Black cat, sleeping beneath a wall painting, depicting – a black cat, Valparaiso, Chile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
“That dove would make a perfect lunch!” – This cat in Istanbul, Turkey, is lying in wait for a palm dove (Spilopelia senegalensis), but misses it. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The domestic cat is descended from the wildcat (Felis silvestris), a small cat, slightly bigger than the average domestic cat, which has a huge distribution, from Scotland east to Mongolia, south to India, westwards through the Middle East, and in most of Africa, with the exception of rainforest areas. The wildcat shows much geographic variation, the European populations being grey with black stripes, most Asian populations spotted, and most African a pale sandy-grey, with faint black stripes. In Europe, a great deal of hybridization with the domestic cat (F. s. catus) occurs, being a potential threat for the survival of the true European wildcat.
Archaeological evidence suggests that domestication of the wildcat began around 7000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, when crops of early farmers were infested with rodents, which ate a large part of the harvest. The cats were clearly beneficial in controlling the rodent populations in the villages. In Ancient Egypt, the cat was venerated as a sacred animal. The early goddess of justice and execution, the lion-headed Mafdet, was gradually replaced by Bastet, the cat goddess, who, over time, changed to become the goddess of fertility and motherhood. The cat was so sacred that thousands of cats were mummified after death, just as humans. In Egypt, cats were known not only to kill rodents, but also venomous snakes like cobras.
Today, the domestic cat is mainly a companion pet, found in almost all parts of the world. The total population is estimated at between 300 and 800 million. Like with the dog, there are more than 200 breeds, the largest of which is probably the North American Maine Coon, which can weigh up to 10 kilograms. Incidentally, this breed is not named after the raccoon (Procyon lotor), as one might think, but probably after an English captain, Charles Coon, who kept big, long-haired cats on board his ships.
Feral domestic cats are a serious threat to the wild fauna in many parts of the world. For instance, a study from 2013 by S.R. Loss, T. Will and P. Marra (“The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife in the United States,” Nature Communications 4:1396) suggested that free-ranging domestic cats (mostly feral) are the top human-caused threat to wildlife in the U.S., killing an estimated 1.3-4 billion birds and 6.3-22.3 billion mammals annually.
The ancestor of the domestic cat is the wildcat (Felis silvestris), which is widely distributed in Europe, Asia, and Africa. This picture shows the East African subspecies, F. s. ugandae, resting in savanna grass, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Most African wildcats are a pale sandy-grey, with faint black stripes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
While the wild cat is greyish with black stripes or spots, the domestic cat comes in a variety of colours, e.g. black, white, red, fawn, grey, and pied. When these kittens, all from the same litter, grew up, they spent the night in this bird nesting box. – Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Suckling kittens, Funen, Denmark. The gestation period of the domestic cat is 64 to 67 days. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Usually, dogs and cats are sworn enemies, but if they grow up together, like this cat and wire-haired dachshund, they can be the best of friends. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This kitten is sitting on a swing, surrounded by fallen leaves of a large cherry tree. – Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Kittens are very playful. In the lower picture, a kitten is trying to climb my trouser-leg. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Kittens are also very curious, investigating everything. This one has crept into a water jug. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cats have a fantastic sense of balance. – Cat, sleeping on a fence (top); kitten, walking along a beam in a barn (bottom). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This cat is licking its paw on a window sill. Cats spend a lot of time grooming. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its name implies, the Siamese cat originated in Thailand, formerly called Siam. In the 19th Century, it became one of the most popular breeds in Europe and North America.
This cat, resting on a fence in Jutland, Denmark, has some Siamese blood, but is more powerfully built than the lithe Siamese proper. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Burmese cat originated on the border between Thailand and Myanmar (or Burma, as it was formerly called), but the race proper was developed in England and the United States.
Burmese cat, climbing down the trunk of an acacia tree, Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Homeless cats are a big problem in many countries, as they compete with small indigenous predators. This cat in Sousse, Tunisia, is searching for food in a garbage can. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Descent of the Ganges is the name of a huge sculpture, measuring c. 15 by 30 metres, carved into two boulders at the outskirts of Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, South India. The main theme of this sculpture is an event in the Hindu epic Mahabharatha. Bhagiratha was a great king, doing penance for a thousand years to obtain the release of his 60,000 great-uncles from the curse of Saint Kapila, eventually leading to the descent of the goddess Ganga to Earth, in the form of River Ganges.
Dancing cat beneath an elephant – a detail of the sculpture The Descent of the Ganges, Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
More pictures of members of the cat family are found elsewhere on this website, see Gallery: Animals – Cats.
(Uploaded September 2017)
(Revised December 2018)