CAT VARIETIES OF THE MIDDLE EAST
Copyright 2013, Sarah Hartwell

Unlike Europe, North America and Australasia, there are no cat registries in the Middle East. There are cat clubs, mostly formed by ex-pats living in the Middle East. There is growing interest in cat varieties from this region.

PERSIAN

The Persian cat of the Western cat fancy is a massive, cobby breed with a large round head, a foreshortened muzzle (almost flat-faced in ultra-typed cats), small ears, prominent round eyes, and luxuriantly thick fur. They are bred in an astonishing variety of colours, with or without white, and also in the colourpoint pattern (known as Himalayan by some cat registries). Outcrossing to other breeds continues to extend the colour palette.

The cat fancy Persian does not reflect the cats of its purported homeland, Iran. It was developed from a variety of cats in the 1800s: the Angora, imported Persian cats and Russian Longhair provided the long fur while crosses with the British Shorthair gave it a cobby body. While native cats from the Middle East are svelte, long-legged, large-eared (these help to lose heat) and shorthaired to cope with the extremely hot summer temperatures, the modern Persian breed is the direct opposite. Persian cats kept in hot countries may have their fur clipped to prevent over-heating.

The foundation cats’ origins are hazy. The early cat fancy depended on travellers to bring back, or report, cat varieties they discovered. Naturally, each traveller wanted to discovered something new, hence longhaired cats were known by a variety of names, some of which described the same variety. The early longhairs reported in cat fancy literature were: Angoras (from Turkey), Kazan (related to the Angora), Khorassan, Chorazan or Persian (from modern-day Iran), French cats, Russian Longhairs (Siberians), Damascenes, Indian or Himalayan (pure white longhairs) or even Chinese. The Angora cat is misnamed Angola in some nineteenth century books. They were also known by their Arabic names: Shirazi, Anqara (Ankhara/Angora) or halabi (Aleppo).

While the modern Persian is a creation of the western cat fancy, some of its ancestors appear to have come from the Middle East. However, there was no Middle Eastern breed called “Persian” and any cats originating from Persian would not have looked anything like the modern breed.

EGYPTIAN MAU

The Middle Egyptian word “mau” is an onomatopoeic word that means "cat". Cats resembling the cat fancy’s Egyptian Maus are depicted in ancient Egyptian artwork. Along with the Bahraini Dilmun Cat, it is one of only a few naturally occurring spotted breeds of cat. Although regarded as one of the initial ancient cat breeds, the purebred Egyptian Mau was developed in Europe before being exported to the USA.

The Purebred (Cat Fancy) Egyptian Mau

According to some accounts, the purebred Egyptian Mau began when Nathalie Troubetskoy met a distinctive-looking cat belonging to the Egyptian Ambassador to Italy and she persuaded him to import several more cats from Egypt for her. According to other reports, she was given a silver spotted Mau kitten by a boy who had received it from a diplomat working in the Middle East and she persuaded the Syrian Embassy to obtain more cats from Egypt. Yet other stories say that Troubetskoy was so impressed by the spotted street cats of Cairo, that she imported a female to Italy to mate with a local tom. In any case, the cats Troubetskoy imported from Egypt became the basis of a breeding programme. In 1956, she emigrated to the USA, taking three Egyptian Maus with her.

Three cats would have made inbreeding inevitable so Troubetskoy must have outcrossed her Maus to other cats to keep the gene pool healthy. Early pedigrees show only silver, bronze and smoke coloured cats. The smoke colour means there also had to be solid black cats, even if these were not recorded or bred from. Outcrossing may have introduced the classic tabby pattern and the blue colours that occur in the purebred Egyptian Mau.

In 1980, Bengal cat breeder Jean Mill imported a bronze rosetted stray cat from New Delhi, India for her Bengal breeding programme. Along with a bronze female, this created the "Indian Mau" lines that was controversially incorporated into the Egyptian Mau. This opened the door to imports of “native Egyptian Mau” cats from Egypt in the 1980s and 1990s. The new "Egyptian Lines" tended to be larger and more vigorous than the now inbred original breeding lines.

The early limited gene pool and careful selective breeding means the purebred Egyptian Mau occurs in only five colors, only three of which are recognised for exhibition. From most to least common these colors are: silver spotted, bronze spotted, smoke (with ghost spotting), solid black and blue/pewter (spotted, smoke and solid). Classic tabby Maus also occur due to recessive genes. The solid colours, classic tabbies and blue varieties cannot be exhibited as Egyptian Maus, but are identical in temperament and conformation.

One distinctive feature of the breed is the flap of skin hanging from the belly extending from the flank to the hind knee. This is called a primordial flap or “greater omentum" and contrasts with the "tucked up" belly of most other breeds. Its allows the cat to run very fast by hyper-extending its longer hind legs and is considered evidence of the breed's antiquity. Genetically, however, the purebred Egyptian Mau is quite different from native Egyptian and Middle Eastern cats.

The Native Egyptian Mau

The original or “native” Egyptian Mau differs in several respects from the cat fancy’s interpretation of the breed. Native Maus are found in a wider range of colours and patterns. In addition to the accepted bronze, silver and smoke varieties, the Native Egyptian Mau can be found in golden (red), blue and cream. While the cat fancy Egyptian Mau is only recognised in the spotted pattern, the Native Egyptian Mau is also seen in classic (blotched) tabby in those colours and in solid colours. It does not occur in mackerel tabby, ticked tabby (Abyssinian pattern) or in colourpoint patterns.

The Egyptian Mau Rescue Organization is an adoption agency for Egyptian and Arabian street cats of unknown pedigree. These cats are not accepted for registration as Egyptian Maus by cat fancies unless they meet an exacting standard i.e. meet the western cat fancy’s interpretation of what Egyptian cats should look like! In the CFA, the imported cats are known as "Native Maus". The second and third generations are called "Domestic Maus". The fourth generation cats can be considered for registration as Egyptian Maus if they meet the CFA breed standard. These imports are essential to expand the gene pool because as the Egyptian Mau may not be outcrossed to any other breeds.

BAHRAINI DILMUN (DELMUN) CAT

The Bahraini Dilmun (or Delmun) Cat is an ancient spotted variety barely known in its own country. It is in danger of being lost due to inter-breeding with abandoned Persian and Siamese cats in Bahrain where purebred cats are popular pets and status symbols but are frequently turned out onto the streets once the novelty wears off. The brown spotted tabby is probably the most common pattern, but they are also found in red spotted . The effect of interbreeding can be seen in the occurrence of colourpoints among feral cats.

Dilmun cats are slender and semi-foreign in conformation. They have evolved to survive in Bahrain's extremely high summer temperatures. Only recently has there been any interest in maintaining this as a breed and Adele O’Shea is involved in the preservation of this variety. It is being bred by the Cat Club of Bahrain and Dilmun Cats have reached America.

The Dilmun cat occurs occurs in six patterns The spotted tabby is found in black-on-brown and red-spotted varieties. White Dilmun cats are born with a small blue patch behind one ear that disappears in adulthood – i.e. genetically caused by white spotting gene. When mated to a spotted tabby they produce spotted tabbies and tabby-and-whites. Tabby-and-White and black-and-white Dilmuns tend to have a high degree of white markings. Solid black is also found due to the recessive non-agouti gene. Tabby-tortie (without white) are relatively uncommon.


Male spotted Dilmun (Photo: Adele O'Shea)


Female Spotted Dilmun (Photo: Adele O'Shea)


Male red spotted Dilmun (Photo: Adele O'Shea)

ARABIAN MAU

The Arabian Mau is indigenous to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabi and has been known for several centuries as the common "street cat" of the area. Known simply as the “desert cat” in those areas of the Middle East, it was internationally recognised as the Arabian Mau through the efforts of Middle East Cat Society at a 2005 cat show in Dubai.

Female Arabian Maus are medium sized and elegant, but the males can be much larger. The colors can be different but the most recognized are red, white, black, black and white, brown and brown mackerel tabby. It was claimed that the cats remain a distinct variety as they breed only among themselves and will not mate with other stray cats, but this is improbable

SHIRAZI

Sabine Harding (Egyptian Mau Rescue Organisation) writes that the Shiraz Cat is an Egyptian Mau/Persian mix which are seen as semi-domestic, stray and feral cats in Egypt. Those street cats differ from the selectively bred Shiraz in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, where Shirazi kittens are sold for the equivalent of £250-300. The mix of Persian with native spotted cats mirrors the situation of the Bahraini Dilmun Cat. They may date back further, although their longhaired ancestors would not be the “Persian” as the cat fancy knows it.

While the purebred Egyptian Mau is known for its spotted pattern, the Shirazi occurs in a wider range of coat types and patterns including the tabby coat; it may be considered the fluffier counterpart to the Native Egyptian Mau. While it is advertised as a purebred, it is not currently a registered breed (there being no cat registries in Dubai).

In appearance it is a semi-longhair or longhair unrecognised “breed” that resembles the traditional style Persian and occurs in a wide variety of patterns inherited from its mix of Egyptian Mau and Persian ancestry. From the Mau side of their ancestry they inherit the primordial flap (belly-flap/apron). From the Persian side they inherit docility and a wide palette of colours including chinchilla, self (solid) colours and torties.

The Shirazi, like the cat fancy Persian suffers from Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), an inherited condition. This supports the claim of a more recent ancestry as PKD is found in the modern Persian breed.

NILE VALLEY EGYPTIAN CAT

Though only recently recognised by TICA in 2010, the Nile Valley Egyptian (NVE) may be the oldest, domestic cat breed in the world. It is a natural breed indigenous to the Nile Valley area of Egypt and some consider it the missing link between Felis sylvestris lybica and the domestic cat.

There are 3 colour/pattern divisions: Standard (solids, solid-and-white, tortoiseshell, calico), Agouti (ticked tabby cats, like the Abyssinian) and Lybica (spotted and patterned tabby varieties). The colours include red, black, blue (in solid, spotted and tabby patterns) and white.

The breed foundation cats were Egyptian feral cats imported to the USA from Cairo. The native Egyptian Mau is a subdivision of the Nile Valley Egyptian Cat. The cat fancy’s Egyptian Mau was developed in Europe and the USA. Semi-longhair versions of the Nile Valley Egyptian Cat arose through interbreeding with cats that were not native to Egyptian; these are bred separately as the Shirazi.

MESSYBEAST : BREEDING ETHICS AND PURPORTED BREED ORIGINS