By Patricia Jacobberger and Marva Marrow
The progenitor of the domesticated cat is a small feral cat from Africa known as Felis lybica - a small, shorthaired cat with brown, mackerel (vertical stripes) tabby markings. From this original "design," seven genetic mutations occurred: long hair, blotched or classic tabby, solid color, sex linked orange, dominant white, white spotting and dilution.
Throughout the world other genetic mutations have occurred over the last several hundred years. Illustrations include genes such as Burmese, Siamese, white gloving, rexing or curling of the coat, wirehair, taillessness, ticked tabby, folded ear, curled ear and inhibitor genes. Many of these genes have been protected and preserved for hundreds of years while some of them have emerged only recently. We know that when unusual characteristics are not preserved and protected that they face the likelihood of becoming extinct. For example, there was at one time, a breed of cat known as the Sumxu from the area around Peking, China. The breed was described in the book, Historie Generale des Voyages, published in the early 1700's. This longhaired cat with a glossy yellow or black coat had pendulous ears. Evidently, there was little to recommend the perpetuation of this unusual cat and today, the breed is regarded as extinct.
We are aware that some mutations have repeated themselves from time to time. In an 1838 American painting by Joseph Stock, a young girl named Mary Jane sits with a folded eared cat on her lap. We regard these cats today as "Scottish" Folds even though the mutation was seen in this country over 120 years before it's discovery in Scotland. But, it is not wise to assume that the genetic mutations that humans find interesting, attractive or unusual will be repeated unless they are preserved. In fact, if the guidelines that are used to designate species in the wild as endangered were to be applied to some of our breeds of pedigreed cats, we would see that many of the beautiful breeds protected and preserved through the maintenance of pedigrees and breeding programs would be considered just that - endangered.
The unique or exotic features derived through these genetic combinations into the various breeds represent a valuable evolution and important breeding history that breeders and fanciers who love these cats value and strive to improve, preserve and maintain. All of our breeds of domesticated cats would indeed become extinct were it not for the continuing interest of breeder/fanciers and the public.
Adapted from the CFA Mentor Program.
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This program is supported by
The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.
This program is supported by The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.