THE TANGLED TALE OF THE TURKISH ANGORA & TURKISH VAN
The first longhairs recognised by the western cat fancies were Angoras and Persians whose histories are intertwined. Longhaired cats seen in Europe in the 1500s were named after the Turkish city of Angora (ankara). The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported from Persia into Italy in 1620 by Pietro della Valle, and from Turkey into France by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc at around the same time. The eighteenth-century French naturalist the Comte de Buffon had not seen "Persian" cats, but was familiar with the Angora in France and considered them the same except for colour. He named them "Catus Angorensis". In the cat fancying world, the term "Angora" came to mean "longhair" in general.
In the late 18th century, longhair cats with coarser, denser coats, and stockier bodies arrived in Britain from Persia, Afghanistan and Russia. In "Our Cats" in 1889, Harrison Weir differentiated several varieties of longhaired cat: the Russian, the Angora, the Persian, and the Indian. Weir's "points of excellence" described differences between the Angora and the Persian. But by 1903, Simpson ("The Book of the Cat") had effectively dismissed the Angora cat in favour of the Persian type:
"In classing all long-haired cats as Persians I may be wrong, but the distinctions, apparently with hardly any difference, between Angoras and Persians are of so fine a nature that I must be pardoned if I ignore the class of cat commonly called Angora, which seems gradually to have disappeared from our midst. Certainly there is no special classification given for Angoras, and in response to many inquiries from animal fanciers I have never been able to obtain any definite information as to the difference between a Persian and an Angora cat. Mr Harrison Weir, in his book on cats, states that the Angora differs somewhat from the Persian in that the head is rather smaller and ears larger, fur more silky with a tendency to woolliness."
It was unfortunate that in the early 1900s the Angora was considered useful only to improve the coats of the Persians. The Turkish Angora (and other longhairs) vanished or were interbred with the Persian which early fanciers were developing into the massive, cobby cat we see today.
NOTE ON THE TERM "ANGORA"
In the cat fancy, the term "Angora" is used to describe a cat with long, silky fur. There is also a "Geman Angora" breed derived from German longhaired cats, and an "Angora Devon Rex" referring to semi-longhaired Devon Rex cats. When used in this way, defining a region of origin, there is no confusion with the authentic Turkish Angora breed.
THE BRITISH ANGORA
Angoras remained extinct in Britain until after World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, Turkish cats were taken to North America, Sweden and Britain, but only the Van cats were recognised in Britain. In 1977, the name "Angora" was given to an impostor.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, Kernow Gerza and Kernow Koptos, brother and sister offspring of a mating between a Sorrel Abyssinian and a Seal Point Siamese, were used in a breeding programme for Oriental Cinnamons. The two cats had inherited the recessive gene for longhair and when mated together they passed this on to several of their kittens resulting in a "longhaired Havana" in 1973. Southview Trappist (known as "Cuckoo") was exhibited at the GCCF's Supreme Show in 1978. Thus the British Angora was a Foreign Longhair supposedly resembling the Turkish breed imported at in the early days of the cat fancy.
This British Angora was known in continental Europe as the Javanese or Mandarin, and in the USA as Foreign or Oriental Longhairs. It was more foreign in type with a longer, narrower head and larger ears than the Turkish Angora. It was bred in a wider range of colours, including chocolate and lilac inherited from Siamese ancestry, had a voice similar to that of the Siamese and it was more fecund than the Turkish Angora.
This situation was rectified in 2002 when Britain's GCCF came into line with other registries and renamed the British variety the "Oriental Longhair", thus removing confusion with the Turkish Angora (the renaming became effective in June 2003).
The possibility of importing Turkish Angoras was apparently considered, but bureaucracy prevailed since the British GCCF apparently would not accept the documentary evidence (verification of breed) supplied by the ankara Zoo. If true, then the British cat fancy placed more importance of paperwork than on actual cats; a serious drawback where naturally occurring varieties are concerned. Importation of either Turkish or American lines of Turkish Angora would mean 6 months quarantine. This discriminated in favour of American-bred cats which had cat registry, rather than zoo studbook, pedigrees.
Breeders of the British Angora attempted to recreate the characteristics of the original Turkish cats. Those working with Turkish Angoras worked to preserve characteristics of a naturally occurring breed which had prior claim to the Angora name. Then real Turkish Angoras returned to Britain … or has it?
THE AMERICAN ANGORA
According to the official history of the breed in the USA, in the 1950s and 1960s, Turkish cats were taken to North America from ankara and all American Turkish Angora cats can trace their history to Turkish cats. In the US, white Turkish Angoras were recognised in the early 1970s and other colours in 1978. But are these true Turkish Angoras?
In 1975, Angora breeders in the USA were able to trace the ancestry of their Turkish Angoras to cats who formed the basis of Canadian and U.S. breeding programmes since the 1960's. Those early imports were all white cats because that was the perception of what a Turkish Angora was. Back in 1954, an odd-eyed white Turkish Angora female, “Pucette Nichelle,” was imported from Turkey by Mrs. Lyn Racquel Peirce, Rhode Island through the efforts of a serviceman stationed in Turkey. Later, Mrs Peirce obtain several other white Turkish Angoras - “Juan Latino of Kenlyn,” “Sugamix of Kenlyn” and “Mallyree of Kenlyn” - from the Istanbul Zoo via Mrs. Nettie Tuzcu in Florida. Because white masks other colours and patterns, ICF recognised all the different colours descended from these white cats.
In 1962, a native Turkish importer, Mr. H. Kenan Taspinar, then living in Maryland, obtained a female named “Kidin” from breeders in Ankara who had established a Turkish Angora breeding program. In 1968, he imported four more Turkish Angoras from the same breeders: “Pasam,” “Dugan,” Pamuk” and “Samur.” In 1970, he relinquished all of his stock and records to Mrs. Gisela Stoscheck of New York. About that time, some of his stock was bred with Persian resulting in hybrids accepted by ACFA as being Turkish Angoras. In 1972 and 1973, the purebred stock of Mr. Taspinar was CFA registered. The CFA, and several other associations, only registered Turkish Angoras that traced back to Turkey exclusively – but how many generations would they trace back? Persian cats would introduce genes from European and American cats.
In 1963, Colonel and Mrs. Walter Grant registered with CFA a pair of Turkish Angoras named “Yildiz” and “Yildizcek” from the Ankara Zoo a year earlier. Their imports were registered with CFA Persian registration numbers, but were later changed to their proper Angora registration numbers. The offspring of this pair were all neutered because the Grants only wanted them to be bred to cats of Ankara Zoo ancestry. In 1966, the Grants imported Yaman and Mavis from Ankara Zoo. In 1970 the Turkish Angora was provisionally recognized by the CFA.
Sgt. and Mrs. Ivan Leinbach of Arizona, returned to the U.S. in 1964 with white Turkish Angoras – “Sam Olgum” and “Aliya’s Snowball” - from Ankara Zoo. These cats were registered with CFA. In 1965, another service-connected importer, Mrs. Roy Porter of Colorado, returned to the U.S. with a female called “Selkzar” from the Ankara Zoo. She was bred to a male from the Ankara Zoo named “San of Mountain Home,” imported by Thomas Brown.
Because these breeders did not outcross to each other’s lines their cats began to show the effect of inbreeding. The cats showed temperament problems. A viable breeding programme based solely on Ankara Zoo stock (itself inbred) was not feasible. The Istanbul Zoo cats were also descended from Ankara Zoo stock. Outcrossing, interspersed with occasional line-breeding, was intended to incorporate only the lines descended from imported cats. The 2-part article in Cat World (International) (March/April and May/June 1975) did not elaborate on what the Turkish Angoras – almost all descended from Ankara Zoo stock – could be outcrossed to in order to widen the gene pool, and did not mention importation of unrelated non-zoo-bred cats from Turkey. Logically, this would be where the influx of European/American genes came from – to combat serious inbreeding, improve the temperament, and maintain the outward looks, but diluting the original Turkish ancestry until the genetic fingerprint of American Angoras no longer matched that of indigenous Turkish cats.
The "Turkish Angora" recognised in the USA (the "American Angora") was reconstituted from the Persian (European) pedigree breed post-World Wars and actually owe very little to the true Turkish Angoras. Any genuine Turkish Angora blood has been swamped through outcrossing to other breeds and types. However these American-bred cats were recognised by TICA and were claimed to represent the cats of Turkey. Their genetic diversity has recently been supplemented via outcrossing to Turkish random-bred cats. New imports of genetically correct Turkish Angoras (ankara kedisi) from Turkey and the Ankara Zoo meet a mixed reception on the American show bench. When young they may do well at shows against American Angoras, but when adult, their larger, stockier, thicker-boned physique is penalised by a breed standard written for the more "refined" (i.e. skinny) American Angoras. Breeders looking for "Angoras" from Turkey therefore select random-bred cats that are not representative of the true Turkish Angora.
DNA studies into the breed excluded samples from Turkish Angoras and Turkish Vans from international submissions as these were not representative of the American breed. Cat genetics researchers therefore viewed the American Angora, not the Turkish Angora maintained at the ankara Zoo, as the "correct" breed. In essence, the DNA studies were based on a false premise: the breeds recognised in the USA by the CFA and TICA were accepted as the baseline and the randombred regional cats were assessed as deviating from those baselines, instead of using the results to determine how far the CFA and TICA breeds had deviated genetically from their purported regional ancestors.
Despite all the imports mentioned above, there is no genetic evidence that the CFA/TICA "Turkish" Angora originated from Turkey. Sponsored researchers and breeders have appropriated the history of the true Turkish Angora (Ankara kedisi) to legitimise the American Angora. DNA specimens from original Turkish Angora bloodlines with very high readings of Ankara kedisi are dismissed as "Cyprus group". A phylogenetic tree presented at the 2005 Tufts Conference showed that American Angoras are related to the Persian (from which it was re-constituted), American Shorthair, Siamese and Russian Blue. Lipinski's studies found the American Angora to be closer to random-bred cats from Tunisia and Turkey and also to the Egyptian Mau. Kurushima et al found evidence of multiple lineages in the American Angoras indicating significant European heritage.
Ankara Kedisi Dernegi have offered to obtain more Ankara Zoo samples in order to help refine UC Davis researchers' findings. The researchers claimed they could only accept samples submitted directly by Zoo officials although it was known that Zoo officials are not permitted to export DNA samples. This effectively eliminates genuine Turkish Angora DNA samples from the study, possibly preventing the cat fancy from the embarrassing revelation that their "Turkish" cats are not authentic Turkish Angoras. Lyons responded to Ankara kedisi breeders by email and stated "your persistent doubting of my science does not impress me. I will no longer accept samples from you and other Turkish breeders. If I get samples from the zoo, it will be via the zoo directly" meaning she is free to conveniently ignore the genuine Turkish Angora while trying to legitimise the cat fancy's mongrelised version.
To date, studies by American researchers have discriminated against the true Turkish Angora in order to legitimise the American reinvention of the type. DNA from true ankara kedisi were categorised in a spurious "Cyprus group" to avoid the admission that American-bred "Angoras" are only tenuously related to the cats of Turkey. To rub salt in the wound, UC Davis used data from American Angoras to support Patent Application 61/487,987 filed on May 19, 2011 (by L A Lyons, UC Davis) “relates to determining the contribution of one or more feline populations to the genome of a feline using a predetermined set of genetic markers including single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), short tandem repeats (STRs) and DNA-based phenotypic markers.” (i.e. feline DNA profiling) This document starts with the false (and Americentric) premise that pseudo-Turkish Angora registered by the CFA and TICA is the “true version” of a breed, yet page 114 of the patent application admits "The Turkish Angora breed was reconstituted from the Persian (European) pedigree post World Wars and recently, has been increasing genetic diversity via the outcrossing of pedigreed Turkish Angora cats to the random bred cats of Turkey." It should state "The American Angora breed ..." because the genuine Turkish Angora remained alive and well in Turkey. Data from genuine Ankara kedisi and other random-bred cats representative of their geographical location appears to have been conveniently omitted from the patent application, perhaps it would have undermined the credibility of the results. So all the study really does, is show how the cat registries breed are related to each other!
The patent application identifies the samples 6477 – 6760 (pp 232-233) from Turkey and dar Ozpinar. Samples 10128 - 10157 (p 233) are from Cyprus and were supplied by the Malcolm Cat Protection Society. The study failed to include other samples from Cyprus and Turkey that were registered variously as Turkish Vans, Turkish, Angoras, and Aphrodites and belonged to random-bred cats representative of their geographical locations. There is a clear correlation between Turkish and Cyprian random-bred cats with just a few anomalies. The Turkish and Cyprian street cats both cluster in population 1, while European and American cats cluster separately in population 4.
The 2012 study differentiated between Cyprus and Turkish cats, linking the Turkish cats with American Angoras and other Western European breeds and showing the Cyprus cats as genetically distinct (i.e. genetically distinct from the American Angora, but identical to Ankara kedisi!). Cyprus's "Aphrodite" breed is a misnaming of the Ankara kedisi. In Tables 15a and 15b of the patent application, a footnote states that the Turkish Angora is assigned to varying origins depending on which markers are analysed. This clearly shows that the cats tested were not pure Turkish cats, but are indeed derived from West European cats with only a little Turkish ancestry present. SNP analysis showed European ancestry while STR analysis showed Middle Eastern ancestry i.e. genetic content from 2 populations.
THE CYPRUS APHRODITE GIANT
The World Cat Federation recently recognised the "Cyprus Aphrodite Giant" as a new breed. Raw data from the 2012 Turkish Cat Genetics Study demonstrates that the Cyprus Aphrodite is a very pure Ankara kedisi i.e. it is identical to the true Turkish Van. This naturally aggrieved Van kedisi breeders in Turkey who feel that the true Turkish Angora risks being in limbo with its name appropriated by American Angoras and its genetic heritage appropriated by the Cyprus Aphrodite.
Turkish breeders have repeatedly asked the Pennsylvania University to undertake a new study using DNA samples from the Ankara Zoo and other locations in Turkey as the Turkish Angora control to compare to the Cyprus Aphrodites, the American Angora; the Ankara kedisi bred in Turkey; the cat fancy Turkish Van, and also to some genuine Maus from Egypt.
Will the University risk upsetting their domestic cat fancy by finding the Ankara Zoo cats to be representative of Turkish cats and admitting that the American Angoras are only distantly related to them? Will new studies admit that the "Cyprus" grouping of previous studies was erroneous as those cats are pure Ankara kedisi?
THE TURKISH ANGORA
So where does the Turkish Angora fit into this mess? Only those cats whose DNA closely matches that of the cats maintained at the ankara Zoo are truly Turkish Angoras. Such cats are bred in Turkey where breeders are fighting to reclaim the breed name which has been appropriated by the cat fancy to describe cats with minimal, or no, ankara kedisi ancestry.
In TICA, the colours chocolate and lilac/lavender (these are dilutions of black) are accepted for the American Turkish Angora, but under CFA rules those colours are not allowed because they are perceived to have been introduced from Siamese/Oriental outcrosses. However, those colours occur naturally in the true Ankara Kedisi in Turkey. There are many Angoras in Turkey and Cyprus with a bewildering range of colours. Although they are pure Ankara Kedisi many of them would be considered Turkish Vans in Europe and the North America because they are more robust than the American version. Brown tortoiseshells (chocolate torties) and lilac/lavender tortoiseshells are not uncommon. When some Western cat fancies dictated that chocolate and lilac/lavender cannot be accepted for Angoras, it was because they were unfamiliar with the range of colours seen in Angoras in their homeland of Turkey. Later, those naturally occurring Angora colours were introduced into the American/British Angoras using Oriental cats where chocolate and lilac.lavender are more common. This reintroduction of what is found naturally in Turkey was not recognised by the CFA.
THE TURKISH VAN
The Western cat fancy recognises the Turkish Van as a white cat with auburn markings on its head and tail. Official breed descriptions claim it is an ancient variety from the Lake Van area and that it enjoys swimming. Official breed history also says that the Turkish Van is completely unrelated to the Angora, however, in Turkey it is a colour variety of the Turkish Angoras (as opposed to the American Angoras). The "ancient" Turkish Van breed known to the Western cat fancy was created by two British cat fanciers in 1955. However, cat fanciers love myth and mystique and have invented legends to support its supposedly venerable origin; for example "local legends claim" the cats aboard Noah's Ark were Turkish cats and they debarked at Mount Ararat just north of Van. As they debarked, they were blessed by Allah and gained their auburn markings. Or did their tails turn red after being accidentally crushed by the door of the ark? It is also claimed that there are Hittite and Urartu artefacts from Eastern Turkey that depict longhaired cats with plumy, ring-patterned tails i.e. Turkish Vans … except these artefacts don't seem to exist in reality!
Details of supposed "archaeological" findings depicting Turkish Vans all come from cat fancier writings, and are not traceable to published archaeological sources. There is no actual physical evidence to back up any of the claims: no cats depicted on ancient Hittite jewellery or on Urartian ornaments from the City of Van. Nor can the "historic records" verify Van cats being carved on cliff sides by the Assyrians and Urartu in the Van region during the middle bronze age. There were no 1st-4th century Roman artefacts found in Armenia that depicted large pale cats with ringed markings on their tails (and an alleged shield at the Louvre, Paris, doesn't exist). Felids depicted on ancient armour were big cats and they represented courage and ferocity.
British journalist Laura Lushington and photographer Sonia Halliday worked for Turkish Tourist Board and were travelling through Turkey when Lushington noticed white cats with auburn markings. She decided take some of these distinctively marked cats to Britain in 1955. Lushington later wrote: "I first came across the Van cat [. . .] while I was travelling through Turkey. I was given a female in south-eastern Turkey and a male by the manager of the hotel in which I stayed in Istanbul." These breed-founding cats, then kittens themselves, were given suitably the Turkish names of Van Iskenderun Guzelli [form Hatay] and Stambul Byzantium respectively. These locations are a long way from Lake Van which is in East Turkey, yet Lushington decided these would be "Van cats".
She discovered their "liking for water" on the drive back from Turkey when they stopped by a river to cool off. The kittens also seemed to suffer from the heat so they strolled into the water too, and apparently swam out of their depth, thoroughly enjoying themselves. Photographs of these antics appeared in the press in Britain and led to the epithet "Swimming Cats", but Lushington admitted "Whether or not [Van Cats] swim for pleasure, as mine did on their return journey through Europe with me, I do not know." The photos give a different impression – they show the kittens paddling back to shore while a human arm in the frame suggests the shot was staged.
In 1959, Lushington and Halliday returned to Turkey for additional cats with the same markings. These were named Antalya Anatolia and Burdur; their exact geographical origin is uncertain but these place names are a long way from Lake Van. So far, the alleged "Van" cats have no connection at all with Lake Van. They were also admitted to be "of true Angora type." It is often claimed that all registered Turkish Van cats are descended only from cats picked up from the Lake Van area, but none of Lushington's foundation cats came from there! Back in England, her cats matured and produced three kittens with similar colours i.e. "bred true" hence Lushington decided they must be throughbred (purebred) cats. In Britain, colour/pattern was a valid basis for a new breed. Van pattern (known to geneticists as the Seychelles pattern) is caused by the white spotting gene. This gene's expression is very variable – from black with white feet through to totally white. The pattern is common in random-bred cats of all colours all over the world. Van pattern breeds true with minor variations such as too little colour or additional splashes on the body and legs. The colour is purely cosmetic and there is no correlation between the colour/pattern a liking for swimming or playing in water.
Eight years later, in 1963, Lushington and Halliday visited the city of Van and Lake Van, in Eastern Turkey, for the first time. They didn't see any cats swimming in the lake, but attributed this to the shores being sparsely populated! The women didn't stay in any village long enough to learn about the cats' habits in their alleged home region. Having already decided that their breed would be called the Van and it was a swimming cat, the little matter of Vans not living around, nor swimming in, the lake had to be explained away.
Lushington continued to breed her auburn-and-white Turkish imports and advertised herself in cat publications as the only breeder of Turkish Van cats. The limited number of foundation cats inevitably led to inbreeding, but she needed to breed like-to-like over four generations in order to register the cats as a breed with the GCCF. Since the cats had no pedigrees from Turkey (being randombred cats), she had to start this from the very beginning. How could Lushington know that her Vans were purebred? This was dismissed as being a question asked by those who hadn't examined her cats (their bone structure, coat-texture, set of ears, eyes, and tail) so thoroughly as to be able to detect any mixed parentage. That might be true of her breeding programme, but even Lushington admitted she had had not made a close study of cats from the Lake Van region and she couldn't know if her Vans were representative of the cats found in that region. There was no comparison made between her vision of the Van breed and the cats found around Lake Van or the city of Van.
Lushington needed the aid of Grace Pond (breeder and judge) and Kathleen Yorke (GCCF Chairman) to gain recognition for her breed, bred using the prefix "Van". She had to overcome the GCCF's bureaucratic procedures; it had different procedures for accepting an existing breed recognised overseas and for developing a new breed in Britain. Lushington et al obtained a letter from Turkish professor Emin Aritürk, Acting Head of the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Ankara 1968-1970, (and not a cat specialist) to convince the GCCF that her breed was already an established breed in Turkey. The letter dated 29th May 1968 written by Professor Dr Emin Ariturk confirmed to the GCCF that the Van Cats of Turkey were a recognised breed and had been bred domestically in Turkey for many years. Ariturk claimed to have been following the work of Lushington and her fellow breeders for the preceding 13 years. This was not totally true of course, though he probably had an eye on the tourist trade – cat lovers visiting Turkey in search of Turkish Van cats in their native country (as in deed they did). Most Turkish people only recognise solid white cats, and not auburn marked cats, as "Van Cats". On the 12th February 1969 GCCF granted recognition to the breed under the name ''Turkish Cat''.
Lushington retired from breeding in 1980s and the breed name became "Turkish Van". This further separated the cat from the Turkish Angora, making it seem as though the two types of cat were unrelated and from different parts of Turkey. At that time, the Angora cat recognised in Britain was not even a Turkish cat, it was the Oriental Longhair. The (British) Angora was defined as slender and elegant with the oriental type of ears while the Turkish Van was described as large and muscular with a wider head and no more than 20% colour on it. Other colours of Van pattern were later recognised, starting with cream and tortie. Nowadays the patches can also be black, blue (grey), tortoiseshell or tabby. Solid white gained limited acceptance i.e. for use in breeding. Yet the Turkish Vans weren't (and still aren't) bred with to Turkish Angoras, even though they are just a colour variant of the Turkish Angora in its native land.
A Swedish woman, Eva Björkman, lived in Ankara around the same time Lushington and Halliday were in Turkey. Björkman returned to Sweden with her Turkish cats Tilki and Minka and one Persian Assim of Lyckås (and maybe others as well). These were originally registered as Turkish Angoras, but were later used in breeding Turkish Vans. Little is known about Björkman's cats as all photos and documents about them were destroyed when she died.
In 1979, sea captain Noel Russell regularly sailed to Turkey and he obtained two auburn-and-white female cats for his wife. So called Turkish Vans (or Van patterned Turkish Angoras) have come from Istanbul, Marmaris, Bitlis and Antalya in Turkey. Others have come from Cyprus. Although they were given Turkish names by the new owners, the cats had no pedigrees and the name is no guide to their "Turkishness". On the plus side, the new cats (wherever they came from) combated inbreeding in Lushington's cats and prevented the need for crossing to other breeds.
Inevitably, breeders discovered that the "Turkish Van" is almost unheard in its Turkey itself. The favoured cats of Turks, Kurds and Armenians were the white odd-eyed cat Van Kedisi. The Turkish government and people were promoting and preserving the Amkhara kedisi rather than the auburn-patterned cat. Most cat breeds are surrounded by myth and mystique, so all that was necessary was to create folklore about Van-patterned cats. The Turkish Van only needed to be inserted into anti-Turkish tales to be adopted as part of Armenian culture (the Armenians once occupied the Lake Van area) with an association supposedly dating back hundreds of years. One such tale is that people marked white cats' heads and tails with henna for good luck. For added impetus, suggest that Van-patterned cats were themselves victims of genocide because the Turks were exclusively breeding and promoting all-white cats! With the Van cat supposedly extinct in Armenia, people imported them from the USA, the Netherlands and Britain and renamed them "Armenian Vans". Likewise, "Armenian Vans" (with Armenian names) are exported to Europe where they become "Turkish Vans".
According to this report in the Tucson Daily Citizen, 17th February, 1966, odd-eyed white cats, known as Van cats, were imported into the USA from Ankara Zoo: ELEPHANTS’ TICKS BE PRAISED – D-M's Couple’s Rare Cats Likely Only Ones In U.S. For ticks on Turkish elephants, Allah be praised! M Sgt. Ivan J. Leinbach, 8322 E. Cockier Place, is not a Moslem, but he “got a break” when the elephants in the Ankara Zoo became sick and listless. It provided the avenue used by the Davis-Monthan AFB sergeant and his wife for bringing to this country the rare breed of Van cats, believed to be the only cats of this kind in the United States. Does this sound a bit far-fetched and nebulous - jumping from mange mites on pachyderms to a pair of beautiful white cats, now living the life of Riley in a Tucson home? Not at all... after Leinbach explains it!
Between 1962 and 1964, Leinbach served his second tour of duty at Ankara, Turkey, with the Joint United States Military Aid to Turkey. With him was his wife. “We saw these Van cats on exhibit in the Ankara Zoo,” Mrs. Leinbach said. “They are a rare breed, unusual because each cat has one blue eye and one brown eye. The cats originated in eastern Turkey, near the Russian border, and are believed to be of Angora and Persian descent. Over in Turkey, the zookeepers are not experts, highly trained in the scientific care of animals,” Leinbach said. “They are just what the name implies - zookeepers. “I became friendly with the Ankara zookeeper who was concerned. Something was wrong with his elephants. They itched and they rubbed so hard against their building they nearly pushed it over. Because I was interested, I took a look at the ailing animals. The elephants were alive with ticks — parasites that were draining them of their energy and strength. If I could have found some plain old axle grease, I could have cured them myself.” Leinbach found a veterinarian and together they rid the huge beasts of ticks and nursed them back to good health. “Later, I asked permission from the zookeeper to buy a pair of his rare Van cats,” Leinbach said. “Selling the zoo’s cats - to anyone - was unheard of!” But Leinbach had saved the zoo’s elephants, and the zookeeper was exceedingly grateful. Besides, the Ankara Zoo had 15 Van cats, and would two less matter much?
The rest is history. For 50 lira each (about $50), two of the rare breed were sold to the master sergeant and his wife. Wild at first, the male cat twice bit the sergeant and once, in anger, tore a man’s leather shoe to bits. Today, Sam, the expatriate from a Turkish zoo, is a fat, lazy housecat, so tame he tries to jump on a visitor’s lap. The Van cats have produced three litters of kittens but, be-cause they have no papers on the animals, the Leinbachs have given the kittens away to friends and relatives.
TICA and the British GCCF consider the solid white cats to be White Turkish Vans (Van Kedisi), though some breeders are opposed to non-patterned Vans as they are not easily recognisable … for good reason – they are white Turkish Angoras! In the USA, Angora cats with the Van pattern or in solid white can be imported, registered and shown in cat shows as Turkish Van as the imports are closer in type to the Vans than to the skinny American Angora. The only thing that sets the Turkish Van apart as a breed is the pattern. Is the Turkish Van just a patterned Turkish Angora? In its homeland, yes. On the showbench they are different breeds with different conformation. The American Angora is more slender than the true Turkish Angora. The British Angora of old was an Oriental Longhair. The Turkish Van would seem quite chunky compared to those two pretenders to the Angora name. In Europe especially, the Turkish Van is being bred to be even larger and chunkier to further differentiate the breeds. One Turkish breed has been developed in two directions to create two cat fancy breeds in the West.
DNA comparison of cat fancy breeds against cats from the breeds' supposed homeland wrongly accepted the cat fancy versions as the gold standard. The American Angora (derived from a mix of breeds including Persians and Angoras) was considered the correct genotype for the Turkish Angora in Turkey. DNA studies between 2005 and 2012 concluded variously that the (American) Turkish Angora and the Turkish Van, were either distinct from each other or they were related – it depended on which American cats were tested! Studies concluded that the (American) Turkish Angoras came from a small geographically isolated population, when in fact Turkish Angoras are widespread in Turkey, Cyprus and neighbouring regions. The American Turkish Vans tested showed little relationship to any of the cats from Turkey.
Just as there are American Angoras and true Turkish Angoras (ankara Kedisi), the Turkish Van should be grouped into American Vans and European Vans; while in Turkey they are Van-patterned Angoras. European Vans can include newly imported Van-patterned Turkish Angoras. American Vans can include newly imported Turkish Angoras (ankarakedisi), but have become genetically quite different due to breeding practices hence DNA testing finds some American Vans align with Turkish cats while other align with European cats. The DNA-tested Turkish Vans from Britain were found to correspond more closely to the American (Type A) cats than to Turkish cats.
Randombred semi-longhair with Van Pattern.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Hartwell, S. (2013). "Cat-Breed Dna Studies - True Origins Or Legitimising Imposters?" (full critique of the DNA studies on www.messybeast.com)
J. D. Kurushima, M. J. Lipinski, B. Gandolfi, L. Froenicke, J. C. Grahn, R. A. Grahn and L. A. Lyons (2012) "Variation of cats under domestication: genetic assignment of domestic cats to breeds and worldwide random-bred populations" Animal Genetics, 2012 (cited as Kurushima et al, 2012)
Lipinski M.J., Amigues Y., Blasi M. et al. (2007) An international parentage and identification panel for the domestic cat (Felis catus). Animal Genetics 38, 371–7.
Lipinski M.J., Froenicke L., Baysac K.C. et al. (2008) The ascent of cat breeds: genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide randombred populations. Genomics 91, 12–21.
Leslie A. Lyons "Genetic Relationships of Cat Breeds" at Tufts' Canine and Feline Breeding and Genetics Conference 30/09/2005 - 01/10/2005, 2005, Sturbridge, MA, USA (cited as Lyons, 2005)