Now here’s a fact for you. All the domestic cats you know today have a common ancestor – and that ancestor still runs free across the savannah which is a lot more than you can say for the human ancestor.
My noble ancestor is the African wild cat, Felis libyca, found today across Africa and Arabia.
But the African Wild Cat is threatened . Loss of habitat and hybridisation with domestic cats is leading rapidly to the demise of this wonderful creature.
Why Cats moved in with People
The tough little wildcat of Egypt, Felis libyca, first lived in the swamps and marshes along the Nile. As time progressed, and people began to grow grains and other foodstuff and keeping it for longer periods of time, rodents and other dastardly vermin found they could easily get a free meal.
But my noble ancestor, the African Wild Cat, with its ferocity and rapacity, could keep the rodent population under control!
Your excessive use of agriculture resulted in large scale storage of grains which attracted the usual and well known group of freeloaders, mice and rats. Grain attracted rodents. Rodents attracted my ancestors, and they set up housekeeping close to human settlements. Eventually, being what we are, we moved in with you.
Rodent Killing Cats of the Past
What a thrilling scene it must have been! These ferocious ancestors of mine slinking around the village to hunt down the deadly (and tasty) rodents. I can imagine quite clearly the grateful Egyptians leaving out scraps of food to encourage the Wild Cats to stay. Then one or two of the more friendly of my forebears allowed themselves to be petted and hand fed.
Pretty soon they had the best hammock in the house.
These rodent-killing cats were held in the highest esteem and the penalties for injuring or killing one were severe. Ah, those were the days! We ended up being worshiped as semi-divine creatures and, although I may not go so far as to demand the right of worship be restored, a little respect goes a long way.
We didn’t need you to survive, you needed us.
If a fire broke out in an Egyptian house, the cat was the first to be saved. You don’t see too much of that these days.
What does an African Wild Cat look like?
What’s really quite fascinating to the serious genealogist like myself, is the striking family resemblance between Felis Libyca and the common or garden tabby cat you can trip across anywhere.
The African Wild Cat is coloured a sandy brown to a yellow grey, with black stripes on the tail. The shadings are darker in wet regions and paler in dry. They have dark garters on the upper legs and indistinct spots on chest.
So apart from being a little larger and a little leggier, you can’t pick instantly if you’re admiring a true specimen of Felis Libyca or simply staring at a neighbourhood tabby.
The main clue is the whereabouts of the cat in question.
African Wild Cats are Under Threat
The habitat of the African Wild Cat shrinks a little more each year but the primary threat is that bane of catdom – the domestic cat gone feral.
Hybridisation is the term used. Feral male cats have a competitive advantage over male wildcats when comes to access to females, due to both their larger size and nastier disposition. So my ancestor, after lasting all this time, is now in danger of being bred out of existence!
The pure strains of African Wild Cat will only be safe in protected areas remote from human habitation and isolated from feral domestic cats. I hate to sound callous, but something drastic has to be done about feral domestic cats – wherever they are found.