Sarsenstone Cattery, The Chausie Nile
Sarsenstone Cattery's Chausie Nile

Chausie Biology

Tasurt Tor of Sarsenstone, an excellent example of the Chausie breed
 
Chausies, Jungle Cats, and Jungle Cat Hybrids.

Aren't those just different names for the same thing?
No.

Chausies are a breed of domestic cat. The domestic cat is a species, Felis catus.


Jungle Cats are not the same species as the domestic cat. Also, the Jungle Cat is not domestic, not physically or mentally.
Incidentally, "Jungle Cat" is not a general name for any wild cat. When in uppercase, Jungle Cat refers specifically to Felis chaus, a species of small wild cat that normally lives by rivers and lakes.

Like the coyote of the American Southwest, the Jungle Cat is adaptable. It doesn't mind living near humans. In fact, it will happily hunt rodents in abandoned buildings, even take up residence in those buildings. The Jungle Cat also does not mind living on irrigated, developed farm land. (It does need to have plenty of brush, thick grasses, and reeds in which to hunt and take refuge.)

Despite its adaptability, the Jungle Cat is not genetically "tame." It hasn't co-evolved with humans for 10,000 years the way domestic cats have. Domestic cats have some ability to tolerate people food, including foods that contain grain and vegetables. And domestic cats are extremely careful to keep themselves clean and bury their wastes. They readily learn to use a litter box to do so.

Jungle Cats don't have table manners or bathroom manners. As folks who try adopting Jungle Cats quickly learn, they tend to poop all over the house. Jungle Cats tend to not like commercial cat food
especially not dry cat food. This is not just a matter of preference. Nondomestic feline species, such as Felis chaus, usually have short digestive tracts, in particular a short large intestine. Short intestines are good for animals that eat mostly meat. The toxic and carcinogenic by-products from meat are eliminated quickly in the feces.

But for animals that eat significant amounts of plant products such as grain, long loops of intestine are necessary. Long intestines mean the food stays in the digestive tract a long time. Beneficial bacteria can colonize the mucosa all the way down, loop after loop. Those bacteria help to break down bulky, fibrous plant materials and convert them to nutrients and beneficial by-products.

Animals with very short guts don't have extensive real estate for millions of beneficial bacteria to live on. What's more, when the large intestine is short, the bacteria are located very close to the small intestine. The small intestine is where most of the digestion and absorption of food occurs. The situation can lead to harmful bacteria out-growing beneficial bacteria. The harmful bacteria can easily move into the small intestine in large numbers and damage it.

Without large numbers of beneficial bacteria to deal with plant by-products and defend against harmful bacterial, cats with a lot of nondomestic blood may be prone to malnutrition and chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. The condition is often given the blanket name "inflammatory bowel disease."


As you might expect, domesticated species such as the common house cat, have evolved longer intestines than nondomestic species such as the Jungle Cat. The difference is not huge. Humans, dogs, and horses are far better adapted to plant-rich diets than domestic cats. Nonetheless, it appears that domestic cats have developed some real, physical, heritable ability to tolerate commercial cat foods containing plant ingredients (herbs, vegetables, fruits, or grain). That includes all dry cat foods. Jungle Cats don't have the ability to tolerate commercial cat foods the way domestic cats do.


The photo below shows a mature Jungle Cat male. Sultan is a black grizzled Jungle Cat, and he was the great grandfather of our Chausie alter, Tasurt Tor of Sarsenstone. Photo used with permission.

Sir Sultan of Wildkatz, Jungle Cat male



A Jungle Cat Hybrid is what you get when you breed a Jungle Cat to a domestic cat.
Isn't a Jungle Cat hybrid the same as a Chausie?
No.
Jungle Cat hybrids are individuals. They aren't a breed. They are individuals
just as a mule is an individual, the offspring of a horse and a donkey.

You can't breed one mule to another and get more mules. They are usually sterile. That's why mules aren't a species, and they aren't a breed.

Likewise, you can't breed one Jungle Cat hybrid to another hybrid and get more of them. Jungle Cat hybrid males are sterile. The mother of a Jungle Cat hybrid is quite different from the father of a Jungle Cat hybrid, and the Jungle Cat hybrid is different from both parents. It's not a breed.

According to the experienced Chausie breeders, Jungle Cat hybrids have some of the same dietary sensitivities that pure Jungle Cats have.

Jungle Cat hybrids may use the litter box, but they seem to be less reliable users of the litter box than true Chausies or other true domestic cats are. A minor emotional upset may cause a Jungle Cat hybrid to stop using the litter box for a day or two. Or, a very slight change in litter, litter box design, or litter box location may put an F1 off of using the box. These factors, when taken to an extreme (major stress, extremely dirty litter, etc) can also cause domestic cats to stop using the litter box, just not so readily.

As explained in the next section, female Jungle Cat hybrids can successfully mate with domestic cats. They can't produce more Jungle Cat hybrids, but they can produce cats that are more and more domestic. We used to have a Jungle Cat hybrid female who became the foundation for a new lineage of Chausies. Hattshepsut is shown in the photo below.


Hattshepsut, a Jungle Cat X domestic hybridHattshepsut, a Felis chaus X domestic hybrid cat



The Chausie is a breed of cat.

What is a breed?

A breed is a lot of cats that resemble each other in many different ways. They have a similar appearance and similar personalities. The parents of a purebred cat resemble each other, and they resemble their offspring. The cats in a breed are fully fertile. They can mate with each other and produce offspring with predictable traits.

All of that is true of members of the same species, as well, so you might wonder what makes a breed different from a species. A breed is somewhat like an ethnic group within the human race. The cats within a breed clearly resemble each other more closely than they resemble other kinds of cats.


And there's one other thing about breeds. They are created by human beings rather than by Mother Nature. Because breeds are created by human beings and must be preserved by human beings, they have so far only been developed as part of domestic species.

All breeds of cat are breeds of domestic cat. There are no recognized breeds of nondomestic cat.

But aren't Chausies derived from the Jungle Cat and Jungle Cat hybrids?

Yes, they are. The key words are "derived from." The Jungle Cat is not a Chausie. Jungle Cat hybrids are not Chausies either.


While all Jungle Cat hybrid males are infertile, the hybrid females are usually able to conceive and bear young if they are mated to a domestic cat. You can't breed Jungle Cat hybrids to each other, but you can breed the female hybrids to domestic cat males.

The offspring of a Jungle Cat hybrid female and a domestic cat male are 75 percent domestic cat and only 25 percent Jungle Cat. It's still not a breed at that point because the males are usually still infertile.

But it turns out that if you keep breeding the females to domestic cats, eventually the offspring have so much domestic cat blood they become fully fertile. Usually, the cats must have at least 85 percent domestic cat blood and no more than 15 percent Jungle Cat blood before the males as well as the females are fertile. It does vary. Fairly often the males are not fertile until they have less than 10 percent Jungle Cat blood.


Once you have a lineage where the males are fertile, they tend to remain fertile, generation after generation. That's so long as you don't add back any more Jungle Cat blood.

Typically it takes 4 generations to develop real Chausies, cats that truly are members of the Chausie breed. If you do it right, you can hold on to a lot of the look of the Jungle Cat, but in every other way the cats are domestic cats and are members of a breed.

But don't breeders often sell "Chausie kittens" that have more than 15 percent Jungle Cat blood?

Yes. There's nothing wrong with that. It is the difference between being registered as a member of a breed on paper as opposed to being biologically a member of a breed.

The Chausie is a very new breed. It got started about 1995. There hasn't been time yet for all the breeders to reach the later generations and have fully fertile cats. Breeders must produce a lot of 4th and 5th generation cats from a lot of different bloodlines. There must be enough relatively unrelated, fertile Chausies to keep the breed healthy and give it a viable future.

That takes time.


But eventually, the look of the Chausie breed and the gene pool will not require any new development of bloodlines derived from a Felis chaus ancestor. The Bengal breed has reached that point already. Bengal breeders actually have nothing to gain from using Asian Leopard Cats any more and everything to lose. Temperament, fertility, color and contrast of the pattern -- all would suffer if a breeder went back to using Asian Leopard Cats to develop a new lineage. The Chausie, too, will reach that point in the next few years.

All early generation cats are registered as Chausies and, if they are ever rehomed, they are sold as Chausies because they are part of the foundation of the Chausie breed. They are registered as Chausies to document the process of breed development, and the registration papers tell you exactly where in the process the cat is. In TICA, you can tell by the cat's registration number what stage it comes from in the development of the Chausie breed.


What is the difference between a first generation Chausie and a Jungle Cat hybrid?

A first generation Chausie (F1) and a Jungle Cat hybrid are biologically the same. They are cats that are 50 percent Jungle Cat and 50 percent domestic cat. All the males are infertile.


The difference is only in the paperwork and the goals of the breeder.

A first generation Chausie is registered as a Chausie by a respected international registry, TICA. Therefore, it is a documented cat with known parents.

A breeder must repeatedly invest time and money to keep registering her kittens as Chausies in TICA. If she is registering kittens as Chausies, she probably intends to help develop the Chausie breed. Breeding for the sake of developing a viable new domestic breed is a labor of love. It's not a profitable enterprise.

A breeder who is breeding as a labor of love and not for profit is likely to pay attention to other things, too, such as the long-term health of the parents and their offspring. The breeder is likely to work closely with other breeders and keep track of the health of descendants.

I'm not saying that people who breed Jungle Cat hybrids and only Jungle Cat hybrids are bad. This is a big world with all kinds of people. To keep it a free world and a creative one, there needs to be room for all kinds of people to try their hand at all kinds of things. 


It's possible to breed exotic cats and hybrids of those cats with domestic cats and do so ethically and responsibly. It's possible for some people to keep exotic animals or hybrids as pets. It's just important that people know what they are getting, and get what they want. People need to understand what the needs are of any pet they are considering and whether they can provide the care that particular pet needs for the pet's lifetime. The right animal must be matched to the right home, not to just any home.

Research data indicate that most homeless cats and dogs originally had homes, but were surrendered to shelters or abandoned because they weren't in the right homes. Most homeless pets are not puppies and kittens. They are adult animals.

So, know what you are getting, and get what you are sure you want. 


It is important to know the biological difference between an F1 cat, an F2, or later generation cat—whether the cats are registered as Chausies or not. Make sure you know what you are getting and how the animal was bred and reared. Make sure you know what kind of care the animal needs to be healthy and happy, as well as what it cannot tolerate. A Chausie breeder who truly is a Chausie breeder will in just a few years begin to produce Chausies that are biologically true Chausies—4th generation or later Chausies that can be bred to each other and shown at TICA cat shows.

It is quite important for Chausie breeders to show their cats at TICA shows. Showing is additional evidence for kitten buyers that the breeder is serious about developing the Chausie as a domestic breed of cat and is a not-for-profit breeder. Showing is expensive.

But it's more than that.

Showing Chausies at this early stage in the breed's history helps educate the judges and the public about the breed. Showing also gives Chausie breeders the opportunity to see each others' cats firsthand and learn from each other. There is no substitute for seeing live cats from different lineages and directly comparing them. Photos on the Web do not provide the same amount of information. Lastly, showing Chausies is a good test of their temperament. To be shown, cats must tolerate strange environments, strange cats, and crowds of people. You know you have developed a truly civilized, fully domestic breed if most of your kittens are happy campers in the show hall.


Bibliography

IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group. "Cat Species Information" (On-line). Accessed May 25, 2009 at
http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/cat-website/20_cat-website/home/index_en.htm

Goswami A. 2002. "Felis chaus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 25, 2009 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Felis_chaus.html.

Driscoll CA, Clutton-Brock J, Kitchener AC,  O'Brien SJ.  "The Evolution of House Cats" (on-line), Scientific American Website. Accessed May 28, 2009 at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-taming-of-the-cat

Malek J. The Cat in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press, 1993.

Kitchener A. The Natural History of the Wild Cats. New York: Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, 1991.

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