A Critical Conjuncture in Feline Preservation.  Ancient breeds deserve recognition.

This year in our college english class, we were allowed to select our own topics to write our essays over. I decided to take this oportunity to write a stance in support for feline preservation. It was A challenging topic because the subject remains largely unaddressed. Below is my final argumentative essay on the topic of feline preservation.

The controversy rages between the breeding community and those opposed to breeding in any capacity. I know based on my years of experience in animal rescue, that the breeding community has tremendous issues; inbreeding, health problems, and sometimes abandonment to farms and shelters. The opinion of those opposed to breeding, believe that spay and neutering every cat is the best solution, in the adopt, do not shop trend. This veiw could lead to depopulation problems in the future. They continue to clash, but neither side has a viable solution. There does not seem to be a compromise, a common ground in which both sides could agree on. Then as I studied and during my research, a solution presented itself in a simple clipping out of a magazine from 1936. The story told how in Europe litters of solid chocolate kittens would occasionally appear in Siamese cat litters, which were usually a sable and cream color, but instead of looking upon them with awe and fascination they were looked upon with horror and euthanized just because they were not the right color. Sadly, these kittens were considered a rare natural ancient breed in their home country Siam (now called Thailand). So, I concluded perhaps there is a solution, a possible common ground after all, because we can present the truth to the breeding community and launch a campaign to convince them through scientific discovery and research, that it is proven their earlier deductions were wrong about the lack of existence of ancient cat breeds, many breeders’ site this as an excuse to perpetrate their breed manipulation practices. Breeders should honor this discovery and stop the obsession of color and extreme features like peke face (smashed in face) and focus on the preservation and beauty of natural and original cat breeds.

1936 clipping from Fur and Feather Magazine. (Source: http://messybeast.com/retro-shorthair-swiss.htm)

Evidence proves when filling in the missing pieces of feline history we must go back further in time than originally thought, because archeological digs report the remains of domesticated cats appear all over the Anatolian region. An area where ancient Persia once resided and now consist of modern-day Turkey and Iran. Maria Golab and Vedat Onar and her co-authors in “A Cat Skeleton from the Balatlar Church Excavation, Sinop, Turkey” will discuss two very significant burial grounds. Roger Tabor in his 1990s documentary “Cats” also visits an unusual site in Egypt that does contain signs of early cat breeding. These three sources are proof and changes what we know concerning the story of the domestic cat.

Feline research and studies can be a difficult topic to find information on, it was not until this past sixty years that western civilization developed an interest in this subject. A few pioneers have invested a lot of time and spent their life working to provide answers concerning the origin of these furry feline friends. Leslie Helene Bach has conducted years’ worth of feline genetic testing, some of her findings reside in a journal called Analysis of “FGF5 and Construction of a High-Resolution Radiation Hybrid Panel for the Domestic Cat.” Another individual who has completed years of research is an evolutionary biologist by the name of Maria Golab, her viewpoints often differ greatly from Leslie Bach. Though we still have many holes to fill regarding history research, we can look to their furry companion counterpart the canine for similarities. Mathew Oetjens’ “ Analysis of the Canid Y-chromosome Phylogeny Using Short-read Sequencing Data Reveals the Presence of Distinct Haplogroups among Neolithic European Dogs” will help us find similarities as both shared a close relationship with humans.

Health has been a major problem amongst multiple breeds in the cat breeding community. “Motivation of Owners to Purchase Pedigree Cats, with Specific Focus on the Acquisition of Brachycephalic Cats” (Plitman, Liran, et al.) and “The Course of the Nasolacrimal Duct in Brachycephalic Cats.” (S, Breit, et al) will discuss some of the major health consequences trendy breeding has had on cats. Pistorius, Arthur, and Ineke Blokker. Will discuss the positive effects ancient breeds have had in the breeding world. “Statistical Analysis in Support of Maintaining a Healthy Traditional Siamese Cat Population.”. Roger Tabor will discuss how bad breeding standards have altered ancient breeds.

These articles may seem unrelated, but each are a significant part of the importance steps that need to be taken to improve the breeders Cat Fancy. For years the Cat Fancy has claimed that all cats are some form of mut or moggy, and the thing that separates a moggy from a pedigree is the breeding standard they maintain. Modern Science is telling a different story, genetic and archeological evidence of unique demographic populations of cats are being discovered throughout the world. The cat fancy needs to reevaluate their definition of a moggy, abandon the obsession with trendy appearances, and use scientific and archeological research to identify and preserve these unique demographic groups (or ancient breeds of cats).

Image displays the proximity of both feline burial sites to one another. (The one on Cyprus to the one at Balatar Church) (Image Source: V Onar et al.)

Original conclusions concerning the domestic cat were that the feline had only been domesticated for a short period of time, and that humans have only been breeding them for a few hundred years. Recent discoveries near the middle east and Mediterranean area, debunk this original deduction. Balatar Church is an ancient structure in Sinhop Turkey with proof of occupation before the Roman Empire. Underneath the foundations of an ancient church was a unique burial containing a human and a cat that had been ceremonially buried together side by side dating back to the seventh century. There is another similar, yet much older burial site on the Island of Cyprus. This site dates back anywhere between 9000 to 10000 years ago, pushing the close relationship between human and cat much closer to the development to civilization, and much older than any site containing felines in Egypt (Golab).

There are also signs of close feline human/ feline relationship closer to Asia. This means Egypt may not be responsible for the or at least solely responsible for the domestication of the feline. The reason why we have so many missing pieces to the feline origin story could very well be because we have been looking for the answers in the wrong place. If we have been looking in the wrong place all this time, we are not going to have the material we need to conduct the proper maternal or paternal haplogroup studies. Egypt may not be the original place of domestication; however, Egypt cannot be completely discredited. In his 1991 documentary series BBC cats, Roger Tabor visits an unusual site in Egypt. It was a structure containing cat bones and surrounded by other cat bones. He believes that it could have been a very early example of attempted cat breeding. This would date cat breeding back thousands of years instead of hundreds like originally thought. So it is likely selective breeding by could have occurred over the course of thousand of years making the cats in this area more than just a bunch of neglected mousers running the streets and interbreeding. So what is the significance of these old dusty bones held in these ancient burial grounds and tombs? The answer is DNA.

Though not as significant as blood, DNA can be extracted from bones and fossilized remains and analyzed to help find the origin of felines and their natural living relatives.  Popular genetic research companies like CRI genetics and Ancestry use maternal and paternal haplogroup studies to trace people back to distant ancestors and identify close relatives. Perhaps similar technology can be used to trace the origin of certain cat breeds, previously unknown species of wildcat, or even natural living relatives still living in their ancient homeland. Mira Golab discusses such a discovery in her research article. The remains of felines were discovered in a three-thousand-year-old village in Quanhucun, China, they were of a previously unknown species. Evidence was insufficient to determine if these cats had been domesticated or not. More time and dedication has been given to canine genetic research tracing their origins back to now extinct wild dogs. The argument for that is that canine genetics being more tracible due to humans breeding for purpose to perform certain tasks, while cats were not used in this manner.

Image Source: https://www.history.com/.amp/news/cats-ancient-egypt

A fresco on the Tomb of Nebamun in Egypt may be the greatest example against this idea. There a cat is depicted hunting birds right beside his owner. Roger Tabor mentioned in his documentary series the quickness and agility of the cat. The strange site surrounded by cat bones along with this ancient fresco make it a possibility that cats may have been bred with a purpose in mind. However, wall frescos and a few bones here and there still do not give science enough of the story. Hence, more feline related archeological and genetic testing is important because written history is often misinterpreted or lost over great expanses of time. Discoveries like the burial site in Cyprus prove that the relationship between human and feline go back thousands of years. The oldest physical documentation of cats and cat breeds exists in Thailand, unfortunately, it is only a few hundred years old. That is thousands of years of missing history. Therefore, DNA testing is needed to fill in these missing gaps in time.

Researchers in the field of feline genetic DNA testing have begun to fill in these important missing gaps in feline history. It was previously thought that Felis Lybica was the sole ancestor of the domestic cat but was later discovered through genetic testing that a wild cat from Asia was carried along trade routes and intermixed with small wild cats of the Anatolian region. Written history would have never been able to make such a discovery (Golab). Another discovery made through genetic testing is the origins of the original long hair gene, breeders have intentionally bred cats together through the years which has resulted in mutations in the long hair gene. However, the oldest long hair gene is traced back to the middle east (Bach pg 153).

Fatima- Descendant from an Ankara Zoo Angora (Image Source: Harvey Harrison)

This happens to be home of the angora cat, a silky white longhair cat, which has historically held the record for one of the oldest cat breeds. They are often depicted in art and paintings going back hundreds years and won favor in the eyes of nobility in France. Some are even held within in the Ankara Zoo with the belief that the angora is indeed an ancient breed in need of protection. Discovery of the original longhair Angora cat in Iran is an example of how extensive genetic studies can confirm or deny an ancient origin claim. Pistorius, Arthur, and Ineke Blokker present another example of the importance of genetic testing and research of felines, they specialize in the study of Siamese and Thai Cat genetics, the Thai Siamese is great example of an ancient cat breed.

The Thai cats called the ancient temples of Siam (now Thailand) home for hundreds of years. What they discovered in their research is Thai Siamese has “low kinship coefficients” or more genetic variation than ones that are established in the western Cat Fancy. This means that the ancient Thai cats are less likely to obtain copies of bad alleles or genes that reside in each parent. This genetic discovery teaches ancient breeds are healthier and maintain a higher genetic variation, and are less likely succumb to genetic diseases (2). Thus, utilization of DNA testing is indeed important in the fight for feline preservation. Just like it has done for canines, analysis of DNA sequences will tell us about the felines long forgotten predecessors, their characteristics, and tie them to living relatives today possibly living in isolated demographics. If certain sets of unique traits exist within a demographic population, this should be investigated.

When proven that a certain set of unique traits happen to be very old, or multiple demographic populations of felines can trace their origin to that unique demographic population,  they should be given a title more than just “street cat or moggy”. These disrespected “moggy felines” contributed a major component to the feline origin story and should be given the title of natural or ancient cat breed. There is already evidence that Asian wild cat populations have had some genetic influence on cats of the Anatolia. For this reason, the site in Asia Golab mentioned should be investigated further to see if the cat found there had a significant impact on Asian cat populations in their own homeland as well as to see if the felines have any living relatives in unique demographic populations. The felines of the Anatolian region also have repeatedly shown signs of  having a significant impact on the feline story. The two unique scenarios of humans being buried with felines in ancient times were discovered in the Anatolian region. Also, the popular cat breed, the Persian began from two cats pulled out of the Anatolian region near the black sea and mountainous regions. As mentioned earlier the oldest gene for long hair has been traced back to a place none other than the Anatolian Region (Bach 154). Due to the significant impact of the Anatolian reagion on the feline origin story, it is important to study feline demographic populations in this area. There is a possibility of discovering one or multiple ancient breeds originating from this area. The cats of Thailand are yet another example of natural cat breeds. Their coloration is unique and rare, no other place in the world possesses their unique features such has pearly teal-colored eyes and dilute coat coloration. Chocolate coat color is not even a characteristic found in Persian cats, yet they exist because breeders use of Thai cat in their Persian cat lines. Unfortunately, they repeatedly face extinction due to their utilization in other breeds like the Persian. These natural cat breeds face problems similar to some small wild cats who intermix with the general domestic cat population, forcing them to become endangered and threatened. The threat of  these natural cat breeds becoming extinct is an issue not unlike the challenges small wild cats face. These ancient domestic cat breeds do not get the protection their wild counterparts do. If this ignorance of their existence continues to occur unchecked, we could lose them forever. Hence, this historical and genetic evidence proves the cat has a long respectable history of domestication and certain breeds originated from certain distinct areas across the globe, and therefore deserve preservation.

An array of health conditions have plagued the designer breeds of the Cat Fancy establishment. One of these health conditions is called Brachycephalism when a cat has an extremely flattened snout, also known as peke face. This condition causes an acute right angle in the nasolacrimal duct or nasal airway of the cat, making it very difficult for the animal to get the air they need (S, Breit, et al. 1). Pet transport services will often ask what breed of feline is due to this condition, because they could possibly suffocate in planes due to their constricted airways. The air is thinner while planes are in higher altitudes, making harder to get oxygen. The extremely foreshortened face of the modern Persian was created through extreme selective breeding and inbreeding. Nonetheless this trait is considered extremely desired in the mainstream cat fancy. Piltman and her team studied the motivation behind this “increasingly prevalent” trend “with brachycephalic breeds being the most registered breed.”(pg 1). When investigating the motivation behind this unhealthy trend, they discovered that people who purchased these kinds of cats were not considering the health of the animal, and later either regretted their decision or would not recommend adopting such animals (Plitman et al. 14).

Image is an example of the affect Brachycephalism has on the feline cranial structure (Image Source: https://katzenworld.co.uk/2017/02/15/mounting-evidence-to-prove-that-flat-faced-cat-breeds-are-suffering/)

In fact, the desire for cats with such a crippling condition is a trend that has taken hold of the breeding community over the past fifty to one hundred years. The true ancient or native Persian of 100 years ago looked nothing like it does today. In the documentary BBC Cats, narrator Roger Tabor can be seen sitting next to a stuffed Persian cat name Tilly from a hundred years ago. This preserved stuffed specimen resides in the British Museum and it can be seen this creature has a long healthy snout, a stocky body, and medium length hair not prone to matting like the Persian cats of today are. Very similar cats with intense golden eyes and shiny, silky fur can be seen wandering the streets on middle eastern and Mediterranean cities as they have for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Even though they are much healthier and possess more genetic variation than their cat fancy counterparts, they are denounced as nothing more than just a simple moggy or mutt. Perhaps if the science be known to the public, it would tell a different story.

The story of feline, human relationships and the domestic cat goes back much further than the scientific community originally thought. Discoveries of felines in ancient archeological sites like the ones in the Anatolia, Cyprus, Asia, and Egypt debunk the idea that felines had an insignificant role in human history. DNA from the fossils and bones of these sites can be extracted and analyzed, the data obtained can be used to make connections and comparisons between these cats and todays modern feline populations. If it is discovered that these cats have a genetic background extending further back into the times before written history, these creatures should be recognized as their own breed and not just an economic asset to be used by the breeding community. These ancient and natural cat breeds should no longer be denied of the status they deserve. They should be viewed as something more than just moggies, and not just something to be pulled off the streets or out of the temples of their homeland and utilized how the mainstream cat fancy sees fit. These ancient breeds are often healthier than their excessively interbred cat fancy pedigrees. As the world population grows larger and technology continues to make the world smaller, these creatures should be given protection and bred for preservation before it is too late. We have been given the gift of so much technological and scientific advancement this past half century. It should be utilized to help us rediscover the lost ancestry of the domestic cat, these ancient ancestors still live among us today, they too should be protected and preserved just as we do our endangered and threatened species.

Works Cited

Bach, Leslie Helene. “Analysis of FGF5 and Construction of a High-Resolution Radiation Hybrid Panel for the Domestic Cat.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2010. ProQuest Education Journals, http://www.proquest.com/docview/857545816/7A4F12C23D2840DDPQ/2?accountid=40640. Accessed 9 Feb. 2022.

“Insanity of Cat Breeding- Turning a Cat into a Toy.” Youtube.com, uploaded by Anadolu Kedisi, 28 June 2013, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YUksJvEcsY&t=137s. Accessed 1 May. 2021.

Kurushima, J.D, et al. “Variation of Cats under Domestication: Genetic Assignment of Domestic Cats to Breeds and Worldwide Random Bred Populations.” Animal Genetics, vol. 44, no. 3, June 2013, pp. 311-24. EBSCOhost, https://doi.org/10.1111/age.12008. Accessed 11 Apr. 2013.

Oetjens, Matthew T., et al. “Analysis of the Canid Y-chromosome Phylogeny Using
Short-read Sequencing Data Reveals the Presence of Distinct Haplogroups
among Neolithic European Dogs.” BMC Genomics, vol. 19, no. 1, 10 May 2018,
pp. 1-9. Ebsco, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12864-018-4749-z. Accessed 7 May

Pistorius, Arthur, and Ineke Blokker. “Statistical Analysis in Support of Maintaining a Healthy Traditional Siamese Cat Population.” Genetics, Selection, Evolution (GSE), vol. 53, no. 6, 2021, pp. 1-12. ProQuest Discovery, http://www.proquest.com/docview/2478824383/fulltextPDF/DE4FAC7E027C43C3PQ/1?accountid=40640. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

Onar, Vedat, et al. “A Cat Skeleton from the Balatlar Church Excavation, Sinop, Turkey.” Animals, 23 Jan. 2021, pp. 1-17. MDPI, http://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/11/2/288. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

Plitman, Liran, et al. “Motivation of Owners to Purchase Pedigree Cats, with Specific Focus on the Acquisition of Brachycephalic Cats.” Animals, vol. 9, no. 7, July 2019, p. 394. EBSCO Animals, web-s-ebscohost-com.butlerlib.butlercc.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=8&sid=a98b7d85-353d-4b8b-9d34-d1fc59fce0c6%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=137965303&db=aph. Accessed 16 Feb. 2022.

S, Breit, et al. “The Course of the Nasolacrimal Duct in Brachycephalic Cats.” Anatomia, Histologia, Embryologia: Journal of Veterinary Medicine Series C., vol. 32, no. 4, Aug. 2003. EBSCO Animals, web-s-ebscohost-com.butlerlib.butlercc.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=12&sid=a98b7d85-353d-4b8b-9d34-d1fc59fce0c6%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=10203119&db=aph. Accessed 9 Feb. 2022.

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