MAINE COON VARIANTS
The Maine Coon, being a “natural” breed, is considered to have arisen in its region of origin. However cats have legs and will wander and sow their wild oats, hence the Maine Coon has not developed in glorious isolation from other cats. Somehow it acquired a colourpoint from a cat that ultimately had a Siamese ancestor. The colourpoint gene is recessive and has been passed down the generations without showing up until two carriers are bred together, when there is a 25% chance of the offspring inheriting the recessive gene from both parents. That kitten is visible evidence of colourpoint ancestry.
No-one knows what recessive genes were carried by foundation cats in the 1960s and 1970s. With colourpoint cats arriving in the USA in the 19th century, when pet cats roamed more freely, it’s hardly surprising that “pedigree” genes pop up in odd places. For example foundation cat Bridgett Katt was tortie smoke, clear evidence of a pedigree (probably Persian) ancestor. Maine Coons are supposedly descended from ships’ cats and may even have brought the colourpoint gene with them from some Eastern port. Digging around in early pedigree also throws up some cross-breeding surprises that I’ll come to later. It’s possible that some early colourpoint kittens were hushed up (destroyed or homed as “randombred” pets) and their parents and siblings continued to breed.
The Rexed Maine Coons of the 1990s that caused such an uproar in the UK Cat fancy (which had no mechanism by which to recognise mutations in existing breeds) may also have been the result of long-hidden recessive genes. Though vilified by the cat fancy the public liked them, but breeders who perpetuated them faced expulsion.
COLOURPOINT MAINE COONS
Occasionally Maine Coon matings produce surprise white kittens whose ears, paws and tail soon begin to darken. These are the colourpoint Maine Coons and they turn up due to recessive genes. The reader must remember that DNA testing for recessive genes such as colourpoint is very new.
Colourpoint Maine Coons have been the subject of heated debates, especially in Germany and Switzerland. In Germany, it seems that the first colourpoint Maine Coons were born in 1976 or 1977, but lived only a few months and there are no photos of them. The lack of tangible evidence may be because the breeder did not breeding lines labelled as tainted. So the gene continued to lurk and be passed down the generations. The first authenticated colourpoint Maine Coons were born in the 1990s to parents of the same breeding line. There were others, but in Germany the breeders were threatened by phone and cats were destroyed to prevent them from being revealed as colourpoint Maine Coons.
On May 18th, 1997, a Maine Coon seal tabby point was exhibited at a FIFe show. Apart from his pattern, Gigant Cats Don Carlos was a Maine Coon in all respects, and to the surprise of many breeders he was judged - the breed standard prohibited chocolate and lilac but had somehow forgotten to prohibit the pointed pattern itself.
Don Carlos was owned and bred by Markus and Nicole Hæseli. The first litter bred from their cat Belinda Blue of Gold Rain with Chandor von Ukana had resulted in three black tabbies and one white kitten that turned out to be a blue point.
The first Maine Coon known to carry the colourpoint gene was De Richelieu Panda Ring Tip (of Miston) (aka Mr Panda Ring Tip). He came from close inbreeding centred on a blue-eyed white male called De Richelieu White Fox to De Richelieu Pussyfoot, a white cat with, unspecified eye colour. Those two cats turn up in many Maine Coon pedigrees including those of Belinda Blue of Gold Rain and Chandor von Ukana.
(Click for large image)
Cats of the Sundar line can trace their colourpoint gene to Dauphin de France of Tati-Tan, one of the important foundation cats Germany. Half-siblings Sundar Reuel of Tufpaws and Sundar Tiffany of Tufpaws , who were not related to Panda Ring Tip, were mated together and produced two red point kittens, showing them to be colourpoint carriers. When this became known, all breeders who had previous descendants of either cat were advised to either neuter the descendants or to test-mate them to a colourpoint cat (there being no DNA testing at that time). Half-siblings Sundar Tabigail and Sundar Graco also produced a colourpoint kitten when mated together.
Ch Primeacat Chrysanthemum of Hibou mated to her relative GC Primeacat Luanne's Adanac produced a supposedly red-tabby-and-white van pattern kitten called Christopher Robin. He grew up to have opal eyes and red tabby points, with the Birman mitted pattern. His sister never produced colourpoint kittens or had colourpoint descendants, nor did that line produce any other colourpoints. Primeacat Alexandra Rose of Marapa (red tabby and white female) mated to GC Primeacat Luanne's Adanac produced red tabby point kittens. Prior to that litter, Adanac had been sent to Europe and by the time this all came out there had already been several generations of mating. Many of the common ancestors of these cats also appear in other pedigrees where colourpoint kittens have not yet turned up. The fact became public, marriages had progressed for several generations. Hibou and Primeacat catteries eliminated the colourpoint gene from their lines over a decade ago.
(Click for large image)
Modesto's Molly ( Tara's Let-it-shine- (r) -Molly ) received the colourpoint gene from her father, Tobermory Aries to Aries of Tara, who got it from his mother Patches of Find Us. Patches of Find Us, born of two foundation cats, and went to Germany, with her colourpoint genes in her baggage.
About 25 descendants (children and grandchildren) of Molly 's half-brother, Tara Peshewa (also son of Tobermory Aries to Aries of Tara and also a colourpoint carrier) were tested for the cp gene and all but one carried colourpoint. Peshewa and all his colourpoint carrier descendants were neutered. Molly and Monti (a son of Peshewa) were also tested and neutered. Modesto’s has therefore eliminated all colourpoint carriers.
(Click for large image)
Beaverscove cattery’s kittens from their “World Cup 2006”' litter included two colourpoint kittens, Poldi and Azzurri. While the parents have been neutered the kittens have been bred.
DELIBERATE CROSSES OF MAINE COON TO OTHER BREEDS
When Conny Condit (Heidi Ho) moved to Germany with her US Army husband in the 1970s, she took her cats with her. That much can be confirmed. What can’t be confirmed is that in the absence of suitable breeding partners in Germany, she allegedly used Persian cats (the 1970s Persian was not extreme in type) producing the so-called "old German lines" of Maine Coon. Those lines were shorter-nosed and much fluffier than the Maine Coons imported from the USA. De Richelieu Panda Ring Tip of Miston (born 1972) is claimed to come from those old German lines, or even to be a Persian cat himself (an additional link is that PKD is found in Persians and has been found in Maine Coons).
According to Belgian and Dutch studbooks there was a mating between the Maine Coon male, Benjie Lord Chandoran , and a Siamese female called Cala Guya Lalo's Andante (blue point carrying lilac). The offspring is registered as Cala Guya Lotus [The Netherlands], F, XSH n 21 33 (seal tabby point). In Dutch pedigrees, this cat’s descendants are registered as F1 Maine Coons. Many organizations allowed such crossings and allowed the F5 generation to be registered as pure Maine Coon.
However, in Belgian pedigrees, these same offspring are listed as Maine Coons. As breeders tend to work from 3 generation pedigrees, the Siamese ancestor will have vanished after two more generations of breeding . . . leaving only its genes behind.
The kittens from a Maine Coon x Siamese mating should be short-haired (unless the Siamese carries longhair) and non-colourpoint, but the appearance of colourpoint kittens in the litter means that Benjie was a carrier. I suspect this mating was intended to be a test mating, and the offspring should have been neutered.
The Dutch Studbook also lists Cala Guya Lotus (the Maine Coon x Siamese hybrid) as a European seal tabby point and records that she was mated to a Somali stud called GIC Benvenida Squirrel Osiris [The Netherlands] resulting in a female called Soedara Kanda Sheba that was registered as a Maine Coon/Maine Coon Variant (depending on which stud book you read). Her littermates were recorded by the Dutch club as 2 Maine Coons, 1 Somali and 2 Abyssinians. The names of the Maine Coon kittens is not given, but it is known that their lineage has died out.
BLUE-EYED MAINE COONS
Blue eyes may be found when a cat has a high degree of white marking on the face, but it is unusual to find blue eyes in a cat with little or no white.
There is even a breeding line of Maine Coons that have blue eyes but no white. There are some breeders in Russia, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. In the Netherlands, Joyfield Faith is Blue-Cream Silver and White with blue eyes. Her sire is Cream (non silver) with blue eyes. There is an odd-eyed Maine Coon in Italy.
REXED MAINE COONS
The Rexed Maine Coon might have been a wonderful breed were it not for cat fancy politics. Their coats were wavy and soft to the touch rather than curly. In character they were typical Maine Coons. I was lucky enough to cuddle one of them at a show and fell in love with them.
Maine Waves never became a New Breed, the terms was David Brinicombe’s pet name for the few Rexed Maine Coons that were born during a rex gene elimination Programme. Because they were born in the UK from 100% Maine Coon pedigree cats, there was no mechanism to recognise them as anything other than Maine Coon new Variety. This was a shortcoming of the GCCF registration system. Had TICA been active in the UK them might have been registered as a mutational new breed. However, because the GCCF would only allow them to be registered as Maine Coons, and because most Maine Coon breeders did not want them in the gene pool, they had to be neutered or their breeder would face censure.
The History of Maine Coon Rex In Britain, in the late 1980's, while line breeding with a good Silver line, a rexed Maine Coon appeared. In fact it also popped up in some other lines. This meant the recessive gene had been in the gene pool long enough to spread to a few breeding lines. Rather than being greeted with curiosity, as is now more often the case, breeders were horrified at the thought of a rogue gene entering the gene pool.
The original discoverer performed test matings with Devon and Cornish Rex (the two recessive rex genes known at the time). The results were negative/inconclusive, but did indicate that the rex gene in the Maine Coon was not the result of recent outcrossing. In fact the resistance to test-mating pedigree breeds was such that it was brave of the discoverer to even perform the matings. In Maine Coons, a natural breed, all outcrossings are now unapproved.
Pedigree analysis and other research pointed to three imported cats, but this was based on their names appearing more frequently than other cats in the pedigrees of rexed kittens. Unfortunately the cats concerned, or their closest relatives, were either dead, neutered or simply not available for test-mating. Even if the discoverers test-mating had pointed to either the Devon or Cornish gene, there were no DNA tests back in the late 1980s. All that could be ascertained was that the gene was recessive and that there would therefore be other carriers.
A rex-to-rex mating was not performed. That would have shown whether it was a single recessive gene or whether there were multiple genes. Although a single recessive gene is assumed, rexed Maine Coons are variable in coat type, ranging from fairly tight curls to very slight waving, and possible to some cats where the waving was imperceptible enough to go unnoticed. The late Roy Robinson, the foremost cat geneticist at the time, suggested that it might be an incompletely dominant gene which would explain some anomalies in the traced pedigrees. This opened up a whole new can of worms – some probable inheritance paths included supposedly “rex-free” cats.
Allowing the information to go public caused other problems. Many cat breeders understood genetics only poorly. Most did not have any software to help work out the risk of passing along recessive genes. Partly or completely misunderstood genetic principles might be used to denigrate other breeding lines. They might assume any cat with a supposed carrier in its pedigree to also be a carrier even though the risk factor grew less with each generation. This led to a culture of secrecy. Telling only affected breeders would be little better because word would soon get around that some people were privy to information while others were not, and this would force the issue out into the open.
Keeping it secret was also not an option because even in those pre-WWW days there was a very efficient cat fancy grapevine. Where full disclosure was lacking people would try to fill in the gaps with assumptions or inventions (and just as now, there were a few troublemakers willing to do anything to undermine other breeders’ bloodlines). Fingers would be pointed at breeders suspected of outcrossing and then fraudulently registering the kittens as pure Maine Coon. It was better to be open about the rexed Maine Coons, declare it to be a small problem with low incidence and state that it could be eliminated if people co-operated.
One damaging accusation that gained credence was that a certain early breeder (who was no longer active) in the USA had either deliberately or accidentally bred Maine Coons with Cornish Rex then falsified the kittens’ pedigrees in order to register the litter. It was alleged that the Kalicoon breeder (who was also a cat judge), who also had Cornish Rex, did not properly segregate the studs from the females. The rex-coated Maine Coons can be traced back to Kalicoon Bashta Khan, who was used as a stud first in Germany and then in the UK. The closest foundation cat behind Bashta Khan was Snow Queen of Le Beau Minu born early to mid 1970s). It is possible that the gene came from straight-haired progeny from German Rex outcrossing programmes. German Rexes were imported into the USA in the early 1960s and it is conceivable that some of the straight-haired progeny went to pet homes and were allowed to breed with local cats. That gives ample time for the gene to get into Maine Coon foundation cats in the 1970s and slight differences in gene expression would explain why the results of crossing to Cornish Rexes gave inconsistent results.
Test matings failed to establish, beyond all doubt, that the gene was the same as the Cornish Rex, although some test matings performed by Di Everett produced rexed kittens. Additionally, a Maine Coon-Cornish Rex would not look like a Maine Coon and no throwbacks to Cornish Rex type had ever been seen. Unless they were also being covered up. Conspiracy theories abounded. It was therefore an irony that a cat that later proved to be a rex carrier was named Cornish Cream. Other known carriers were Kaiulani Silver Wizard, Patriarca Dexycoon and Patriarca Silkoon Cascade. Abigale of Dream Forest, Alan of Dream Forest, Alice of Dream Forest (born 2 June 1991) were also rexed Maine Coons.
David Brinicombe (Keoka prefix) first got involved in 1993, when he took on a female and her eight kittens from another breeder. The kittens’ sire was called Cornish Cream and, unknown to Brinicombe, was a rex carrier. He studied the pedigree and concluded that any cats associated with the rex gene were so far back that the risk was minimal. He kept a white-marked male and silver female for breeding and planned to sell a tabby male as a stud.
A rumour surfaced that Cornish Cream had sired two rexed kittens by an unnamed queen but it was impossible to substantiate due to the secrecy at the time. This was followed by a second, more reliable, rumour of two more rexed kittens, proving that Cornish Cream was a rex carrier (in fact this was probably a retelling regarding the same two kittens). Brinicombe kept the tabby male rather than risk passing on a potential carrier. Cornish Cream’s owner had their cat neutered, though he had already sired a number of show winning cats.
In 1994, based on one or two unexplained and un-autopsied early deaths, the "rex gene" was declared to be harmful. A list of known carriers was published and breeders whose cats’ pedigrees included any of the listed cats were vilified. Many quite breeding. Others imported "rex free" stock. The reputation of the British Maine Coons suffered. It was decided to neuter all known male carriers (except for test-mating) but only to restrict known female carriers. It was soon announced that no more rexed kittens had been born. Rather ludicrously, the British Maine Coon Cat Club demanded that breeders should declare in writing that the term "Maine Wave" should not be used in any publication in any context.
(Click for large image)
Brinicombe tested his white-marked boy, Grand Champion Addinlo Meddybemps, who proved to be a carrier and was then used only for test mating. Meddybemps’ sister was test-mated and was luckily found to be very low risk, ditto Meddybemps‘ son. His three Rexed Maine Coons (nicknamed Maine Waves) were Keoka Aldebaran, Keoka Beteleuse (red silver neutered brother of Aldebaran) and Keoka Regulus (black and white son of Aldebaran). All three have an extremely friendly and cuddly personality. Anyone wanting a Maine Wave was disappointed; not only were there very few and those few frowned upon by the cat fancy, Brinicombe did not want to part with any of them. Having met one at a cat show it was easy to understand why.
While almost all male carriers had been neutered, there were still plenty of carrier females in the gene pool. A recessive gene only shows up when two carriers are bred together. A female might produce 6 – 8 litters in her lifetime, often to the same one or two (non-carrier) studs. A stud may serve multiple females for 5 or 6 years before being retired. This means males may meet a random carrier female, as proven by their litter, and both will then be neutered. But there will be unknown carrier females passing on the gene and if more than two kittens per carrier female are used for breeding, then the number of hidden carriers will (on average) rise, rather than fall, each generation and will eventually resurface. In the days before DNA testing, test-mating was the only way to detect carriers, and a ban on test-mating would mean new carriers went undetected.
Even at the peak of the “rex crisis” rexed kittens were greatly outnumbered by runts and kittens with worse anomalies. Despite the scare caused by the 2 unexplained early deaths, rex is a benign trait as evidenced by the Rex breeds already in existence.
The attitude on the European mainland was quite different. Rexed Maine Coons were seen as a genetic curiosity, were exhibited and were awarded certificates. Had the GCCF had a mechanism for recognising them as a new breed and transferring know carriers into that new breed (or had a more progressive registry been active in Britain), these lovely cats might still be around today.
The rex gene is either still in the Maine Coon gene pool or a rex mutation has occurred a second time. In 2002, Ellen Levin of Tribeca Maine Coons had two rexed Maine Coons turn up in a single litter. Tribeca is close to the site of the Sept 11 attacks and the breeder and her cats had to evacuate with her cats. This took several days due to safety issues and the overpowering chemical stench and lack of water. A few weeks later, one of her cats gave birth to two rexed kittens. It is believed to be a spontaneous mutation and though attributed to stress, the "few weeks" means the mother cat was already pregnant and the kittens already developing i.e. the mutation was already present in the developing embryos prior to the stressful events.