Friday 11 September 2020

Interesting facts about the Abyssinian cat

The most interesting facts about the Abyssinian cat come from it's history. I know that the history of the cat breeds does not fascinate people as much as their appearance but in this instance I have to write about it. There is one story which I think is very interesting about the origins of the breed. It is a bizarre historical incident.

Both the above photos are by Helmi Flick

The Emperor of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1860 wrote to Queen Victoria to ask her to marry him. She ignored the letter which annoyed the Emperor resulting in the arrest of some Europeans including the British consul. The British government overreacted and sent in a force of 32,00 to release him and the others. The Emperor panicked as the troops approached his residence and he blew his brains out with a pistol given to him by Queen Victoria!

The fighting was over before it had started so they offered gifts to a local chief and went home. On their way home some of the soldiers picked up pet kittens from the friendly local people and returned to England with them. This is said to be the beginnings of the Abyssinian cat breed.

The first Abyssinian cat in Britain, according to a man called Gordon Stables writing in 1874, was an individual called Zula who was brought to England by the wife of captain Barret-Lennard in 1868. This is the date of the end of the Abyssinian confrontation. It is possible that she obtained the cat from one of the returning soldiers referred to above. "Zula" refers to the name of the northern Abyssinian port at which a British military expeditionary force established its first base in 1867.

That is the more romantic version of the origins of the Abyssinian cat. The more pragmatic and perhaps realistic version is that the cat was simply created through selective breeding in England at the end of the 19th century. It appears that there was a substantial amount of crossbreeding of cats with ticked coats in order to fix what is now perhaps the defining feature of this cat namely the ticked coat. This is an agouti tabby coat without the strong markings with which one is familiar. The appearances salt-and-pepper rather than dark swirls or spots and stripes.

Although it seems likely that some cats were indeed brought back to England after the brief war with Abyssinia. Perhaps the selective breeding took place around these cats and they were refined by mating them with carefully chosen British shorthairs.

The first time I saw an Abyssinian cat I thought that it looked very similar to the ancient Egyptian cat statues in museums. It raised the question as to whether the Egyptians, many thousand years ago, lived with cats similar in appearance to the Abyssinian. There is no evidence to suggest this however. This misconception may have come about because the Abyssinian cat's appearance is very regular and normal. This is one of the outstanding features of this cat breed. Although the cat is quite slender and athletic there is nothing extreme about it which is refreshing bearing in mind some of the extreme bred cat breeds such as the flat-faced Persian.

Some authors suggest that the Abyssinian was first listed as a breed in 1882 but this is contested. There was a "Standard of Points" (breed standard in modern terminology) in 1889. It was published by the founder of the cat fancy, Harrison Weir. The first Abyssinian to be registered at the National Club Studbook occurred in 1896. The first individual Abyssinian cats to be exported to the United States were shipped out in 1907.

As to temperament, there are many descriptions but it would be surprising if there were anything but excellent companions. I shall rely on Gloria Stephens who says that they communicate with their human companions in an open and loving way. This cat likes to talk with people in a "euphonic voice". They make a loyal, loving companion. This is a gentle animal capable of understanding the feelings of their owners. The Abyssinian is an inquisitive cat with great climbing skills combined with grace and agility. Yes, they are an athletic cat breed.

Their appearance is medium-sized. They are muscular, shorthaired and have slender bodied. The head is "slightly wedg -shaped". The ears are large with almond-shaped eyes. The tail is long and tapering. The long-haired variant of this very popular breed is the Somali. In my view the Somali is more attractive than the Abyssinian and their appearance is somewhat like that of a fox. They photograph beautifully in the studio. I can vouch for it having attended a photographic session with Helmy Flick in the USA at a cat show in which she photographed the most glorious Somali cat.

The original colour form is the rusty red coat called "ruddy". This was the sole colour until 1963. The colours have been expanded substantially.

Social media giants delete evidence of criminality

The story relates to extremists avoiding justice because the tech giants fail to archive social media posts of violence but I would like to extend that to animal abuse and cruelty which is so bad that it is a crime. I have bumped into examples of animal abuse on social media websites which is evidence for a potential successful prosecution under animal welfare statutes. It is not uncommon but the criminals are becoming more savvy.

Social media images can be used as evidence in crime
Image in the public domain

A report by Human Rights Watch found that social media websites were removing violent imagery without preserving a copy which denies future prosecutors the chance to access vital evidence in potential future prosecutions.

Human Rights Watch's report is called Video Unavailable and it was published yesterday. They want social media websites to archive imagery which can be used as evidence. Social media website were indeed caught flat-footed when terrorist organisations promoted their objectives through video and still images. They social media sites reacted quite strongly partly because advertisers were distraught at the fact that their adverts were being associated with violence of the worst kind.

Algorithms perhaps driven by artificial intelligence nowadays are used to pick out these images and videos and delete them. I am a great fan of artificial intelligence but they need refining currently and they need rewriting to preserve evidence. I don't know whether these algorithms are written to detect animal abuse and animal cruelty images and videos. I would hope that they are. Apparently some algorithms are programmed to filter out posts and images before the content is published. This, too, is detrimental in terms of accruing evidence against criminals.

We all know, including the FBI in America, that animal cruelty is linked to a progression to violence against people. Therefore it is an important part of the criminal world and the investigation of serious crime.

Social media posts have helped to convicted war criminals. These posts have also helps human rights groups and investigative journalist to highlight abuse.

Abuherrira's Cat

Abuherrira's Cat is a legendary cat, a pet belonging to one of the companions of the Prophet Mohammad, Abu Hurairah. He loved cats and was known as "the father of the little cat". Abu Hurairah, was one of the sahabah (companions) of Muhammad and, according to Sunni Islam, the most prolific narrator of hadith.

Abuherrira's cat
For illustration purposes only. Photo in public domain.

The Favoured Beasts is a poem by Goethe. His favourite cat was one of the four animals admitted to the Muslim paradise: "Abuherrira's Cat, too, here purrs around his master blessed, for holy mast the beast appear the Prophet has caressed."

Another version of that poem reads:

Abuherrira's cat appears,

Purrs around the Lord and flatters:

For since the Prophet stroked his ears

He's wholly where it matters.

Goethe noted that the name Abuherrira means "father of the cats". He knew that cats were considered as pets in the Islamic world as opposed to dogs who were considered unclean. The Prophet, as we all know, loved the cat greatly and it was believed that it would enter paradise.

P.S. It seems that the cat should have been referred to as "Abu Hurairah's cat" but has become distorted or have I got this wrong? Also I have seen Abu Hurairah spelled "Abu Huraira".

Abnormal Cat Breeds

What are abnormal cat breeds? As the description implies, they are cat breeds which have been developed because anatomically speaking they can be distinguished from regular-looking cats because they have at least one abnormality. These abnormalities have normally been created because of a spontaneous genetic mutation in a random bred cat. It doesn't matter where the cat lived. It just happens because that is the way nature works. Somebody sees the cat and finds him or her interesting and the news gets back to a cat breeder who wants to develop their own cat breed because they are ambitious.

They pick up the cat and start the long journey into developing a new cat breed. The cat fancy is littered with abnormal cat breeds but they are controversial. Sometimes the abnormality not only concerns the appearance such as the flat ears of the Scottish Fold but also affects the cartilage in other parts of the cat's body. There are health implications. This is the controversial aspect of abnormal cat breeds. An unusual appearance is important for a cat breeder but so is health. And you will find that when a spontaneous genetic mutation causes an abnormality in appearance it can also have undesirable health implications.

I've mentioned the Scottish Fold. Another abnormal cat breed would be the Munchkin. This is the founding dwarf cat. Dwarfism creates small legs under normal-sized bodies. This creates a very cute looking cat and they are popular. But there are two potential health problems linked to this cat breed. And there are about a dozen spin-off breeds from the Munchkin. These are dwarf cat breeds created out of hybridisations; crossing the Munchkin with another cat breed such as the Sphynx. I have a complete list of those breeds on an associated website. I also discussed the two health problems which may affect the dwarf cat which you can read by clicking on this link.

Super-cute Scottish Fold kitten but be careful about health. Picture:

The hairless cats are abnormal cat breeds. There are several variants from the Russian Don Sphynx to the Peterbald and of course there is the well-known American Sphynx cat which is based upon a random bred hairless cat found in Canada. The tailless cats are also abnormal. The Manx is a classic example. Once again there are potentially severe health implications caused by the gene which makes these cats tailless. Breeders have to be very careful because if you breed two Manx cats you can end up with an unviable embryo. You have to crossbreed the cat which dilutes the desired appearance and breeders end up creating cats which are not tailless or in the case of Scottish Fold cats they end up breeding cats with normal ears. What happens to those cats? There is a limited market for them. This is another complication facing breeders of these abnormal cats.

What you find is that some cat associations accept these abnormal cat breeds while others don't. A more tolerant or open-minded cat associations which accepts them is The International cat Association (TICA). A cat Association which rejects them is the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA). They are more traditional in their viewpoint about what should be acceptable in a cat breed. Is the CFA more sensible? This is the controversial aspect of these breeds.

In the UK, the GCCF, the Premier cat Association in the UK, is I would argue somewhat ambivalent about accepting these breeds. They generally reject them which I think is correct because the primary objective for cat breeders should be health and then character and then appearance. But they tend to prioritise their cats in the reverse order. This is because buyers are fascinated with appearance and tend to conveniently brush under the carpet issues of health.

Looking at the hairless cats once again, briefly, you have to keep these cats indoors because without fur they can suffer in cold weather or will be sunburnt in hot weather. Admirers of the hairless cat argue that there is no issue because they will always be particularly careful in caring for their cat and keep them indoors. They do need particular care because the sebaceous glands in their skin delivering the oils for their fur deposit these oils on the skin which attracts dirt. The oil has nowhere to go and therefore it has to be washed off regularly by the cat's owner.

Another arguably abnormal cat breeder is the Ragdoll. It was put out initially that this cat lacks sensitivity to pain and would go limp when held. This may have encouraged children to hurt the cats because they considered them to be toys rather than sentient beings. Their highly placid nature also makes them more vulnerable when outdoors. It is argued that they should be kept indoors and they are well suited to an indoor life. I would not describe the Ragdoll Cat as an abnormal cat breed. They are a regular cat in truth and beautiful as well. Not all Ragdoll cats are floppy and super laid-back. They have their own individual personalities too.

Referring once again to the Scottish Fold. This breed has seen a surge in popularity recently, partly because the well-known celebrity singer, Taylor Swift, adopted two. She is very visible holding her Scottish Fold under her arm. Domestic cats normally have very mobile ear flaps so what happens for the Scottish Fold? They can't move their ears and you know that domestic cats have over 30 muscles moving their flaps. And a domestic cat's ears provide signals to an opposing cat. These signals can no longer be made. There is third issue namely that ear mites may be a particular problem for this breed although I have no evidence that this is the case.

Sometimes abnormal cat breeds are created from a normal breed. The classic example is the flat-faced Persian (peke-faced). This beautiful domestic cat should have a standard or regular-looking face but over many years of selective breeding the cat associations (primarily the CFA) decided to refine, as they saw it, the face and made it flatter and flatter to the point where they developed health issues. Breathing problems became an issue and the tears from the eyes could not drain away because the tear duct became distorted. This creates tears rolling down the side of the face which have to be wiped away by the owner. And the fur is exceptionally long to the point where the cat can no longer self-groom effectively. This also places an added burden upon the human caregiver.

There is no doubt that these abnormal cat breeds although interesting in appearance create added issues and responsibilities for the human caregiver. They were created out of a desire to produce a distinguished cat breed amongst a crowded spectrum of breeds. During the mid-part of the 1900s there was a surge in new breeds, some of them wild cat hybrids. Since those times the range of breeds has been far more settled. There is probably no more room to create a strange new breed with a distinguishing appearance. Those days are over. And it is time, in a world which is more sensitive towards animal welfare, for the cat associations to re-emphasise the importance of health and to modify their breed standards accordingly to gently encourage breeders away from extreme breeding.

Thursday 10 September 2020

Tiger loose in Knox County, East Tennessee, USA

Photo: Knox County Sheriff's Office. My thanks to the Daily Mail

A tiger is on the loose in Knox County, East Tennessee, USA. They have no idea where it came from. A local zoo has confirmed that their inventory is complete and that none of their Malayan tigers have escaped the facility. The tiger concerned was seen at the Forks of the River Industrial Park on Wednesday night by a police officer, as I understand it.

Location of tiger on the loose:

Since that first sighting there have been multiple reports of sightings of the tiger overnight around John Sevier Highway followed by another sighting at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning near Thornegrove Pike.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is leading the search for the big cat. That was the state of play on Thursday this week. They've set a trap using chickens as bait in an area where the cat was last seen.

Once they have caught the it they will take it to Tiger Haven a rescue centre for big cats in Kingston, Tennessee.

Comment: it appears that this is not a tiger that has escaped from a bona fide "proper" local zoo and therefore readers have to conclude that it has escaped from a private "zoo". They can be very small. The zoo maybe someone's backyard. There may be just two animals. and the tiger may be "domesticated" and someone's pet! There are many thousands of private zoos in America and there are more tigers in America than there are in the entirety of the rest of the world in the wild. 

For me it is slightly amusing although I don't wish to offend anybody. This is because in the UK there are frequent big cat sightings and it is somewhat of a joke because there are no big cats in the UK. There are no private zoos of the type you get in America and I don't think we've had a tiger escaping any zoo for many many decades. If ever. So if somebody sees a big cat in East Tennessee in a field and they photograph it, we can be sure it is real and it will be great to be able to say that. So many big cat sightings are just fictions, the result of fear and sometimes bad news days for the media.

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