Thursday, 10 July 2008

Ancient Egyptian Cats in the Modern World

Some cats of the modern world are supposed to have direct relationship to the cats of ancient Egypt. Firstly, there is the Chausie. Chausies are a cross between the felis chaus and a domestic cat, usually the Abyssinian. The felis chaus is known as the Jungle Cat, Reed Cat, or Swamp Cat, and could be found throughout Egypt (as well as in parts of Asia). Felis chaus began being crossed in the nineteen-sixties and seventies with the domestic cat to create a tame, homely cat with the wild look and characteristics. Only registered with The International Cat Association since March of 1995, the Chausie is quite a new recognised breed. The size and shape of the Chausie correspond greatly with the felis chaus that it originates from, and it is very reminiscent of the cats depicted in ancient Egyptian artwork, especially those cats that are shown plain tan-coloured or solid black. The goddess Bastet as a cat is often thought to be the felis chaus; the mummified remains of these cats have been discovered in Egypt at Beni Hasan. There are three colours of Chausie that are recognised in this short to medium hair breed: golden, black, and silver-tipped melanistic, which are also the naturally occurring colours of the felis chaus. Chausie kittens are commonly spotted or striped, but as they mature the markings fade, leaving a ticked coat with barring only visible on the legs and tail. An adult Chausie can be around fourteen to eighteen inches tall (to the shoulders), and they are slender, long cats with slightly longer back legs than the front. Their tail is preferred to be of three-quarter length, which means their body is almost twice as long as their tail. They can jump vertically to around six feet on their long legs with petit feet; an attribute taken from their wild-cat ancestor, the felis chaus, who can leap eight feet into the air to catch flying birds. Taking two to three years to attain their full size, males can be around twenty-five pounds in weight, with the females being somewhat smaller and lighter. The breed is especially intelligent, affectionate, loyal, and active, and bond well with other pets in the household; sometimes being regarded as very dog-like in character themselves. An elegant and graceful cat with large mobile ears which can be tufted, slightly flattened almond-shaped eyes that are usually yellow or golden, a nose that is broad between the eyes, and full whisker-pads, strong chin, and a muscular neck, makes the Chausie a beautiful breed. Other cats that are known from ancient Egypt, besides the felis chaus, are the felis serval (now bred with domestic cats to become the Savannah) and the felis silvestris lybica (African Wildcat).
As previously stated, in breeding the Chausie, the felis chaus was bred with the Abyssinian. The Abyssinian was used mainly due to the fact that it most closely resembles the felis chaus and has the features that compliment the breed very well. The actual origins of the Abyssinian are not known with any certainty because it started being bred over one-hundred years ago in Britain when records of these things were not kept, though there is one interesting story that says that the first Abyssinian, called Zula, was brought to Britain from Abyssinia (Eritrea), Ethiopia, in 1868 by the wife of an army captain, Mrs. Barrett-Lennard; Abyssinians are thought to be Zula’s descendants after she herself was bred with an English tabby. Many products, including live animals, were imported from Ethiopia into Egypt during ancient times, so this could mean that the Abyssinian cat does have links to ancient Egypt; more than just simply looking like the cats in their artwork, they could actually be them. Since the Abyssinian began being bred in the United States of America, one or more Abyssinians may have been added to the gene pool there from Libya. The Abyssinian Cat Club, in association with the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, was founded in 1929 to promote the breeding of the Abyssinian, and they have grown in popularity ever since; often also being used in many other breeding programs as a cross, like in the case of the Chausie. The body of the Abyssinian is well-balanced and muscular, and their posture and poise is very regal. This breed now has many coat colours that are officially recognised, but one of the earliest known Abyssinians was possibly silver, and now the more common are of usual (a base of ruddy orange with an overall appearance of being a golden brown colour), sorrel (cinnamon), or blue. Whatever colour the Abyssinian is, they all have ticked coats which gives them a feral look; a line of ticking should extend from the back of their head and travel along the spine and down the tail to terminate in a solid colour (same as the ticking colour that runs down their back) at the end of the tail. Ticking lines should also be present from the outer edge of the eyes extending towards the ears and from the inner side of the eyes to the top of the head. No barring, necklet, or markings should be seen on the Abyssinian, except for possibly slight broken necklets or bars. Kittens of this breed are born with dark coats that gradually lighten as they get older; usually taking many months to attain their final colouring. These cats are of a medium size, adults weighing between seven and twelve pounds, with straight backs from their shoulders to rump, long slender legs, small oval-shaped feet, and a tapering tail. Abyssinians have well-cupped ears that are often tufted and are prickly on the inner edge, rounded almond-shaped eyes in amber, gold, copper, or hazel, and an elegant neck. An Abyssinian's nose and chin should form a straight line when they are viewed in profile, and their moderately-pointed ears should continue the planes of their head. Though Abyssinians are fairly quiet cats, they are also extremely demanding, and will make sure they receive any attention they feel is deserved to them. They are an athletic breed, too, so will cross all obstacles in their path to reach any goal. Above all, the Abyssinian is a friendly breed of cat which is very people orientated and has an unusual - yet adorable - habit of head-butting their owners, and they are so outgoing that they rarely become lap cats.
Long-haired Abyssinians occassionally appear in litters from Abyssinian parents, and in 1963 the first long-haired Abyssinian was entered into a cat show. A judge, Ken McGill, at the show asked the owner for one to breed from; he eventually produced the first official long-haired Abyssinian, which are now known as Somalis. Like the Abyssinian, the Somali has a ticked coat comprising of between three and twelve bands of colour on each hair, with the bands darker at the tip and lighter at the root; this gives the coat a shimmer as the light bounces off it. They appear in the same colours as their Abyssinian ancestors, but with their long coats giving them a ruff around the neck and a bushy tail, Somalis are often called "fox cats". Somalis are active and natural hunters that love the outdoors, so if they are to be kept as an indoor pet they need to be introduced to this lifestyle as kittens, or be permitted to outdoor enclosed areas or walked on a harness to give them their freedom.

Bronze Egyptian Mau called Sherif, currently at the EMRO
[Left - Sherif, a bronze Egyptian Mau kitten that was either abandoned or orphaned and is currently being looked after by the Egyptian Mau Rescue Organisation until he gets adopted. He was born in March 2008. As of the 25th September 2008, Sherif is currently on hold, waiting to go to his new home in Canada, once a pet escort is found.]

Last but not least, in discovering the cats of ancient Egypt, are the Egyptian Mau; a subspecies of the African Wildcat, felis silvestris lybica. The Mau can still be seen in Egypt today, but they are wild cats that hunt in dust bins for food with little veterinary care, and are thought of as little more than pests; often being poisoned. This is a far cry from how the Egyptian Mau was regarded in ancient Egypt or indeed how they are considered throughout the rest of the world in modern times. The Romans are likely the ones responsible for taking Maus from Egypt to Italy - and possibly to other places in Europe and the Near East - not long after the Roman rule on Egypt, as Roman mosaics and murals depict Egyptian-looking cats. This was probably due to the Romans bringing the advent of Christianity, so sacred animals of Egypt, like the cat, were not restricted to be taken from Egyptian land, therefore the Romans were free to take these exotic animals away with them for pets or in use of barter and exchange. The fact that cats were often taken aboard ships during these times to help control the vermin, no doubt helped in the spread of the Egyptian cat, too. In the early 1950’s an exiled Russian princess called Nathalie Troubetskoy was presented with a female kitten that was silver-spotted by a young boy that had gotten it from a diplomat working in an embassy of the Middle East. Finding this kitten very fascinating, the princess sought to find out more about its origins. Her research showed her that it was an Egyptian Mau, and she decided to promote the breed in America in hopes of saving the Mau from extinction. She took with her to the USA, in 1956, three Maus (two females and one male) and set up a cattery to breed them. Once the Cat Fancier’s Association recognised the breed and gave it championship status, other Maus were brought into the USA by various breeders to widen the gene pool. Outcrosses may have been used in the very early days to establish this breed, though no definitive proof remains of this, but the breed still retains all its looks and characteristics of the wild Maus that still live in Egypt to this day. No outcrosses are permitted now. The Egyptian Mau was first officially introduced to the United Kingdom by Melissa Bateson in 1998 when she brought home five Maus (three queens, one stud, and one neuter) after spending two years working in the USA. Now there are a handful of catteries throughout the UK that breed the Mau for showing and as pets. When the ancient Egyptian sun-god, Ra, is depicted in artwork as a cat, he is usually thought to be the Egyptian Mau. The only real physical difference between the spotted cats depicted in ancient Egyptian artwork and the modern Mau are the eyes; ancient renderings show wild-looking eyes, whereas the Mau of the modern era have large rounded eyes. Maus are the only naturally spotted small cat breed, and the colours that this short-haired breed can come in are silver (silver ground colour with charcoal markings), bronze (bronze ground colour with dark brown markings), smoke (charcoal ground colour with jet black markings), and can even come in blacks or blues, though these two colours are not allowed to be shown. The underside of their body is paler than the outerside. This breed is medium-sized - at around ten to fourteen pounds for males and six to ten pounds for females on average - and very graceful with a cheetah-like walk; their body is medium long with prominent shoulder blades and a loose skin flap extending from the flank to the hind-leg knee which enables them to jump around seven feet high fluently and run over thirty miles per hour. The Maus high movablity and speed is also down to them having longer back legs than the front, which can give the impression that they are walking on tippy-toes. Random spotting covers their back and sides, and they also have a spotted waistcoat on their underside. Their legs have a transition between stripes and spots, they have dainty feet, and a long, tapering tail barred down its length with a dark coloured tip. The face is a rounded wedge and they have large alert ears which are moderately pointed, set far apart on the head, and continue the planes of the head; the inner ears are a shell pink colour and ears can be tufted. Maus have large almond-shaped eyes that slant towards the ears and are gooseberry-green in colour; an amber cast to the eyes is permitted in kittens. Facial markings include a scarab on the forehead with a 'M' marking which creates the characteristic worried or concerned expression that the Mau is known for. In artwork from ancient Egypt, the cat is often shown with a scarab marking on its forehead, so it is highly likely that the ancient Egyptians also noticed how much the markings on their cats' foreheads looked like their sacred scarab. Interestingly, later Italian legend has it that the 'M' mark on the Mau's and Tabby's head is the mark of the Virgin Mary. It is said that when the baby Jesus was in the manger, he could only be soothed by a Mau cat, so Mary blessed the cat and created the 'M' mark on its head. A mascara line extends from each of the outer corners of the eyes to the sides of the face and a second set of mascara lines go across the cheeks; when you look at the make-up style of the ancient Egyptians it makes one wonder if the Mau’s mascara lines were where the original idea came from for people’s cosmetic lines. The Egyptian Mau should also have one or more broken necklaces. In a well cared for indoor environment, a Mau can live to be around fifteen years old. Maus are very intelligent and active; learning to retrieve or walk on a harness with not much trouble. They also learn very quickly how to get what they want from their owners and can be extremely stubborn and especially possessive with their toys. The Mau will bond well with its adoptive family, but may be somewhat shy of strangers. An amusing trait of this breed is when they start batting objects they find strange and deserves their investigation with their front paws really quickly. Maus can often become shoulder riders. Very vocal is this breed; rarely will you not hear your Mau chirping, chortling, meowing, and playfully growling during their waking hours!

Bronze Egyptian Mau Shirazi called Aaron, currently at the EMRO
[Right - Aaron, a bronze Egyptian Mau Shirazi that is currently awaiting adoption at the Egyptian Mau Rescue Organisation with his littermate, Andy. His estimated date of birth is June 2006.]

Roaming the streets of Egypt can also be found the Shirazi Mau, which is a long-haired breed of Mau. They possibly originate from the Egyptian Persian period, when the Egyptian Mau got bred with Persian cats. Shirazis are not yet a recognised breed, but they are undoubtedly a very ancient breed. The Shirazi is very similar to the regular Mau, except for the hair length, which makes their tails appear more bushy. The hair of the Shirazi flows smoothly through the fingertips.

Egyptian Mau Rescue Organisation (EMRO)

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