding by breeders. In the words of the scientist, this cat breed has “undergone selection for an extreme phenotype, which likely involved complex gene interaction”. The word “selection” means selecting certain cats with an appearance which met the standard. This is selective breeding. When you selectively breed you are engaged in artificial selection as opposed to natural selection as espoused by Darwin’s theory of evolution. In other words, you break the route of natural selection. You interrupt and in effect start again with the breeders playing God to a certain extent.

To recap, the old Persian cats going back 150 years or more probably did come from Persia because logically the name indicates that. They would have been longhaired random bred cats by today’s standards, which is somewhat surprising seeing as Iran is a hot country and normally in hot climates you find lots of shorthaired bicolour cats.

However, the contemporary extreme-bred Persian cat with no muzzle and a brachycephalic head has been genetically manipulated through selective breeding so much that it origins have been entirely lost. The origin of the Persian cat is a bunch of breeders in America and in the UK who have operated over something in the order of 150 years.

Interestingly, the scientists found that the Persian cat is now genetically linked with random bred cat populations of Western Europe. I’m going to guess that this is a throwback to the early years of selective breeding in the UK. But that’s just my thought and people should not take that as fact, far from it. The cat fancy in the UK probably started not long before the first cat show that ever took place in 1871 at Crystal Palace, London.

Below is a quote from the study. This is the pertinent and important bit in respect of answering this question.

“Surprisingly, the Persian breed was not genetically associated with random-bred cat populations from the Near East, but grouped with random bred cats of Western Europe. The Persian is perhaps the oldest recognized cat breed and has undergone selection for an extreme phenotype, which likely involved complex gene interaction. Even though the early Persian cat may have in fact originated from ancient Persia, the modern Persian cat has lost its phylogeographical signature.”

The study referred to: The ascent of cat breeds: Genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations on Science Direct. Lead scientist: Monika J.Lipinski.

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Proposed pet ban in Iran: Islamic parliamentarians versus secular citizens

NEWS AND COMMENT-IRAN: The Iranian government has proposed a nationwide, blanket ban on pets. To me, it looks like a battle of wits between the strongly Islamic Iranian government and the secular citizens of Iran. It’s a battle between ancient and modern beliefs. The Islamic faith roots people in the past. Secular beliefs enlightened people and open them up to new ideas.

Iranian woman inside her home in the capital Tehran with her 2 dogs
Iranian woman inside her home in the capital Tehran with her 2 dogs. (AFP/ATTA KENARE).

I’m taking this viewpoint because although official polls state that 99.5% of Iran’s population is Muslim, a more truthful, I would argue, survey carried out by the website found that 40% of citizens identify as Muslim. Iran is becoming secular because they disagree strongly with the way the country is run; along Islamic lines. It’s not working for them. It is not working generally from an economic standpoint and in improving lives.

Perhaps the proposed law to ban companion animals is a pushback by the government who realise that the country is becoming secular. They want to try and force the Islamic culture on the country. It’s a way of putting the citizens in a religious straitjacket with what secular-minded people would regard as extreme rules.

And this proposed rule of no pets is just that. Although we must stress that it is a bill meaning a proposed law but the fact that it has emerged from the government is troubling, I would have thought, to many citizens.

Some Muslims regard living with pets as decadent. We know that under Islamic law dogs are regarded as unclean. Islamic law is heavily biased against dogs which is a form of speciesism. Because the founder of the Islamic faith, the Prophet Muhammad, loved cats, 1,500 years later this still has a bearing on the attitude of Muslims to domestic cats. This makes it all the more surprising that this proposed law would ban domestic cats!

Iranians Are Having Smaller Families and Keeping More Pets
Iranians are having smaller families and keeping more pets and clearly they sometimes fail to sterilise their pets 😢. Photo:

RELATED: Iranians Are Having Smaller Families and Keeping More Pets

Some members of the Iranian parliament are worried that keeping cats and dogs undermines the family unit. By this they mean that cats and dogs substitute people. I would argue, too, that these MPs think that cats and dogs and pets generally undermine the Islamic faith despite the Prophet’s love of cats.

Media reports tell us that 75 MPs, a quarter of parliamentarians, signed a text entitled “Support for the rights of the population in relation to harmful and dangerous animals”. They are stating that cats and dogs are dangerous animals; bizarre, seeing as, across the planet, hundreds of millions of people live with cats and dogs in peace. Yes, cats and dogs can occasionally be dangerous but this is entirely down, at the end of the day, to human behaviour.

Iran’s government is considering banning: crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, cats, mice, rabbits, dogs and other ‘unclean animals’ as well as monkeys. This will also mean banning the breeding of these animals. They seem to be equating cats and dogs with exotic and dangerous animals.

If the law is passed, which I would say is unlikely, offenders would risk a fine of 10-30 times their minimum monthly working wage. That’s a big fine.

Yahoo! News (AFP) gives me the impression that the citizens of Iran strongly disagree with this bill. To them, it is out of touch with reality and the modern world. An actress, who has remained anonymous, said that she was planning a demonstration in front of Parliament but she wisely dropped the idea.

RELATED: What is it like for cats in Iran?

There seems to be general support for the bill by other parliamentarians but perhaps this support is for a bill which deals with the keeping of animals generally and perhaps an improvement in animal rights in the country. There may be a good reason to introduce fresh law in that respect. One commenter, a lawmaker from Tehran, and an environmentalist, said that she believes there is a need for rules on what kind of companion animals can be kept.

Such a law would also impact business and the economy. The economy surrounding companion animals is quite important because a lot of people keep animals and spend quite a lot of money in the process of good animal caregiving.

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Paranoid Iranian government locked up cheetah conservationists as US and Israeli spies

The Iranian government is generally paranoid nowadays. They think that everyone is spying on them, looking for ways to undermine the country. They hate America and Israel and their blood is boiling for violence. Trump makes it worse. Wildlife conservation suffers due to the follies of humankind.

Iranian cheetahs
Iranian cheetahs. Photo: Frans Lanting/

Where does it leave cheetah conservation in Iran where the cheetah has been critically endangered for years and where an estimated 50 cheetahs live? Such a small population makes survival almost unsustainable. Perhaps it is already unsustainable.

Kavous Seyed-Emami who co-founded the Persian Wildlife Heritage, an organisation concerned with cheetah conservation, was hauled into prison where he died. They said he committed suicide in jail but it could just as easily have been murder and probably was.

Eight other conservationists have been jailed. They are accused of spying because they used camera traps to observe and count cheetahs! The Iranian officials say they were using the cameras to spy which is ridiculous because these cameras are (1) positioned in wild places where there is nothing but rock and desert and (2) they are relatively low definition cameras but sensitive to movement. The passing animals trigger the shutter.

A complication is that an American hedge fund billionaire, Thomas Kaplan, funds Panthera which provided technical assistance to the Persian Wildlife Heritage. The American connection fired up the paranoid suspicions of Iranian officials to the point where charges against perfectly decent and honest cheetah conservationists were concocted to serve the purposes of Iran.

It is the Persian cheetah which suffers at the end of the say. It is wars which damage wildlife conservation among many other human follies. Frankly it makes me sick to think of conservationists banged up in some crappy Iranian jail on trumped (forgive the pun) up charges. I hope they get out.

The last report I have is dated 4th September 2019 when we were told that 300 scientists had petitioned the Supreme Leader. That campaign is unlikely to have worked as they are dealing with paranoia.


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Campaigners tracking the movements of Asiatic cheetahs in Iran have been imprisoned for spying

This is an opinion piece essentially because I’m going to say right away that this story indicates once again how the Iranian government have a habit of jailing innocent people in order to provide them with leverage against those governments they consider to be their enemies. They have done this numerous times and this is just another sad example in my opinion.

Asiatic cheetah
Asiatic cheetah. In fact this is probably not an Asiatic cheetah because there are so few photos of them because they live in Iran and they are critically endangered (very few).

The Asiatic cheetah is endangered. It is a wild cat species which rarely discussed and talked about on the Internet. The IUCN Red List has very little information on this cat species. They live in Iran which is a bit sad because Iran is not known for their animal welfare policies particularly in relation to wild cat species.

In this instance six academics and campaigners had set up camera traps in order to monitor the movement of Asiatic cheetahs and other endangered species. Sadly, the Iranian intelligence service accused them of monitoring missile sites.

One of the accused is Morad Tahbaz, a businessman with joint US, British and Iranians nationality who has been jailed for 10 years. Another is a Canadian educated former employee of the UN Environment Programme in Geneva, Niloufar Bayani, 32, who has also been jailed for 10 years. She said that her confession was tortured from her. There are four others who have also been jailed, two of whom were sentenced to 8 years and the other two were given six years.

They had already been in custody for 22 months before the verdict of the Tehran Revolutionary Court. Another member of the group, a Tehran University professor and managing director of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Kavous Seyed-Emami, was found dead in his cell last year. They say that he hanged himself which is a finding that his family disputes.

They were accused of spying for America and taking instructions from an American businessman, David Laylin who said that the convicted people are totally innocent and have been caught up in domestic and foreign power plays.

Apparently, indicating a division within the Iranians regime’s chosen circles, there’s been a claim by Iranians that the group is innocent and it was aired in the Iranian Media. Members of Parliament have called for their release. They can appeal.

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Iranians Are Having Smaller Families and Keeping More Pets

Anecdotal evidence indicates that Iranians are having smaller families and keeping more pets because of the uncertain future in their country. They are keeping cats and dogs despite a bizarre fatwa in 2010 by Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi which declared that dogs are unclean. His edict prohibited advertisements for pets, pet shops and pet food.

Iranians Are Having Smaller Families and Keeping More Pets

Sales of Pet Food

In stark contrast to this outmoded fatwa a shopkeeper in Tehran’s central Geisha neighborhood says that he is selling far more pet food never before. He can’t stock his shelves fast enough.


The international sanctions against Iran which hurt the economy have turned people away from having children. In their place they adopt a cat or dog. The Islamic faith is ambivalent and confused about dogs. Sometimes Islamic preachers declare that dogs are unclean and that Muslims can’t own dogs. However, Prophet Muhammad loved animals. He made his love of cats very clear.

There is nothing as far as I know in the Koran which says that Muslims can’t own a dog. We see complications with the interpretation of the Koran. This doesn’t help either Muslims or outside observers trying to understand the Muslim faith.

However, despite the disapproval from theologians on the keeping of pets, they are becoming more popular. Iranians are quite Western in their attitude. When an Iranian owns a cat she will be inclined, like people in the West, to treat their cat as a member of the family. A cat can be a child substitute. This attitude is criticized by Iranian theologians.

Pets Not Equal To Humans

Hasan Rashidizadeh, the director of the Jafarieh seminary in Tehran says that it is incorrect for people to regard pets as equal to their children: people need to be taught “not to fulfil a true need with a false solution, like having a pet in the home”. People should respect animals but not treat them as equals. This is unnatural to many Iranians and to anybody who loves animals. Arguably, Iranian theologians are out of step with modern life. Iranians appear to be ignoring the outdated attitudes of traditional theologians.

It appears to me that life can be quite stressed in Iran. It’s getting worse with the declaration of President Trump backing away from the agreement concerning nuclear armaments and reinstating heavy sanctions. We know that the domestic cat can be a wonderful therapy animal. They bring calm and happiness to a lot of people. And they bring happiness to isolated Iranian families. They take refuge in their pets as friends who are trustworthy and reliable.

Cat Therapy For Newtown School Shooting Victims

Feeding Community Cats

An unemployed lady of 33 years of age, Sanaz Pourdavoud, feeds the community cats in the Dialogue of Civilizations Park in north-western Tehran every day. Sanaz has a limited budget but spends about $90 per month on cat food and medicine. She says that people can be savage and on one occasion she saved a cat from being kicked around by boys. Sanaz likes to name the cats. She is joined by a friend, Fariba Hajdaei, who can’t afford to keep a cat in her apartment but who also buys foods for the cats.

She says that the beautiful faces of the cats help to forget her anxieties and social problems and the bad news on television. There are real anxieties about the future in Iran. They want a dialogue between the government and the American government. They want progress in the future. In the meantime they seek solace in the cats in the park.

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Iran: Stray Cat Pests and Advanced Animal Care

Street cats of Iran
Street cats of Iran
People who are concerned about animal welfare should be concerned about global matters.  In the West we tend to focus too much on what happens in the West with respect to animal welfare.  This is my personal viewpoint.

We also tend to be fed a distorted view of what goes on in countries other than in the West by the news media. For example, the only news that we receive about Iran concerns political matters and Iran’s relationship with America.  Other than that we are bombarded with stories about Iran’s desire to create nuclear weapons.  On occasions we hear about revolutionary activity and the quashing of freedoms by the state.  It doesn’t paint a very pleasant picture of life in Iran.

However, I’m sure that life goes on as normal for 99% of the citizens of Iran.  I don’t have a right to be judgemental or to make assessments about another country if I have little knowledge of the country but in my opinion Iran is an advanced country (I write that in a non-patronising way).  Iranians often speak good English, education is of a high standard, and the country has advanced systems in place as we do here in the West. In fact I have driven through Iran in the 1971 so I do know a bit about the country. I have also worked with Iranians in London.

Some time ago, I wrote an article on the subject of Iranian cats but a lot of it was guesswork gleaned from little hard information.  Yesterday, I received a comment from an Iranian living in Tehran:

hi, I’m an Iranian living in Tehran, I own three cats myself and have been feeding about 20 feral cats in my neighborhood for past 3 years. I take sick ones to pet clinics and animal rights associations every time I stumble upon. I’m sure there are other people who do these things. maybe there aren’t too many but it’s getting better! (Nima)

I thought the comment very similar to those we receive from people in the USA. I have asked visitor to write more!

Below is a video about an animal hospital in Iran which indicates that they have high standards of animal welfare (at least in this hospital).  Note the animal ambulance, for example.

An Iranian filmmaker Mahraz Shahnazi has made a 38 min film documenting the lives of some of Iran’s weakest members of society, their cats. A short extract of the film is available on YouTube and the still photographs at the top of this page are screenshots from it.  Here is Part One of the video:

Shahnazi states that some people in Iran love and care for their cats.  But for many people the cat has become a pest and I suspect that this is because there are many street cats in Iran.  Cats left to their own devices on the streets will simply survive and procreate and as we know live rather short and, sometimes, not very pleasant lives (but isn’t this how the original domestic cats lived?).  It is these feral and stray cats who are seen as pests by a percentage of Iranian citizens.

There appears to be a need for extensive trap-neuter-release programs in Iran and some sort of control over cat ownership to prevent further stray and feral cats – very similar problems to those that we read about in North America.  It is quite reassuring in fact to see that that is the case.  I suspect that many of the street cats are ill treated and killed but as Nima’s comment above tells us there are also many Iranians who care about their welfare.

There is no doubting that there are some pedigree cats in Iran but relative to the overall cat population in Iran the percentage will be much less than in the USA.  This is rather ironic because Iran is meant to be the country from which the Persian cat originates.  The Persian cat is probably the iconic purebred, pedigree cat and a cat breed that has one of the longest histories.

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What is it like for cats in Iran?

No idea 😉 That is not quite true. I am always interested in finding out about cats in countries other than in the group of countries that we call “the West”. For me, the West is Europe and North America but everyone has their own interpretation. We shouldn’t forget Russia, which has a big relationship with the domestic cat and a lively cat fancy but it is in the West where you see the most well developed relationship between cat and person. I hasten to add that “well developed” does not necessarily mean the domestic cat is better off in America than, say, Iran.

Cats in Iran
Cats in Iran. White Persian. Photos: Main background picture by Hamed Saber. Picture top left by Fulvio’s photos. Picture top right by seier+seier. Persian cat picture copyright Helmi Flick.

I have been provided with a glimpse of what life is like for the domestic cat in Iran. I won’t quote the source in case it causes a problem for her/him. Currently Iran has a nasty government – actually a dictatorship – which spies on its own people and restricts freedoms while walking over human rights. What about the rights of cats in Iran?

My source provides a snapshot answer. I have made one or two corrections to her English. This person writes good English but not perfect. A lot of Iranians speak and write good English – admirable.

There are a lot of beautiful cats in public places in Iran. Sometimes people feed them and sometimes their food is only garbage. But they do not belong to anyone.

I think those cats aren`t purebred but most of them are really beautiful. Of course cats have a better situation than dogs in Iran because of Islamic regulations . I don’t know how many people have a cat in Iran but they must not be a lot. I think those few people prefer to have PERSIAN cat . because they think PERSIAN cats are originally from Iran (Persia is the old name of Iran) – my English language is not good. I hope I was able to answer your questions correctly…

That glimpse does tell us quite a lot. Iran is called “the Islamic Republic of Iran”. So firstly, right away we can say that the Islamic faith encourages Muslims to treat cats nicely. You probably know that this is because the prophet Muhammad kept a cat or cats and he loved cats. That is a very fortunate turn of events for the cat! Hurrah. All of us who like cats and animals can at least rely on the fact that the teachings of the Islamic Faith promotes good cat welfare. I have a page on that subject with some detail: Islam Faith and Cats.

That bodes well for the cat in Iran. Secondly my source, gives me the impression that most Iranians don’t keep a cat. Most cats in Iran are probably going to be what we would refer to as “community cats”. These are feral and stray cats that are relatively tame that are fed by shop keepers etc. I am speculating that that is the way it is for cats in Iran based on what I know about other countries such as Morocco where cats share people.

Finally, she makes, the not unexpected point that there are not many purebred cats in Iran (cats of a specific cat breed as opposed to moggies, random bred cats). Note: these cats would not be considered purebred in the West because they are not registered with a cat association as there is no cat fancy in Iran. However, they are probably more purebred that Western Persians.

If a cat is a member of a cat breed in Iran it will be the Persian for the reason she states, namely that the Persian cat is named after the country called Persia which, as we know, is Iran. However, in truth, I think you will find that the history of the Persian cat is vague and people aren’t sure about the origins of the Persian cat. For example, the Turkish Angora may be the forerunner of the Persian. Also selective breeding in the West has totally distanced the modern Persian from its heritage and origins so the discussion is academic. Anyway, that is probably besides the point because if people in Iran believe the Persian originates in Iran they will be more inclined to adopt a Persian cat.

Of all the cat breeds, the Persian is the most popular in non-Western countries (excluding Russia). India is another example of a country where the Persian is almost the only purebred cat. The Persian’s popularity in these countries is due to the fact that it is one of the original cat breeds with a very long history starting in the Middle East and which was, for many years, the most popular in America.

I think we can bring up a vision in our minds of what it is like for cats in Iran: most people don’t keep a cat. Almost all cats are moggies and they are wandering cats. Some people, perhaps the better off people, keep a Persian cat. It is probably white. I wonder if the dictator, the so called elected 6th president of of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has a white Persian cat?

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