IT is not intended in the following notes to enter into a description of the various beautiful and interesting wild felines, for although some of these - such as the Ocelot, the Geoffrey's Cat, and the Wild Cat - are not infrequently seen in the pens at our leading shows, such matter really comes more within the province of a natural history than of the present work.
Burmese Cat (Photo: E. Landor, Ealing)
Two varieties alone may justly claim some slight attention here, these being the Egyptian cat (Felis maniculata) and the European wild cat (F. catus). It might reasonably be imagined that our common cat was derived from the last-named, considering that at one time it was a common animal all over England, as well as on the Continent. The untamable ferocity of this variety - which is probably the least amenable of all living creatures - has doubtless prevented its ever having been domesticated, and the high value which, as we learn from old writings, was placed upon the domestic puss at a time when the wild cat was a common animal in England, plainly show that F. catus was not the ancestor of F. domestica, although the two will freely interbreed. Many years ago, for instance, the old Spanish wild cat which used to be kept at the Zoological Gardens in the so-called aviaries, now occupied by the civets, mated with his cage mate - a tortoiseshell-and-white queen - and of these cross-bred kittens both Sir Claud Alexander and the writer of these lines possessed specimens.
It is usually assumed that the Egyptian or Caffre cat is the progenitor of the majority of the domestic cats. This is the variety which was domesticated, revered, and embalmed by the ancient Egyptians. It is found over the whole of Africa, and it is quite easy to understand how, with its eminently tamable disposition, it gradually spread over Europe. Our so-called Abyssinian cats, to which reference will be made later on, bear a very striking resemblance to this handsome variety of cat.
The domestic cats of other parts of the world, however, are undoubtedly derived from the smaller wild cats of the countries in question. Thus it is probable that several varieties have a share in the creation of the Indian domestic cats, of which Blyth distinguished two varieties. The fulvous variety he considered to be derived from the Indian jungle cat (F. chaus), a fulvous cat which in its high legs, shorter tail, and slightly tufted ears - and it is worthy of note that some of the best Abyssinians have large and slightly tufted ears - marks the approach to the lyncine group. The spotted kinds he traces to the leopard cat, the desert cat, and the rusty-spotted cat.
A most extraordinary variety, of which next to nothing appears to be known, is the hairless cat, and we cannot do better than quote in extenso the description given by the owner of what, if his surmise should unhappily prove to be correct, was the last pair of these peculiar animals, a portrait of which we give.
Albuquerque, New Mexico,
February 3rd, 1902. Mr. H. C. Brooke.
Dear Sir, - Yours of January 20th is at hand. In answer would say my hairless cats are brother and sister. I got them from the Indians a few miles from this place. The old Jesuit Fathers tell me they are the last of the Aztec breed known only in New Mexico. I have found them the most intelligent and affectionate family pets I have ever met in the cat line ; they are the quickest inaction and smairtest cats I have ever seen. They are fond of a warm bath, and love to sleep under the clothes at night with our little girl. They seem to understand nearly everything that is said to them ; but I have never had time to train them. They are marked exactly alike - -with mouse-coloured backs ; with neck, stomach, and legs a, delicate flesh tint. Their bodies are always warm and soft as a child's. They love to be fondled and caressed, and are very playful; will run up and down your body and around your waist like a flash. "Nellie" weighs about eight pounds, and "Dick" weighed ten pounds ; but I am sorry to say we have lost "Dick." We have never allowed them to go out of the house, as the dogs would be after them. They were very fond of our water spaniel, and would sleep with her. "Dick "was a sly rascal, and would steal out. One night last year he stole out, and the dogs finished him.
His loss was very great, as I may never replace him. The Chicago Cat Club valued them at 1,000 dollars each. They were very anxious for me to come on with them for their cat shows, but I could not go. They were never on exhibition ; as this is a small city, I feared they would be stolen. I have made every endeavour to get another mate for " Nellie," but have not been successful. I never allowed them to mate, as they were brother and sister, and I thought it might alter "Nellie's" beautiful form, which is round and handsome, with body rather long. In winter they have a light fur on back and ridge of tail, which falls off in warm weather. They stand the cold weather same as other cats. They are not like the hairless dogs, whose hide is solid and tough ; they are soft and delicate, with very loose skin. " Nellie " has a very small head, large amber eyes, extra long moustache and eyebrows ; her voice now is a good baritone, when young it sounded exactly like a child's. They have great appetites, and are quite dainty eaters - fried chicken and good steak is their choice. Have never been sick an hour.
The enclosed faded picture is the only one I have at present ; it is very lifelike, as it shows the wrinkles in its fine, soft skin. " Dick " was a very powerful cat ; could whip any dog alone ; his courage, no doubt, was the cause of his death. He always was the boss over our dogs; I have priced " Nellie " at 300 dollars. She is too valuable a pet for me to keep in a small town. Many wealthy ladies would value her at her weight in gold if they knew what a very rare pet she is. I think in your position she would be a very good investment to exhibit at cat shows and other select events, as she doubtless is the only hairless cat now known. I have written to Old Mexico and all over this country without finding another. I would like to have her in some large museum, where she would interest and be appreciated by thousands of people. - Trusting this will reach you in safety, I am, very truly yours, F. J. Shinick.