The Hidden Wildcat in the Oriental Breed

Sarah Hartwell, an expert on cat genetics, and a wonderful researcher has discovered a hidden gem of information which most people in the cat fancy would never have realized because it is quite unusual. She discovered that one of the founder cats of the Oriental breed was an East African Wildcat, specifically a Sudanese Desert Cat.

This of course means that the cats bred by many Oriental cat breeders carry a “relatively recent influx of wild genes” in the words of Sarah.

How did this come about? Sarah recounts the story. She says that a Dutch family brought a Sudanese wildcat back from Sudan. This was in the 1960s in the Netherlands. The wildcat’s scientific name is Felis silverstris rubida. The African wildcat looks very much like a domestic cat and indeed the North African wildcat is the wild ancestor of all domestic cats.

This wildcat had a brownish reddish coat with faint markings and the specific cat brought back had “very faint spots”.

This wildcat mated with a local red tabby tomcat and had two kittens. The family who owned her decided to get rid of her. A breeder of Oriental cats, Mrs Falkena-Rohrie (cattery: “van Mariendaal”), was unable to acquire the cat. The cat went to a small private zoo where she had two female, wildcat hybrid, kittens who looked very similar to domestic cats except the vocalizations were different. They also had longer canine teeth than domestic cats. One of the offspring was named Ruby R. Tibaldi. As I understand it, Mrs Falkena-Rhrie acquired this cat.

Ruby had a sandy background colour to her coat with grey black stripes interrupted by smaller markings. She was bred several times. The first time she mated with an Abyssinian cat. Ruby’s second litter was accidental. It was sired by a lilac-point Siamese tomcat. The kittens were small with uniform markings and not “trout-spotted”. These kittens inherited many colours and dilation factors from the father. This was apparent in later generations.

Mrs Falkena-Rhrie could have created a new breed from this Sudanese wildcat but decided against it. Instead she continued to breed from her wildcat hybrid and the offspring created. Sarah says that:

“when self-coloured cats with good Siamese confirmation were born she registered them as experimental Orientals and they were well received. The self blacks became “Ebony”, the chocolate brown became “Havanas” and in addition there were also Blue and Lavender Orientals. She was the first person to produce Cinnamon Orientals”.

Her Orientals “all trace back to a spotted Sudanese cat. Ruby is listed in pedigrees as “Ruby R Tibaldi, XSH”. Sarah says that the listing masks her wildcat ancestry. Ruby’s parentage is shown as Karel x Soedi. Soedi was the Sudanese Desert Cat.

P.S. Is this why Orientals and Siamese cats are considered to be the smartest breed? Wild genes should translate into intelligence because wild cats are sharper than domestic cats because of the challenges of survival.

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