Cats Around the World

Cats Around the World


We all know the big, scary wild cats; like the powerful Puma, majestic Tiger and the Rusty Spotted-Cat (they’re big in spirit… see below). But what about our household domesticated kitties? Where do they come from? We have unique breeds that originate from every corner of the world, and that’s beautiful! Celebrate International Cat Day with me as we delve into the history of domesticated cats and where some native breeds have come from worldwide. (International Cat Day is officially the 8th of August–call me over-excited.)

Editor note: I had to include the East Native Cat from Tasmania (and the Puma in South America) because, well… Australia and South America were looking a bit lonely when I drew out the map illustration. The East Native Cat is really more of a possum but… it has “cat” in the name! Good enough! 

“World’s smallest cat” published by BBC



From the Beginning


All the domesticated cats (Felis Catus) we know and love came from one known ancestor, the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica). This species comes from two areas; the Fertile Crescent in the Near East and ancient Egypt. A study done by Claudio Ottoni (2017) shows how both populations of the African wildcats led to the domestic cat gene pool from different times in history. It was discovered that the spread began in the Near East during the Neolithic period (from 9000 to 10 000 years ago!), but there was another significant growth when the Egyptian cat spread through the Old World during the Classical period, too!


The ancient Egyptians kept wild jungle cats as pets, such as servals, but only the African wildcat was ever fully domesticated. It’s theorised that we have such a wide variety of cats because they travelled with merchants across the seas, leading to many landraces (a species who evolved to adapt to their environment). Now, we have very different breeds from all around the world; from the Siberian to the Siamese. Unlike the dog, which were specifically bred to fulfil certain purposes (besides being man’s best friend, of course), the cat never really went through that level of evolution. We can safely assume it’s because cats were already perfect when we found them. Now, let’s take a little look at some native cat breeds which help us better understand the wonderful history of domestic cats! 



Siamese cat laying on table

Photo by Alex Meier



Siamese cats came from the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767), which we know as Thailand today. Their name comes from the old name of the country, “Siam”. Yes, they are a very old breed--ancient, even! The Siamese has one confirmed ancestor–the Wichien Maat (Thai cat). The Wichien Maat is actually featured in a 19th-century manuscript which illustrates lucky and not-so-lucky cats called the Tamra Maew. Siamese cats were widely loved; there are stories claiming only royalty owned these cats, but others don’t believe the Royal family limited themselves to only one breed. But, these cats were considered auspicious, some even deeming them to be spirit guardians. So, for all you Siamese cat parents out there, I bet you feel super lucky right now. Good for you! 



Sokoke cat laying on rock
Photo by Omer Farukguler 


The Sokoke is a native cat breed from eastern Kenya; its named after the Arabuko Sokoke rainforest. These cats are characterised by their brown-grey and dark rings patterning their pelt; they were referred to as Kadzonzo by local tribes due to their “tree bark” like appearance. 


They were bred by Jeni Slater in 1978, after her gardener came across a cat and kittens in a hollowed out tree trunk and noticed they looked... a little peculiar compared to the typical domestic cat. The breed was then introduced to Europe during the early 1990s to build stronger foundations. Today, the Sokoke cats are still considered to be quite rare due to their closely-monitored breeding, but are loved for their affectionate and intelligent nature. 



Siberian cat meowing
Photo by Sunykiller


Siberians are a native cat breed from Russia – according to Purina, their earliest records date back to 1000 A.D! Siberians are known for their dense, water-resistant and fluffy coats, a special feature developed to withstand harsh winters. Being such an old breed their origin story varies, but they have been documented in Russian fairy tales, such as “Liza the Fox and Catafay the Cat”. Their more notable feature is from Harrison Weir’s book (1889), called “Our Cats and All About Them”, documented after they were brought to the first cat show in England during 1871. These bushy-tailed cats are known to be easy-going and adventurous in nature; they are social creatures–some even calling them dog-like!



Turkish Angora cat laying on sofa
Photo by Oleg Melevych

Turkish Angora

The Turkish Angora is a longhair cat from Ankara, Turkey. This breed was featured and raised at the zoo; they were treated as a national treasure for their luscious white coats, and were later brought into Europe in 1520! While the breed grew in popularity, it was overtaken by the Persian (which actually came from Turkish Angora mutations!). They narrowly escaped extinction because they were still kept in the zoo in Ankara. To help their survival further, they were also bred in North America and Europe; where their gene pool was expanded to feature more fur colours besides white to increase their numbers. 


Maine Coon cat sitting in grass
Photo by Siglinde Luise

Maine Coon

Like many of the cats we’ve discussed in this blog post, the story of the Maine Coon is filled with mystery and stories rather than solid proven facts. All we know is that one of the ancestors were longhaired cats that were brought into Maine, USA, during early-to-mid 19th century and had mated with local shorthair cats. Perhaps they were brought along the voyage to catch mice on board. Or… a more interesting theory comes from the story of Marie Antoinette, who attempted to escape her execution by fleeing to America. She never made it on board, but her Turkish Angora cats did. And from mating with the local kitties, the Maine Coon eventually came into existence after supposedly some adaption to the harsh Maine winters. We don’t know how much truth there is to that theory, but it makes for a pretty cool origin story! 


Though brief, I feel like we’ve covered a good little bit of cat history now. It’s been fun seeing a small piece of how cats have slowly and surely dominated the world, filling our planet with all sorts of fuzzy meowing buddies. Whether you have a rare Sokoke or a ever-so-lovely-but-plainly-named Orange Cat, we celebrate every and all cats during International Cat Day (Week)!


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