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

The CHAUSIE

The Cat That Came Up from the Reeds*

Tasurt Tor of Sarsenstone, an excellent example of the Chausie breed

What breed of cat looks a lot like an Egyptian cat statue, but is too tall, too long, and far too deep-chested to be an Abyssinian?

It doesn’t have long fur, but it can have ear tufts. It shouldn’t have spots, but can come in a unique tabby pattern of its own.

Some of them like water and might even eat frogs if given a chance.

Give up?

It’s the Chausie. Pronounced CHOW-see, it’s a breed derived from a nondomestic species with the scientific name, Felis chaus. Like the Bengal and Savannah, the Chausie has been developed by breeding its nondomestic ancestors over and over to domestic cats. Today’s Chausies usually have much more domestic blood than nondomestic blood, but they retain many of the best traits of their wild ancestors.

The nondomestic ancestors of the Chausie are commonly called “Jungle Cats.” That’s an unfortunate misnomer. They don’t live in jungles and never have. They like the reeds and grasses next to waterways. They will eat any small animal that lives by water, including frogs.

Although Jungle Cats are primarily an Asian species, they have also lived for thousands of years in the northeast corner of Africa in one small region, the Nile Delta. We know this because Jungle Cats still live wild there today—and we know it because the ancient Egyptians sometimes kept Jungle Cats as pets. Archeologists have found a few Jungle Cat mummies alongside domestic cat mummies.

Like coyotes, Jungle Cats don’t mind being near humans, living in abandoned houses and along irrigation canals. Very likely this has brought Jungle Cats in contact with domestic cats many times over the last 10,000 years. Matings have occurred naturally from time to time.

However, first generation offspring of Jungle Cats and domestic cats are either completely infertile (males) or may have reduced fertility (females). Without a little human help, the hybridization process is not likely to continue for long.

The Jungle Cat—more than most nondomestic species—seems to be a natural candidate for domestication. The right tendencies are already there. They are intelligent and fun-loving, not aggressive or fearful. Jungle Cats get along well with domestic cats.

Physically, Jungle Cats are a good match to domestic cats. They are larger than domestics, but not a lot. The range is from about 19 to 30 pounds, depending on the region. Their gestation period is identical to that of the domestic cat, typically about 63 to 66 days. Their average litter size (3 kittens), average birth weights (around 3.5 ounces, or 100 grams), and number of litters per year (1 to 2) are also about the same as the domestic cat.

Why bother to create a domestic breed from the Jungle Cat? Why not keep Jungle Cats as pets?

Well, for one thing, Jungle Cats, while not endangered yet, may become so as their habitat vanishes in many regions of the world in the future.

But also—there’s a difference between domestic tendencies and true domestication. Breeders who have conducted matings of Jungle Cats with domestic cats find that the first generation offspring seem more easily stressed in the human environment than fully domestic cats. They love one human being, but don’t transfer affection to others readily. They are not always reliable users of the litter box. And, they are less flexible in their dietary requirements than domestic cats.

Domestic cats have short intestinal tracts compared to dogs and humans. Nondomestic cats have even shorter intestinal tracts. That may mean less ability to digest and tolerate plants, fiber, and carbohydrates in the diet. Breeders of Chausies say that their early generation cats have little tolerance of, for example, dry commercial cat foods (high cereal content). They often develop diarrhea and may eventually progress to inflammatory bowel disease if fed too much dry food.

Judy Bender brought the concept of the Chausie breed to TICA. The first cats were registered in 1995. The breed was accepted to the Evaluation Class in Febrary, 2000, and became a Preliminary New Breed (PNB) when TICA revised the new breed process. Chausies were shown in the PNB class beginning May 1, 2002. The breed began showing in the Advanced New Breed (ANB) class on May 1, 2003.

Sandra Cassalia of Wildkatz Cattery was the first working breed chair, from 1999 to 2003. More than any other single person, Sandra made the Chausie breed a reality. She had been a Jungle Cat breeder, and her experience was invaluable. Her Jungle Cats and Chausies became the cornerstones of the breed.

To have a breed, the cats must look a lot like each other and together reliably produce more cats with the same look. The cats in the breed should resemble each other more than they do cats outside the breed.

The Chausie goal is a domestic breed that preserves the type of the Jungle Cat as well as its colors and patterns. According to the standard, those include the black ticked tabby, solid black, and black grizzled ticked tabby. The grizzled pattern is unique to the Jungle Cat and thus to the Chausie breed of domestic cat.

To be truly a Chausie, a cat must be descended from at least one Jungle Cat and look a lot like one, but it must have mostly domestic cat ancestors and be fertile. That’s why a first generation Chausie is only a Chausie on paper. Biologically, it’s not a Chausie. Chausie breeders have had to work hard to produce genuine Chausies.

Early on, Chausie breeders discovered they could achieve fertility in males a little faster than in some other breeds derived from nondomestic species. But those first Chausie studs have not always been fully fertile. Some have sired only one litter of kittens. Others have sired multiple litters, but with low overall conception rates and small litters.

Tasurt Naabahi (“Naabi”) was one of the first fully fertile Chausie males and is found in many current Chausie pedigrees. Naabi is third generation—the great grandson of a Jungle Cat. In Naabi’s particular case, he is also A level. That is, all the other cats in his pedigree were domestic cats, and so he is about 12.5 percent Jungle Cat. In general, Chausie males with less than 15% Jungle Cat blood seem likely to be fertile, though it varies with the lineage.

In contrast, some other nondomestic hybrid breeds must reach the sixth generation before male fertility is likely. The percentage of nondomestic blood is the key, not the number of generations per se. If nondomestic cats are on both sides of the pedigree (B or C level), it may take more generations of outcrossing to domestics to achieve male fertility.

It’s a challenge. Breeders on one hand need to outcross a lot to domestic cats in order to achieve male fertility. On the other hand, they need to at some point breed true Chausie to true Chausie to lock in the look of the Jungle Cat and advance toward SBT status in TICA.

The more generations away from the Jungle Cat, the harder it can be to hold on to the correct look and the longer it takes to advance to studbook status. Yet, the more breeders breed Chausie to Chausie, the harder it can be to achieve and hold on to male fertility. It also gets harder to maintain sufficient healthy genetic diversity in the breed’s gene pool.

It’s not easy, but Chausie breeders have taken it one step at a time, with good success.

For example, a Chausie female named Navajo Charisma, though 25 percent Jungle Cat, was not particularly typey. But she seems to have been prepotent for fertility. It was Charisma who produced the aforementioned Tasurt Naabahi. Naabi in turn sired some very typey, fertile Chausie males, including Willowind Dubai, Willowind Blackwater, Willowind Mafi Mushkla, and Tasurt Tashquin.

Through her daughters, Charisma produced still more fertile Chausie males, including Tasurt Markin Time, Afrikhan Shaolin, Tasurt Renbesu, and ultimately one of the first black grizzled fertile males, Tasurt Tehuti. Tasurt Naabahi, Willowind Dubai, and Afrikhan Shaolin are worth noting. They have contributed greatly to the current generation of C level and SBT Chausies.

At least two other females have been highly influential in the development of the Chausie breed, Wildkatz Cheetah of Willowind and Willowind Keetah.

Cheetah’s daughter, Willowind Keetah, was the mother of two very typey and fertile Chausie males, Willowind Dubai and Willowind Mafi Mushkla. Cheetah’s other daughter, Willowind Jasmin of Kndkats, was the mother of Kndkats Jackal of Reedcat. Jackal is the stud behind many of the Reedcat Cattery Chausies.

With fully fertile Chausie males finally available, Chausie breeders in recent years have made progress toward the desired Jungle Cat look of the breed. The breed has produced high quality C level Chausies and is beginning to produce the final generation, the SBT level Chausies. Establishing a sufficient pool of good quality SBT Chausies is the last requirement remaining for championship status.
                                                                                                                            

Is the Chausie the Right Breed for You?

The Chausie, first of all, tends to be a long, tall, lanky cat. It’s not as heavy as it looks, but can be quite an armful to pick up. This is a cat that likes to have room to spread out, to run, leap, and jump. The Chausie is active, social with humans and other cats, and quite intelligent. This is not a breed that likes to be left alone all the time or in a boring environment.

Early generation Chausies can do things that purely domestic cats usually would not—such as completely chew up shoes, through electric cords, and toss large area rugs around as if they were frisbies. They have strong hunting and food acquisition instincts. (Mind the canary, and put those groceries away pronto!) First generation Chausies usually have good litter box habits, but it’s not as predictable as with later generation Chausies or purely domestic cats.

Chausies from the third generation onward are quite domesticated. They have no litter box issues and are not more challenging than any other active domestic breed. They are comparable to Siamese and Abyssinians in energy and activities. They probably won’t eat your shoes, but certainly will learn how to open all the doors, cupboards, and drawers.

The late generation Chausies so far seem to retain some of the dietary sensitivities of their Jungle Cat ancestors. Chausie breeders recommend feeding mostly high quality wet foods, with plenty of meat and organs in the ingredients and as little as possible of plant ingredients and carbohydrates.

Ideally, Chausies are black ticked tabbies, solid black, or black grizzled ticked tabbies. However, the breed is relatively young; non-standard Chausies are often produced. Those may be other colors, such as chocolate, or different patterns, such as pointed. Non-standard colors and patterns can’t be shown and preferably should not be bred. However, for people after a pet quality Chausie, the non-standard kittens may be every bit as beautiful and exciting. They have the same delightful personality and the same beautiful, loose-limbed style of motion as their show quality siblings. Chausies don’t lie on the sofa. They drape themselves over it. They don’t run. They lope. They don’t sit. They pose.

For many people, one Chausie is the beginning of a love affair with the breed.

 
More to Learn

The ticked tabby pattern found naturally in the Jungle Cat may be due to a different gene than the ticked tabby of the domestic cat. Jungle Cat kittens have stripes all over the body when young; those fade with maturity until mostly ticking remains. In domestic cats, such as the Abyssinian, kittens are born ticked all over.

Some geneticists suspect that the Chausie breed has both of the ticked tabby genes, with the domestic gene gradually replacing the Jungle Cat gene.

The grizzled tabby pattern of the Chausie breed came from the Jungle Cat. Little is known about it except that it is inherited as a Mendelian dominant and causes alternating white bands to appear along the middle of black hairs as Chausies mature. One geneticist is in the planning stages of a study of Chausie tabby genes.

Chausie breeders also continue to learn. Until recently, the black grizzled tabby Chausies were rare. Because few grizzled to grizzled breedings have occurred, the full range of expression of the gene is unknown. Besides the white banding on black hairs, pink or pinkish paw pads are sometimes (but not always) seen. In contrast, the nose leather remains dark.

Surprises may be in store. Just as rosettes popped out all at once in late generation Bengals, Chausie breeders might, for example, begin to see shorter, Jungle Cat type tails appear in the later generations of Chausies. We don't know—and that's part of what makes the breed so interesting.

 
 
For more information and photos, go to

(1) TICA Website, Breeds, Chausie

 
(2) Chausie Breed Committee Website

*A shorter version of this article was published in TICA Trend. Harlingen, TX: The International Cat Association, Inc., Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010, Vol. 31 No. 1.

The article is copyright Cris Bird, 2009. All rights reserved. 
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