The long-haired version of the Abyssinian cat is the Somali and what a stunning cat this is. It is one of my favourite cat breeds and they make fantastic subjects to photograph particularly if you are Helmi Flick.
The ticked coat of the Somali is longer, softer and silkier than the coat of the Abyssinian. Except for the coat it is the same breed. The name is made up because there is no historical significance, in truth, with respect to the name. As Dr Desmond Morris says “it is doubtful whether any Somali cat has ever trodden on Somali soil”. The name was chosen because Somalia is close to Abyssinia which is now called Ethiopia. It is that neck of the woods in Africa, the top right hand corner of the continent. A very dry and arid part of the world with a lawless government!
Photo above: Kerry Dolan’s Somali, Howling Coyote Meet Me in Malta. Photographed by Helmi Flick in Deer Park, Texas, at the TICA Feline PAW Foundation cat show. The photo is published here with Helmi’s express permission.
Some people refer to the Somali coat as a “soft orange cloud”. I think they look like foxes and I like foxes. There is a great similarity in the colour and length of coat between the Somali and the fox. If we take into account the plumed tail you achieve a fox-like appearance. This is why some people refer to them as the “fox cat”.
The cat’s initial creation appears to have been an accident. In the 1950s and 1960s long-haired kittens were the offspring of short-haired Abyssinian parents. Initially they were regarded as failures I suspect and given away as pets but then minds turned to the possibility of creating a future new breed. There was cooperation between breeders from the United States, Australia and New Zealand who exchanged cats to improve the quality of the foundation stock.
The driving force behind the breed was an American breeder called Evelyn Mague in Gillette, New Jersey. Evelyn came up with the name for the breed and one of her male kittens, George, became the breed’s founding father.
George was born in 1967. The breeding program was successful. In 1972 The Somali Cat Club was created. In 1977 Somali cats were exported to continental Europe to commence breeding programs there.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) granted championship status to this breed in 1978. In 1981, after the breed was accepted elsewhere, a pair of Somalis were exported to Britain. Previously the breed had been ignored in the UK.
Desmond Morris tells us that there was controversy over the true source of the accidental creation of the first kittens referred to above. Some people claim that a long-haired breed must have been introduced into the Abyssinian breeding stock at some stage early in the development of the Abyssinian, such as a Persian. The long-hair, recessive trait then emerged years later. Others say that the gene cropped up naturally as a simple mutation.
The Abyssinian is known as an intelligent and athletic cat companion. A range of terms have been used to describe the personality of the Somali such as: athletic, intelligent, active, friendly, demonstrative and gentle.
I always think of the Somali as a red or rusty coated cat like the fox as mentioned. However, over the years the colours been extended dramatically and today there are a wide range of colours from chocolate, lilac, cream, tortoiseshells, silver tortoiseshells and more. You can see the full list on the CFA website breed standard.