Tuesday 1 March 2011

The Cats of Morocco

To people familiar to seeing the domestic, stray and feral cats of North America and Europe, the cats of Morocco look a bit different. I'd like to speculate why. I was drawn into this discussion with Valley Girl a work colleague of mine who not long ago visited Morocco and came back with some photos of, guess what - cats!

I think it is fair to say that the cats of Morocco are similar to those of other North African countries. Egypt is a special case because  it is the home of the Egyptian Mau, which is still a feral cat in Egypt but a stunning purebred cat in America. Both originate in the African Wildcat.

This post is speculative and open to criticism. There would appear to be three factors at work that cause the cats of western countries to be different to the cats of Morocco:
  1. the distance of these countries from the fertile crescent (see below), the place where the African-Asian wildcats were first domesticated;
  2. the climate of the countries where the cats live;
  3. the level of domestication in the respective countries.
Fertile Crescent - place of origin of the domestic cat - Wikimedia commons file.

The fertile crescent is based on the Nile and Euphrates rivers around which people settled in ancient times. See Cat History for lots more.

Morocco is on the north-west coast of Africa. There is a direct land link to the fertile crescent about 4,000 kilometres away.

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The current non-purebred domestic cat in Morocco originates more directly from the domesticated Africa Wildcat than the domestic cats (and I am talking about the feral and moggie cats) of America and Europe.

Lets remind ourselves that the domestic cat was imported to Great Britain and Northern Europe with the Romans and thence to America with the pilgrims in the 1600s.

The cats of the UK had a long time to evolve in a much colder climate before founding the breeds and moggies of North America. Note: if it is not the pilgrims who colonised America who brought the ships cats with them it was the Vikings and they also came from a cold climate. Cold climates impinge on the evolution of animals. Servals at high altitude in Kenya are melanistic (black) and the Scottish wildcat is stocky, solid and a classic grey tabby cat, perfect camouflage and build for cold weather. The Siberian tiger is the largest tiger and the Sumatran tiger the smallest.

Cats in America have evolved from cats adapted for colder climates. Cats in Morocco and north Africa have evolved in a similar climate as the original domestic cats - the connection is more direct.

There is a compounding factor. The cats in Morocco have not been domesticated to the same extent as those in America and old Europe. Here is a photograph taken by Valley Girl of a grey spotted semi-feral cat in Morocco that looks similar to the feral Egyptian Mau:

Essaouria gray spotted tabby - photos used with the express permission of the photographer -  copyright valleygirl_tka

The Moroccan cats live with people but separate from the people. They live in the street, outside, in parallel with the lives of people. In America where a cat is a domestic cat, the cat is usually fully integrated into the family life. Many are full-time indoor cats. These factors impinge on their evolution of over centuries.

Where there is greater integration into the family there is a greater refinement in the cat's appearance over time subject also to the fact that the American cat originates in a cat evolved for a colder climate.

There is also a strong Turkish Van influence. The van pattern is quite common in the hot Mediterranean climates. Here is a Van type cat:

Man feeding street cats, Marrakesh Morocco - Photo copyright valleygirl_tka

How did the Turkish Van - large areas of white and splashes of colour - develop from spotted African wildcat? The Van is an ancient breed of cat. It seems to be an adaptation to its habitat. The spotted tabby pattern of the African Wildcat fits well with the woodland habitat in which it is usually found. The domestic non-purebred cat that is the Turkish Van in Turkey does not need the same coat as camouflage. The white coat reflects heat. The Van pattern has infiltrated many areas of the Mediterranean. It is suited to the climate.

Bicolor cats that are solid and white are very common in the hotter climates it seems to me. Once again and adaptation to the hotter climate.

Calico and solid and white cats with a black tortoiseshell it seems. "Cat herd Marrakesh souk" Photo copyright valleygirl_tka

The conclusion is that the cats of Morocco are different to the cats of America for example because they are adapted for warmer weather, they are less domesticated and more directly linked to the original domestic cats some 9,000 years ago. One adaption that I have not mentioned is that they will on average have slightly slimmer body conformations as well, for the same reason.

There is a last point. Valley Girl did not see a classic tabby cat, meaning a cat with the blotched tabby pattern. No wildcat has the classic tabby pattern. They all have stripes and/or spots. My gut feel is that the blotched tabby is a coat pattern created by breeders in the west. Cat breeders have always had a desire to expand and separate the cat breeds. The one purebred cat to disprove this (possibly) is the Sokoke, a supposedly discovered cat in Kenya and developed in America. This cat has the classic tabby coat.

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1 comment:

  1. Geneticists claim the "Blotched" form of Tabby cats only occured in Medieval Times, and that before that all tabbies had stripes not blotches,. But this claim is from Cat Geneticists, not from Cat-Archaeology, and I don't believed those Cat Geneticists are always right. Those Geneticists claim Cats first domesticated in the Middle East, but no Middle Eastern Archaeologist has EVER found the bones of an ancient domestic Cat. Jerico, in Palestine has, but not Turkey or that neighbourhood, No Ancient Cat bones at all.


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