Was the Andean Cat Domesticated 3,500 years Ago?

by Michael
(London, UK)

This is an update on the history of the domestication of the wild cat. It appears to be generally agreed that the first domestic cats appeared in the Fertile Crescent (Middle and Near East), which includes Cyprus and Egypt, the places where evidence of domestication of the European and African wildcats respectively have been found. The earliest domestication is dated at about 9,500 years ago.

The greatest domestic cat market in the world, North America, has no such pedigree in relation to the domestication of the wildcat. This is because no wildcats lived or live on the American continent and it is the wildcats, one of the 36 species of wild cat, that were and are highly suitable for domestication.

It is thought that the domestic cat, both long and short hair types were simply imported into the USA from Europe with people, either with Vikings or Columbus or the pilgrim settlers.

It is this abrupt start without any gradual evolution that is in part why bird conservationists think that the feral cat should be killed as it is declared a non-native species killing native species. We can’t have that can we?

It now transpires that Peruvians domesticated a species of wildcat (not sure which one) as far back as 3,500 years ago. That puts the cat amongst the pigeons because it means that at least on the American continent the domestic evolved in the same way as it did in the Middle and Near East.

This discovery comes from the Lambayeque region of Peru. Animal bones have been excavated that are said to be domesticated cats from the Peruvian Amazon (the territory of Peru, from the east of the Andes to borders with Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia).

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I have wondered whether the domestic cat was in North America thousands of years ago, meaning well before the pilgrims from England settled in the country or even before the Vikings.

There are many small wild cat species that inhabit South America including the Margay, Andean Mountain cat and Oncilla. Of these the Andean cat is the nearest in size and appearance to today’s domestic cat and they are very tame wildcats.

Andean cat
Andean Cat – Photograph copyright Jim Sanderson, Ph.D.

The margay is a little like the Bengal cat and can apparently be domesticated and it occupies large parts of the northern part of South America.

The Andean cat inhabits Peru, within the mountains of the Andes, not the Peruvian Amazon. The margay is the prime suspect as the cat that was domesticated by the people of the Lambayeque region of Peru if the archeologists are correct in saying the cats came from the Peruvian Amazon. But it seems very possible that the Andean cat might have been domesticated, instead.

It looks, then, as if the domestication of the wildcat on the America continent was confined to South America and that we will have to accept that the domestic cat in the USA is a European import, unless a Peruvian traveling salesman went in search of business to North America with a couple of domestic cats for company some three thousand years ago.

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