Considered to be one of the oldest known breeds of cat in the world, the Abyssinian cat is an animal whose history is a swirling mix of speculation and intrigue. Bearing a strong resemblance to the same cats depicted in the sculptures and various artwork of the ancient Egyptian people, the Abyssinian is an elegant and lithe cat that possesses a lean muscled body, proud yet delicately arched neck, pronounced ears, and very captivating almond-shaped eyes. The Abyssinian cat is also known to have maintained the appearance of the African wildcat, felis lybica, which has been traced back and pinpointed as the ancestor of all modern-day domestic cats.
The Abyssinian cat has not gained his name from being from Abyssinia, as one might expect, however. Instead, she was given the title simply because cats of this breed, first exhibited in English cat fancier shows, were supposedly imported from the country of Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia). While the true origins of this fascinating feline are obscured by time, it is said that a ruddy-coated cat won 3rd place honors at the 1871 Crystal Palace cat show and, upon further investigation, that the cat had been brought to England at some point during the Abyssinian war. There is also mention of them in the 1874 publication, “Cats, Their Points and Characteristics,” written by Gordon Staples. Featuring a colored lithograph of a reddish cat with ticked coat and lack of tabby markings around the face, neck and paws, this book also points in the direction of Abyssinia, stating that the cat had been brought to England during the end of the Abyssinian war, which would date this unique breed of cat back as far as 1868 in text.
Strangely enough, however, no written records can link today’s Abyssinian with these imported felines and, quite often, skeptics will claim that the Abyssinian cat was created when various silver and brown tabbies were crossed with native British cats that possessed coats which bore distinctive “bunny” ticking. Genetics work may point the Abyssinian cat off in an entirely different direction though – recent studies suggest that the origins of the Abyssinian cat may actually stem from somewhere off the coast of the Indian ocean or, perhaps, parts of Southeast Asia. Perhaps strengthening this theory is the fact that the oldest known identifiable member of this breed is actually kept in a taxi dermal exhibit in the Leiden Zoological Museum, of Holland. Sporting a red-ticked coat, this cat was purchased somewhere between the years of 1834 and 1836, and was labeled as ‘Patrie, domestica India,’ by the founder of the museum. This suggests that, while the breed may have been refined and promoted by English cat fanciers, that she may have originally made her way there via merchants and colonists who first made port in Calcutta, a major trading port along the Indian Ocean.
While the first Abyssinian cats arrived in England as far back as the early 1900ís, it wasn’t until the late 1930ís that quality cats of this breed were exported from Britain and used to found our modern-day American breeding programs. Considered to be superiority intelligent even amongst the cat world, the Abyssinian is known to be a people-cat; a little creature that is never happy to lounge about on a lap but, rather, wants to know what their human litter mates are doing and, most certainly, insists upon helping at every opportunity. Owners of Abyssinian cats are fond of saying that, once you’ve owned one of these unique little felines, you will never want another kind of cat – the Abyssinian cat is sure to become your favorite companion.
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