Persian Cat Breed Origin
By Peter Leathers
There's a beautiful legend which tells that the Persian cat was created by a wizard from a sparkle, which jumped out of the fire, the shimmer of two far away stars and a curl of grey smoke. I'd say that this legend rather closely describes appearance and temperament of the Persian cat, but the real history of Persian cat breed is not less interesting or less mysterious.
So how does such mutation as long hair appear in a domestic cat? None of its wild counterparts has long hair gene. Well, if only lynx and snow leopard have a slightly longer coat due to the environmental conditions of their habitat.
It's rather difficult now to investigate the origins of the long-haired cats, but most probably they are rooted in Persia, which is now called Iran. That's from where Pietro della Valle brought several long-haired cat beauties to Italy in 1620. And a few years later the scholar and naturalist Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc brought long-haired cats form Angora (now Ankara in Turkey) to France. When the first long-haired cats appeared in England (which is now called 'the second motherland of the Persian cats) they were called 'French cats'.
It's not exactly known whether those were the cats of one and the same breed. Nowadays it is the recognized fact that there existed several breeds of long-haired cats in the East. Angora cats were described as fluffy, light and active animals of a medium size, while well-known Alfred Edmund Brehm described long-haired Angora cats as big-sized and clumsy cats. He as well noted that grey and blue Angora cats were observed in the South of Siberia.
It's not easy to answer the question why the animal from hot Asian counties has got long hair, while Mother Nature usually gifted long-hair to animals from severe Northern countries.
There are several versions regarding the long-haired cats origin. Some believe that among the ancestors of the Persian cat breed there were long-haired cats form Siberia which at first got into East and Small Asia, and only then were brought to Western Europe.
Others believe that long hair was a mutation which happened to a short-haired cat in the East, which then was kept in the process of domestication and some sort of selection - thus the cats which got into Europe and Siberia were aborigineous to Eastern countries.
The third theory roots in the phenotypic differences between the Persian cats and other domestic cats. This theory suggests that massive stocky with the ears set wide, big round head are related to Pallas' Cat ( Felis manul ) otherwise known as Manul - wild cat which lives in Central Asia and has comparatively long hair, flat face with round eyes and ears set low on the head. Recent research however refutes this theory.
Such are the different Persian cat origin theories but anyway, all of them are pointing to Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan as the Persian cat native lands.
England is rightfully called the second Motherland of the Persian cats, as it were British cat fanciers who started to purposefully breed cat breeds (and primarily - Persian cat breed) in the 19th century. Although that was the time when the long-haired cats started being differentiated into Turkish Angora (long flexible body, silky but less thick coat, big pointed ears) and Persian cats (massive, with big round head and small ears), as a matter of fact only blue cats of the latter were called Persian, and all the rest were simply called 'long-haired' cats. Every of about 50 colors of long-haired cats was considered to be a separate breed. Till nowadays the Persian cat in England is not in fact called 'Persian' but rather 'long-haired', and every color variation is attributed to a separate cat breed. Also the official ruling of the British cat fanciers club regarding this issue was issued as early as 1910, the Englishmen still follow this kind of breed distinction.
The Persian cats arrived into America in the eighties of the 19th century and soon became a very popular cat breed. Unlike British clubs, in America all the color variations of the long-haired cats were attributed to one cat breed - "the Persian cat". There are lots of color variations for Persian cats but Persian show cats are limited to the following colors: solid color, shaded and smoke, tabby, particolor, bicolor.
For today we know about 150 variations of the persian cat breed and contemporary persian cat, due to the efforts of many breeders, is a work of art among the other cat breeds. New age Persian cats are quite different form their ancestors. The Persian cats of the 'old type' had a narrower face, the color variations were not so rich and the coat was not so thick and delightful. Contemporary Persian cat might have its coat as long as 10 centimeters. One could say that the contemporary Persian cat is the result of selective breeding by cat breeders from different countries. Probably due to that fact there are several Persian breed standards and some of the traits are still not agreed upon.
For one, starting form the middle of the 20th century, American cat breeders's efforts were aimed at reinforcing traits peculiar to Persian breed - they were trying to breed a cat with even more massive, short body, even more round head and flat muzzle. As a result a new variation - Extreme Persian (or Peeked Faced Persian) - emerged. The first kittens of that type were born to red and red tabby persians in 1920-s. Although veterinarians believe that extreme manifestation of such traits is harmful to the animals health (specifically affecting their sinuses and breathing), and the despite the fact that British cat fanciers stand against such breeding, extreme persians are extremely popular in America and many European countries.
Contemporary persian cat became progenitor to a new breed - Exotic cat - a short-haired cat breed which has all the traits specific for the Persian cat breed with the exception of the coat length. Exotic cat is a hybrid with adorable temperament and excellent physical condition. The breed was created by American cat breeders in 1960-s. FIFe (Federation Internationale Feline) recognized the Exotic cat breed in 1984. Short (though longer than with other short-haired cat breeds) but awesome sparkly coat of the Exotic cat does not cause any problems with grooming.
About the Author: Peter Leathers, as many other Persian cat fanciers is always eager to learn something new about Persian cat breed. Currently being employed as freelance writer for Catrealm.org, Peter is finally able to apply his skills to promoting some cat knowledge.
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