Wild cat strikes: Origins of tame felines go to the Middle East

Wild origins: A recent study of DNA shows that our tamed domestic cats of today likely came from wild cats that roamed the deserts of the Middle East some 100,000 years ago. (Photo by grafwilliam)
Wild origins: A recent study of DNA shows that our tamed domestic cats of today likely came from wild cats that roamed the deserts of the Middle East some 100,000 years ago. (Photo by grafwilliam)
I have a neighbor with a cat that’s quasi tame/wild. It hunts down a collection of little critters in the neighborhood for fun and food. But it also has the most domesticated practices of politely asking to enter the home or wanting to be petted.

New research now shows that our house cats of today have a lot in common with their wild ancestors with links that go to wild cats from the Middle East some 100,000 years ago.

This is all interesting and historical news, right? But what does it have to do with science today? A lot actually. Medical research for human ailments like polycystic kidney disease and retinal atrophy can be modeled through these same cats.

Through genetic analysis, the researchers have found that today’s cats have a lot in common with five types of wild cats from the Middle East. Through interbreeding over the years, those five cats produced the line of cats that today are found as pets in our homes.

Wild cats found in Israel, United Arab Emerites, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have similar DNA to our western tamed cats. And the thinking is that cats started to be tamed by humans around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago when humans began a farming economy. The cats were used to hunt down rodents that otherwise would try to eat away at the grains being stored from the harvest. Archeological evidence of cats living with people dates back about 9,500 years to the island of Cyprus.

Researchers think that these early Mid-Eastern cats might provide a pretty “pure” gene pool to analyze as well, since those cats lived in isolated desert areas and wouldn’t have had the chance to interbreed with too many other cat species.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Gene's picture
Gene says:

Domestic cats kill millions of songbirds each year. Scientists have noticed that many bird populations are falling, and ask people to please keep their cats from hunting birds. (Our own cat is an indoor cat, who loves to watch birds from the window. When we take her out for exercise, she is never more than an arm's length away. We may build an enclosure so she can frolic more freely, and the birds of the neighborhood -- whom I feed at no small expense -- can flutter more freely as well.)

posted on Thu, 06/28/2007 - 4:21pm
dude's picture
dude says:

it is a cats primal instinct to hunt who are we to stop nature. In the food chain animals die so others can live and just because domestic cats get fed doesnt mean they should be stopped from hunting. You cant stop a cat from being independet just because you think it is unfair that some birds get killed in the process. Domestic cats should be allowed to get in touch with their wild side without being persicuted.

posted on Fri, 06/29/2007 - 4:28am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I totally agree. Humans eat meat and no one stops us because it's just food to us. So who are we to stop cats from hunting animals when to them it is just food.

posted on Fri, 06/29/2007 - 12:56pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Well, there's nothing we can do about feral cats, of course, and hunting and charity are their only sources of food.

But domestic cats kept as pets should be kept inside, or at least contained, for a whole host of reasons. Protecting songbirds is one, but here are two more:

  • Many domestic cats are declawed, and have few defenses if they find themselves menaced by another animal. When they encounter other, feral cats, they're at a distinct disadvantage both socially and physically.
  • There are debilitating and fatal infectious diseases that domestic cats can be exposed to when they're free-ranging. Everything from the obvious rabies to illnesses like feline leukemia and feline HIV.
posted on Fri, 06/29/2007 - 1:10pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

Humans raise the vast majority of their food, rather than take it from the wild.

The world cat population is exceedingly high, because so many humans keep them as pets. Pet owners (and I own a cat myself) have an obligation to look after their cats, and make sure their pets do not damage the local environment.

Let me put it this way -- if humans didn't keep cats as pets, there would be a lot fewer cats hunting birds, and bird populations wouldn't be in danger. But humans do keep cats for pets, and we therefore have a responsibility to protect nature from our decision.

posted on Fri, 06/29/2007 - 3:04pm

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