Cats love human
comfort and company, but despite that the domestic cat has a lot of the same
characteristics as its wild relations. It shares the shape of its body, that
is built for stalking and hunting. Some of the smaller wild cat species have
at time left their natural habitat
to live with humans. The boundaries here, between wild and domestic cat
remain very flexible. And although the domestic cat seems to have a smaller
brain than its wild relatives, it can easily revert to the independent life
of a wild predator.
The Cats Origins
The members of the
cat family vary greatly from
the lion and
tiger, to the small domestic cat. They are separated into different
sub-families due to the difference in their anatomy. Which means members of
the Pantera family can roar, while the small cats in the felis
family cannot. The third family is for cheetahs because they have
In the 1900s there
were more than 230 species but now there are less than 30. Many species
became extinct because they were hunted by humans for their furs.
The link between
wild and domestic cats is close, but its uncertain which of the felis family
made the leap to domesticity. Wild cats vary considerably in appearance and
habits. For example Northern cats have woolly coats while Southern cats have
a fine coat.
Experts ended up with 3 cats that could have been the ancestor
of the domestic cat: the European wild cat and itís African and Asian
Europeans believed it was their wild cat (felis sylvestris sylvestris),
which is still found in parts of Scotland. This was due to the catís
colouring and the tabby markings that are common in non-pedigreed cats.
However, these cats donít change their wild behaviour, even if reared by
humans. This makes it unlikely that they inclined towards domestication.
However, the African wild cat (f. sylvestris libyca) which still
lives in Africa, Asia and Europe, has the same number of chromosomes as the
domestic cat and is relatively sociable. Both this species and the African
desert cat (f. sylvestris onata) live on the outskirts of towns and are
Our ancestors may
have killed these cats, for food and for
their furs. As humans began to grow crops, rodents were attracted, so it is
also possible that kittens were tamed and used to control pests. This would
have kept the scavenger population under control.
In 1865, Francis Galton, a British scientist, defined the
qualities of the early domestic animal. It would need to be useful, able to
breed freely and have a liking for humans. There is also a theory, that the
process of domestication was accelerated by genetic mutation.
Genes include patterns for behaviour, size and appearance. A
fault in the genes could have created a temperamental cat that was not
willing to leave a kittenish state. This along with the ready supply of food
meant the advantages of domestication were explored.
The cat gained warmth, comfort and a nice environment to breed,
and its offspring were valued as rodent exterminators.
The process may have been accelerated by the spread of the
African wild cat from the warm regions and cross-mated with its Northern
The domestication of
the cat probably only occurred 5-8000
years ago. Evidence points to ancient Egypt as the first area in which the
cat was given a higher role other than just killing rodents. Wall paintings
in tombs built 1560-1080 AD show the cat as a part of daily Egyptian life.
When a cat died the families mourned, shaving off their eyebrows as a sign
The domestic cat spread in the West with the spread of the Roman
Empire. The Romans smuggled them out of Egypt and took them on their
conquests to control rodents.
Monks travelling to the Far East took cats with them, where they
would have bred with the Asia cats. The earliest domestic cat bone found in
Britain dates back to between 10AD Ė 43AD before the Roman conquest.
The cat was a symbol
of liberty for the Romans. The cat lost popularity with the fall of the
For around 700 years after the first millennium, the cat was
associated with witches and evil. In the town of Metz in France, hundreds of
cats were burned alive on the second Wednesday in Lent, as a ritual
sacrifice of witches.
From 1600s the cat was favoured again as a domestic pet. The
French Cardinal Richelieu had cats with him while he worked. A French
harpist left a part of her fortune to her cats along with instructions that
they were to be well cared for. By 1700s cats were featured in portraits as
was even a cat fair held in Winchester, England in 1598.
It was not until 1800s that real interest was taken. Fairs in
the United States included exhibitions of Maine Coon cats from the 1860ís.
The first British cat show was held at Londonís Crystal Palace in1871. The
early shows were inspired by an interest in the glamorous pedigreed breeds.
It was necessary for a registration body to record the parentage of the
cats, to set a standard that would be desirable and undesirable trait for
each breed. This was done by the National Cat Club, founded in the United
Kingdom, in 1887.
Local clubs and breed clubs were soon formed. Today there are
active clubs in most countries. At the early shows the main varieties were
Persian longhairs, domestic shorthairs, Siamese, Russian Blue, Manx and
During the 1900s enthusiast imported cats from other countries
and breeds quickly spread from across the world.
late 1950s the knowledge of genetics grew, and many new breeds and colour
varieties within breeds were developed.