From being worshiped in Ancient Egypt to keeping the human race company when their love lives fail to exist, cats have played a major part in the shaping of many lives and sometimes even cultures. And with an estimated 600 million domesticated cats today, who do you think the world owes? Middle Easterners.
According to a study on feline genetics in 2007, domesticated cats all over the world carried more genetic links to the Arabian wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica, than other wildcats of the region they are in.
The research included analysis of wildcats found in Bahrain and UAE which showed that Middle Eastern wildcats “represent the ancestral founder population of domestic cats supporting a domestication origin.”
Around 10,000 years ago, the first domestication of cats is believed to have happened around Iraq, Syria and Egypt, known as the Fertile Crescent.
It seems that unlike dog domestication, which happened intentionally, domestication of felines occurred thanks to wildcats’ attraction to areas of agriculture. Lured in by the vermin of the agricultural lands and grain storages, residents of the area started taking in more cats that showed mutual interest and comfort to interact and socialize with humans.
“Cats are unique among domesticates in that they were domesticated by natural selection rather than artificial selection,” said Carlos Driscoll, senior author of the 2007 study, published in Science.
If the above indicates that at one point in time, there were no other cats than wildcats, then how did the world end up with two clear distinctive breeds of wildcats and domesticated cats?
“According to their DNA there was no single event, but rather a gradual evolution from wild to semi-domestic over a period of thousands of years,” said Dr. John Bradshaw, author of a recent bestselling book on cat origins and behavior, "Cat Sense."
“Thus the two genomes separated gradually, with interbreeding between the two diminishing gradually, all over the Middle East.”
Also of note in the study ise current genetic difference between wildcats and domesticated cats. According to Dr Michael Montague, senior author of the PNAS paper and a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University School of Medicine, the conclusions, at this point, are hypotheses rather than concrete findings.
“If you had to make an educated guess as to which genes would be different between the two types of cat populations [domestic and wild], you might suspect that genes involved with neurotransmitter receptors or brain biology and development would distinguish a tame house cat from a wild animal.”
We know how Arabs and Middle Easterners like to take pride in their contributions to the world, so maybe next time you come across a cat person, you can brag about the Arabian origin of domesticated cats everywhere. We know we will be.