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

History of the Chausie

Tasurt Tor of Sarsenstone, an excellent example of the Chausie breed
 
The Chausie is a fairly new breed that began in the mid-1990s. Because of that, there is little to no information published about the breed in books. There is a great deal to be found on the Web, but most of it is wildly uninformed.

If you've read 
the Chausie Biology page of this site, you know that a Jungle Cat hybrid from a biological standpoint is not a Chausie. However, Jungle Cat hybrids are what breeders had to start with to produce real Chausies. To understand the history of the Chausie, you have to look at the history of Jungle Cat hybrids.

The Jungle Cat is a species of small wild cat that lives in a vast horizontal belt of land sprawling from northeastern Africa to India, and all the way down to Southeast Asia.

Civilization began in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago, several thousand years before Egyptian civilization was established. The Fertile Crescent is the region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in contemporary Iraq. We know its earliest civilization as "Sumeria." Recent research findings seem to indicate that cats domesticated themselves first in Sumeria and then were either independently domesticated by the Egyptians or were traded to the Egyptians.

Interestingly enough, the Sumerians had no word, none that we know of, for the domestic cat. Lions seemed to be considered some sort of dog. That suggests a lack of familiarity or intimacy with felines. We do not know whether cats actually lived indoors with the Sumerians.

But the Egyptians clearly saw the domestic cat as something special and distinct from other animals. They kept cats (Felis catus) as fully domestic pets. Egyptian murals and carvings show cats sitting under chairs, sitting in the laps of their humans, and generally part of the family.

Another kind of feline was well known in ancient Egypt. Among other things, the mummified remains of Jungle Cats in Egyptian tombs indicate that the Egyptians kept Jungle Cats occasionally as pets.

The Jungle Cat freely roamed and hunted across the Nile delta, as did the early domestic cats. Some of the first Jungle Cat hybrids—the real thing, where one parent was a Felis chaus and the other a fully domestic Felis catus—may have been born in Egyptian homes or outdoors under the bushes and reeds of the Nile delta.

Jungle Cats are more numerous in Asia than in North Africa. Even in Egypt, Jungle Cats are normally found only in the delta of the Nile, the part where the Nile fans out and then empties into the ocean. Nonetheless, the combination of domestic cats and Jungle Cats living together in close proximity may have occurred first in the Nile delta

Jungle Cat hybrids were also undoubtedly born under natural conditions in places such as India and Southeast Asia. They are common small wild cats in India and Pakistan in particular, and we know that domestic cats could already be found in Pakistan at or before the time they made their way to Egypt. People were already trading along the Silk Trade Route. In fact, the Egyptians got their lapis lazuli for jewelry from what is now Afghanistan.

Biologist Roger Tabor has hypothesized that the Jungle Cat may have intermingled repeatedly in the past several thousand years with the domestic cat in India and Southeast Asia. This may be why the ticked tabby pattern, which is the most common pattern found in Jungle Cats, appeared in Asian domestic cats before it appeared in domestic cats in other parts of the world.

Ticked tabbies are still more common in randomly breeding domestic cats in India, Burma, Thailand, and Singapore than they are elsewhere.

Tabor's hypothesis is just that, a hypothesis. It would explain why the ticked tabby pattern is more common in domestic cats native to Asia than in cats not in Asia. At this time, there's no direct evidence, no genetic evidence, to support Tabor's explanation.

Although we don't know how frequently, it's clear that Jungle Cat hybrids have occurred naturally over a large geographic area for a long time. It was inevitable that sooner or later people would create them deliberately.

Humans have for millennia been interested in mating experiments involving crops and animals. This is why we have navel oranges, for example. And this is why we have mules.

In the Tamra Maew ("Cat Poems") of 14th century Ayudhia in the country now known as Thailand, the Thai people decribed 20 or so different breeds of cat that they considered desirable. One of them, the Saem Sawet, is a black (or very dark) cat with what appears in the ancient illustrations to be white on individual hairs scattered across the coat. "Saem Sawet" literally means "interspersed white."

No one knows exactly what kind of cat the Saem Sawet was, but one plausible explanation is that they were describing the black grizzled pattern seen in some Jungle Cats and their domestic descendants. The Saem Sawet may, possibly, have been either a Jungle Cat hybrid or one of the world's first black grizzled Chausies. The Tamra Maew, after all, was concerned with breeding special types of cats and preserving them.

In different times and places, perhaps more often than we know, humans have experimented with breeding Jungle Cats and other nondomestic felines to domestic cats. Cases of documented ownership of nondomestic hybrids of various kinds became common beginning in the 19th century.

For example, Harrison Weir, the Father of the Cat Fancy, described nondomestic feline hybrids brought to the first few Crystal Palace cat shows in England. Some were hybrids of domestic cats and Scottish Wildcats. Others it was unclear what they were, but there appears to have been at least one that was a hybrid of a nondomestic cat from India and a domestic cat. That could have been a Jungle Cat hybrid, although there are other possibilities.

The interest in exotic cats and their hybrids did not end at the turn of the century. It continued throughout the twentieth century. In the 1960s and 1970s, research scientists at the University of California, Davis, and elsewhere began to conduct systematic breeding experiments with Asian Leopard cats and domestic cats—as well as with some other species of small wild cat. They were investigating why some species of cat are resistant to feline leukemia, while others are not. That was the era of the War on Cancer, when the federal government in the United States was investing heavily in cancer research.

One of the spin-offs of the scientific breeding experiments using the Asian Leopard Cat was the Bengal breed. Jean Mill and others began breeding domestic cats to Asian Leopard Cats with the intention of turning it into a fully domestic breed. By the 1990s, the Bengal was well established in the cat fancy. Cat fanciers saw the Bengals, once they reached the championship stage (when the breed is fully developed), were fully fertile and as easy to handle as any other domestic breed of cat. They were also unique in appearance and absolutely stunning.

Thanks to selective breeding, the patterns and colors of Bengals are now clearer and more vivid than those of their ancestors, the naturally evolved Asian Leopard Cats.

The success of the Bengal has served as inspiration for additional breeds derived from yet other species of small wild cat.

One of them, in the mid-1990s, was the Chausie. A small group of people began to work with each other on systematically producing a fully domestic breed derived from Jungle Cat hybrids.

While developing a new breed from a nondomestic species is always extremely challenging because of low fertility in early generations and other problems, the Chausie turned out to be somewhat easier than the Bengal. Biologists have observed that the Jungle Cat naturally possesses some traits suited to domestic life. Also, fertility in the descendants of Jungle Cat hybrids develops relatively quickly.

Contrary to what you may read elsewhere on the Web, there have been no problems with Jungle Cats killing domestic mates. Good temperament is there to some extent right from the start, and full fertility is usually achieved by the fourth generation of matings with domestic cats.

Over a period of about 17 years, Chausie breeders progressed from working with Jungle Cat hybrids in the first generation to mostly domestic cats that  on average are about sixth generation. The breed recently met all the criteria for becoming a championship breed (meaning a fully developed domestic breed). The TICA Board of Directors granted championship status to the Chausie in September, 2012, and it goes into effect on May 1, 2013.

Contrary to what you read elsewhere on the Web, the purpose of continuing to work with F1 cats is to expand the breed's gene pool. It is not necessary to keep using Jungle Cats or F1 cats to preserve the "wild" look of the breed. The existing Chausies by themselves already have a considerable resemblance to the Jungle Cat, and that resemblance will only increase as successive generations are selectively bred to enhance the look.

This is a lesson that was learned from working with the early Bengals. It was not until there were plenty of fertile, late generation Bengals to breed to each other that the greatest progress with the breed was made. It was by breeding late generation Bengals to each other that the first true Bengals with beautiful rosette spotting were produced. By continuing the selective breeding process, breeders eventually produced Bengals that have brighter, more eye-popping patterns than are ever seen in Asian Leopard cats. Once the Bengal breed was well developed, it actually became counter-productive to continue to use Asian Leopard cats to create new lineages. If you breed back to the nondomestic ancestor you immediately lose fertility in the male line, which takes a long time to regain. In addition, you lose color and clarity of pattern. Mother Nature wants wild cats to blend into the background, not stand out from it.


It is just a matter of time before the Chausie reaches that same stage. The Reed Cats are coming. You will see them in the show hall with all the other domestic breeds next spring, 2013.


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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