Thursday 1 July 2021

Where do Abyssinian cats come from?

We are not sure where Abyssinian cats come from. However, the best assessment is that they come from Abyssinia which is what the citizens of Ethiopia call their country nowadays. Officially it is called the Ethiopian Empire. It is in north-east Africa. It is believed that the first Abyssinian cat in England was called Zula. This individual cat, it is believed, was brought to England by the wife of Captain Barrett-Lennard in 1868. 

This is according to Gordon Stables writing in 1874. The date, 1868, coincides with the end of the Abyssinian confrontation and it is probable that she obtained the cat from one of the returning soldiers from that war. The name of the cat, Zula, is the name of the northern Abyssinian port at which the British military force established its first base in 1867.

Where do Abyssinian cats come from?
 Where do Abyssinian cats come from? See map above.

It is then believed that the cat was selectively bred in England during the early years of the cat fancy from ticked tabby coated cats brought back to England from Abyssinia after this brief war. It appears that more than one cat was brought back which allowed selective breeding to take place and to found or create the new breed which was labelled the Abyssinian cat.

The cat was first listed as a distinct breed in 1882. Its status was contested. The first breed standard for this cat was published in 1889 by Harrison Weir who is described as the father of the cat fancy. The first Abyssinian cats to be registered in the National Cat Club studbook occurred in 1896 and in 1907 the first Abyssinian caps were exported to the United States.

Abyssinian cat
Abyssinian cat. Photo in public domain nowadays/

It should be strongly noted, however, that there are a lot of theories about the origin of the Abyssinian cat. We don't know for sure. A lot of what is said is either a best guesstimate, a decent analysis or pure speculation. But the name of the cat points strongly to Ethiopia as the country of origin and it does tie in quite nicely with the fact that there was a war there which allowed soldiers to bring animals back. The cats must have seemed quite exotic at that time because of the interesting ticked tabby coat. This is a coat which does not have markings like the classic tabby (except the M on the forehead and a dark tipped tail) but the coat has a broken and rusty appearance.

Some writers of the era speculated that the Abyssinian cat might be a direct descendant of the sacred cat of the ancient Egyptians. Egypt is close to Abyssinia. And the Abyssinian cat, when in the sitting position, looks very like the statuettes of the ancient Egyptian era right down to the appearance of the face. But there's no hard evidence to back up the idea that this is a cat from ancient Egypt.

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