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Hypoallergenic Siberian Cat: The Truth or a Myth?

The Facts about Allergies and Allergens
Scientists supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that, during the first years of their lives, children raised in a house with two or more dogs and cats may be less likely to develop allergic diseases as compared with children raised without pets. The striking finding here is that high pet exposure early in life appears to protect children from not only pet allergy but also other types of common allergies, such as allergy to house dust mites, ragweed, and grass.

Cats live in 60 million homes in the United States, which equates to 30% of households. They have recently surpassed dogs as the #1 pet in the U.S. Sadly, many cat lovers are unable to keep cats due to allergies. Wouldn't it be great if there was a breed of cat that caused little or no allergic reactions in allergy sufferers? The Siberian offers new hope for many allergy sufferers, although this is not the answer for everyone. Our daughter is allergic to cats; however, we now have 5 Siberians, and not a sneeze or a wheeze! It was the answer for our family--maybe it will be for yours, too!

Contrary to popular belief, allergic reactions from cats are not the result of hair length. The true culprit is a glyco-protein known as Fel d1 that is produced in the sebaceous glands of the skin, saliva, and urine. These glands are distributed on all areas of the cat's fur with increased numbers around the neck. Cats are notorious groomers. After a grooming session, the saliva dries on the cat's fur and mixes with dead skin cells (dander). The tiny particles become airborne, landing on carpeting, furniture, drapes, etc. Once they come in contact with humans, either epidermally or by inhalation, an allergic reaction is triggered. Symptoms come in many forms. Some people develop a red, itchy rash on their skin. Others have extreme difficulty breathing. The more common reactions include sneezing, watery bloodshot eyes, a scratchy throat, and/or an itchy runny nose.

The Facts about Siberian Cats & Allergies
What is it about Siberians that gives it a hypoallergenic tendency? Theories abound; however, none of them have been substantiated within the medical or scientific communities. The most noted theory is that Siberians have No Fel d1 protein, therefore no allergic reaction, or another theory is there is a much a lower Fel d1 concentration than ordinary house cats. Another theory is that due to the tight, thick undercoat and oily top coat, the skin stays well hydrated, thereby reducing dander production and distribution. Either way, there are over 100 testimonials I myself have read, from various breeders all from people who are allergic to normal cats, who all own Siberian cats, most own more than 1!

How is it that the Siberian is non-allergic cat ?
Scientists have named the protein in the feline saliva, FEL D-1. When the cat cleans itself, the protein then dries on the fur leaving dander. The dander particles are small and air filters cannot remove them from the air. One theory is the Siberian has far less than normal, or none of this protein, therefore no dander.

These tests were performed in Dec 1999, by an independent lab in Virginia - Indoor Biotechnologies, 1216 Harris St, Charlottesville, VA 22903. The results are as follows:
#1 (male, neutered, mixed breed) 62,813
#2 (male, neutered, Siberian) 2001
#3 (female, Abyssinian, neutered) 384.50
#4 (female, neutered, Siberian) 205.50
(Measurements are mg/g of sample)

 In July of 2007  UC Davis, University of California, showed interest in the phenomenon of the Siberian cat and began the study of the hypoallergenic breed.

Real Facts from Siberian Meow Cattery

Some results that was mentioned above look suspicious for us (male, neutered, Siberian 2001) and we decided to do our own test. We used the same independent lab in Virginia - Indoor Biotechnologies for testing as well in November of 2010 to test some of our cats and here are the results

#1 IW SGC Jyntico Alex of SiberianMeow; (male, stud, Siberian) 95.62
#2 Edelweiss Eropheya of SiberianMeow; (female; queen, Siberian) 65.27

(Measurements are mg/g of sample)

We are planning to run tests on our other cats as well later this year.

 

A "Siberian Exile" for Siberians: Will They Ever Be Back?

By Alex Kolesnikov, PhD in molecular genetics, Sibaris cattery, Russia.
(Reprinted with permission)

Part I.

Discussion that is currently taking place all over, including pages of this magazine (Droug, A.K), about the future of Siberian breed has elicited important antagonisms existing within society of the lovers of famous Russian indigenous cat. Apart from these opposite views, most disturbing is the fact that many members of this society don't have clear vision of how the breed would have been developed. Why it is so important?

No emergency brakes allowed in planes. Likewise, biological evolution does not permit "bus stops" to land down and relax with impunity. An evolutionary "stop" frequently results in steep and hardly surmountable regression. This is true for natural evolution and is even more true for the artificial one.

Lack of understanding of some basic biological principles other than applied genetics of fur coloration can play bad joke with a breeder. It is especially true in the case of young breeds that require significant work for stabilization of the cat type. Being captured in this maze, a number of breeders as well as cat judges flooded Russian Internet resources and printed media, with their opinions regarding Siberian breed, which often lack any felinological content, yet full of emotions and finger-poking. The energy and stubbornness of these persons would be better used in some other, more focused and peaceful purposes.

In fact, it's hard, to get rid of a thought that in the fire of emotions none of these persons remember about cats. In this article it would be better to put this entire discussion apart and to concentrate on the first and foremost issue of the breeder, the cats themselves.

Modern Siberian Cat

During the last decades we, alas, hear quite often the word "Red Book", "disappearing species" and so on. Natural evolution on the Earth is more and more replaced by the anthropogenic one. And probably this process will not turn back, at least in the foreseen future. A stark example of anthropogenic evolution is provided by cat domestication and spreading. A sufficiently large population of domestic cats with common phenotype living in similar environmental conditions can potentially give rise to so-called "aboriginal" or "native" breed. One can assume that it's not a hard work to create new native breed starting from this point. Presumably, such population contains rich genetic material, preserved during the decades and maybe even centuries partly by natural and partly by human selection. In a cat community of this type differences between the representatives are small enough to identify certain "type", which is needed to be developed, highlighting its most characteristic features, trying to elicit the essence of the notorious E Pluribus Unum, thus creating not the distilled "room" breed, but the real, "wild" animal...

However, this way can be much more difficult, rather than it looks at a glance. In reality, phenotype (or "type") similarities occurring in natural cat populations do not necessarily reflect high level of identity between cats' genotypes. Prevalence of certain stably reproducible phenotype in a cat population does not necessarily indicate that upon active artificial selection within a part of this population, this stability will be preserved and than easily diverted towards desired changes.

Modern Siberian Cat The basis of native breed is determined by the majority of felinologists as the product of the spontaneous selection in the isolated synanthropic population with common phenotype. Only in cat populations that are sufficiently large and relatively isolated for long periods of time (many decades, or, better, centuries), the genotype is also stabilized. Only such population can be converted to a native breed without undue difficulty.

Role of artificial selection preceded to the native breed formation can be negligible (NFC, MCO), as well as significant (KOR). The latter considered as "cats of fortune", and even almost sacred animals in their homeland. The pathway of stabilization of the population is thus insignificant, only long period of any kind of stabilizing selection of either type is required to achieve the genotype homogeneity.

Still, from geneticist's point of view, any population of synanthropic cats is much more diverse, not to say chaotic than the "normal" biological species. Nevertheless, such population obeys general biological laws. Knowledge about these rules or patterns, during the breed creation and development can help to avoid the movement to a wrong direction that can finally bring a breeder to the blind alley (without even alley cats - A. K.).

Formation of the population's genotype (i.e. the sum and the distribution of all genes of the population) is described in terms of matching part of genetics, the population genetics. Knowledge of the basics of this discipline would be very helpful to the participants of the discussion about Siberians and Neva Masquerade cats if they really interested to figure out some origins of the problem.

Let us start from the rudiments. Where "Siberian" phenotype comes from, what is a Siberian cat now, and what do we want to see in it in the future?

Some felinologists assume that certain archetypical cat in the past formed the ancestry of many, if not all semi-longhair and longhair cats. The latter were subjected to intense artificial selection. One can note that the fur of truly longhaired cats, such as Persians, is, most probably a product of a long artificial selection. It's hard to imagine that the fur of Persians' would confer to the wild or semi wild cats any advantages during the natural selection. A dense semi-long coat, subjected to season changes is quite different in terms of selective advantage in natural conditions. Obviously, even two centuries ago the human civilization was absolutely different from what is seen now, and the role of nature's factors in evolution of domestic animals was much higher. Commonly accepted ancestor of domestic cat is African wildcat, Felis lybica. Given the differences between cats of Middle East origin and classic shorthair cats which are direct descendants of Egypt cats, and, therefore, of F. lybica, and to a smaller extent of Felis chaus (jungle cat), one can assume that semi longhair cats of Middle East acquired significant proportion of genetic material from other cats. The features such as fur structure and length, solidly built body, and some other phenotype elements are unlikely to evolve within the several centuries in Middle East cats.

A forest wildcat, Felis silvestris, or to be precise, its subspecies is the most likely contributor. Parenthetically, it should be noted that zoologists Felis silvestris - European wildcat count more than 20 subspecies of F. silvestris. Best known one is European wildcat whose role in evolution of domestic cats in Europe is usually negated. However, the habitat of the forest wildcat does not limited by Europe and includes Middle East, Turkey, Caucasus, and partially even more eastern regions such as Iran. Some divergent subspecies of F. silvestris live in India and in Tibet as well.

 

 

 

Felis lybica - African wildcat The habitat area of Middle East subspecies overlaps with those of F. chaus and F. lybica as well. It is this region, where the major focus of old LH and SLH cats (TUA, TUV in Turkey and LH cats in Iran) is located. This area can be considered as ancient homeland for LH and SLH cats.

 

 

 

 

The subspecies of forest wildcat in Middle East is known as Felis silvestris caucasica. Its fur is dense, and contains well-developed undercoat in Felis silvestris caucasica winter. And that's not surprising. Harsh winters are not rare in Caucasus Minor mountains, and in Turkey and Iran highlands as well. Much of those territories are higher than 1500 meters above the sea level, and in winter nights the temperature can drop to -30°C. Speed of winter winds in this region is also high. Summer, on the other hand, is very hot and dry.

 

Felis Silvestris Caucasica - picture taken by Russian felinologists in Armenia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is the reason why F. silvestris caucasica have a semi long fur with dense undercoat shedding during warm period. As we can see from the picture, F. caucasica is characterized by a brawny cylindrical body, rounded head with blunted muzzle, and visible but not accented transition from relatively sloping forehead to nose, quite short massive legs, and relatively short tail. In other words...reminds quite a lot...yes, a Siberian breed. Is this an accidental coincidence?

Most probably it is not. An anecdote from Soviet era comes to mind, about the pilferer, who purloined components from the firearms factory, which also produced bicycles or other civilian stuff...doesn't matter, in hope to assemble something for home use, but every time he tried - he got Kalashnikovs... Let him off easy, because this simple anecdote serves as a great illustration of basic genetic postulates and points at the case under discussion as well.

How exactly, the genes defining long fur, emerged in the population of house cats is not known. It is however not particularly important whether wild SLH cats have been domesticated independently, or cats migrated from a major domestication centres in Egypt and Asia Minor to the East, acquired the appropriate genetic material from the wildcats on their way. Important is, that as a result, Siberian cat has a clearly identifiable phenotypical prototype; most probably it is the Eastern subspecies of European forest cat located in Caucasus and Asia Minor region.

 

European wildcat Although the fur of the European forest cat cannot be qualified as fully "short", is still hard to compare with dense and hard fur of F. silvestris caucasica. Interestingly, the plasticity of the wildcat is so high that in the mountains regions of Europe, the Alps and Pyrenees, the length of fur of wild forest cats increases comparing to "classic" European wildcat (see the picture).

It is possible to imagine the ways, by which phenotype of semi long haired cat has spread from the Caucasian-Asia Minor region further to the East, recreating into sinanthropic animals. Unlike Medieval Europe, the lands of Asia Minor and Caucasus in 7-14th centuries of Common Era, were "blooming". A cat in the Moslem countries is an animal, which is beloved if not sacred. That is why it is safe to assume that cats from Persia and Arabic world, and later from Turkey have spread with merchants to the east and northeast directions. And, probably they looked very much like modern SLH cats in Russia. As additional prove of this theory is the existence of Bukharian cat, now almost forgotten in Russia, which looks much like both modern Siberian and Caucasian forest cat. Migrating in such way, together with Moslem population and merchants to the north-east, archetypical SLH cat reached first the regions of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, and from there Volga and South Siberia. And after that, SLH cats have spread further to Siberia and European Russia. It’s highly probable that after Russia liberated from the Tatar yoke, the alternative flow of cats from Europe to Russia increased. But, it happened not earlier than in 15th and 16th centuries...

Thus, characteristic features of Caucasian forest cat, which allowed it to survive in continental climate, with harsh winter in the highland forests, played a big role in the modern standard of Siberians. That is why preservation of these features, accenting and unification of these features in Siberian breed would be the wisest way in the breed development.

Currently, F. silvestris caucasica is endangered species placed into the Red Book of Russian Federation. It is under state law protection in Armenia as well. This fact, which lacks direct relation to the discussed issue is brought for the reason, so I can bring you back to the problem of behaviour of population in the process of natural evolution as well as in the process of beginning and development of the breed. When a species is considered as endangered? It happens when the population numbers decrease to a few thousand animals. At this point, the population fate fall under influence of circumstances that can abruptly change the way of natural selection. In population genetics such processes are termed as "genetic drift" and "bottleneck effect".

 

These processes can induce replacement of characteristic population genotype by totally different one, which was present in the initial Modern Siberian Cats population in a very small proportion. In artificial selection within small population with unknown genotype it is very difficult to predict selection outcome and, accordingly, difficult to achieve desired stable changes in the phenotype. In other words, the more is degree of genetic diversity in small population taken for selection, the less is the chance of its successful "guiding" towards desired phenotype.

This means, that during selection, towards for example, a fur color, some other unwanted change in phenotype can happen. These can be changes in length of legs, form of head, fixation of predisposition to a hereditary disease, and other. And the chances of such unwanted effects grow with the decrease in the population size and with each generation born in such population separated from the original gene pool.

After all, let's see how many Siberians of good quality at this time are actively participating in selection in Russia and countries of ex - USSR? Rough calculations made with the help of the Internet show that number of these animals does not exceed one and a half to two thousands. Besides, if consider that a big part of them doesn't have even theoretical opportunity to mate with each other, and many subpopulations of Siberians are highly inbred, the situation looks even more serious. Although Siberian cats are not under direct threat of extinction, the quality of the mating in their population from the point of view of preserving in the mentioned genetic terms and purposeful improvement of the breed is at the level, which is characteristic for the most dangerous situation, described in the Red Book. There is something to think about, isn't it?
 

The end of the first part.

We outlined here past and present of Siberian cats and discussed general problems encountered in development of native breeds starting from the "wild" populations.

In the second part we turn the attention directly to the situation with Neva Masquerade cats, their relation to the Siberian breed, their origin, etc applying the topics discussed in the Part 1.

© 2003 A. Kolesnikov, Moscow, Russia (English version of an originally Russian article published in the Russian Cat Magazine "Droug" in January 2003. The original article uses partly different illustration).

 

 

Siberian Cat: How Long The Isolation Is?


By Alex Kolesnikov, PhD in molecular genetics, Sibaris cattery, Russia.
(Reprinted with permission)

Part II.


Official birth of the Siberian breed is dated to more than 18 years ago. Although the breed can be still considered as "young", the time span of almost two decades is well enough to retrospectively analyze some key points of SIB development and to dissect important trends, both favorable and unwanted, affecting the breed evolution and causing nowadays some quite complex problems.


That it was sometimes almost natural evolution rather than careful selection, can be proved by a number of quite different SIB types existing around. When selection took place, it was often directed towards some secondary features, e.g. towards color in lieu of breeding for consistent type. One is the most problematic issues is therefore significant differences between Siberian standards in major world cat associations. Siberians have been recognized in these associations in different times, and at different stages of breed development. Now it is not surprising that each cat system, each cat club, or even each cattery possesses SIB "vision" of its own.


At the beginning of "rational" SIB breeding, in late 80s and early 90s, there was some type of consensus statement regarding SIB type achieved by Soviet, and then Russian breeders regarding the SIB type. That consensus statement could be barely called a standard, just because very few (if any) professional felinologists and breeders existed then in USSR and Russia. As the result, the consensus statement has been strongly influenced by the opinions of the cat professionals from abroad, not because those people wanted to be the authors of SIB breed or standard or whatsoever, but only because of their authority due to long-term experience in felinology. Also, the attitude to SIBs (still existing and rather widespread) as to "just alley cats" took its toll. Unlike, for example, NFOs, initially SIB breed has been mostly developed by rather naive amateurs who had moderate (to say the least) experience in felinology, and even less experience in genetics and setting up breeding programs. This is not for the purpose to state that all the people started to breed Siberians were one and all ignorant, but to underscore that the proportion of professional breeders and felinologists was unacceptably low, and they often acted separately from each other. This has led, for example, to such a big abyss between Moscow and Saint Petersburg Siberians.


What had helped to the breeders substantially at that stage, and before Siberians has become relatively widespread and uniform as the breed, was the fact that centuries of natural selection in Russia, especially in geographically isolated regions of Siberia and Far East, did result in a cat with a number of common and rather genetically stable features. Till now, such cats can be easily seen in rural areas just few tens of kilometers far from Moscow, not to mention Siberia and north of European part of Russia.
 

1. Rural kitten near the town of Dmitrov, 60 kilometers to the north from Moscow.The achievement of early SIB breeders and standard writers crucial for the further breed development, was that they succeeded to capture at least some of these stable features and considered them as the breed characteristics. It was therefore knowledge-based coincidence of natural genetic background and some important "written" breed characteristics that was helped to maintain SIBs in the state of recognizable breed rather than scattered population of alley cats. Time and again I hear statements that Siberian cats have nothing in common with Siberia, that they are just alley cats of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and they are merely an artificial breed like, say, any Persian or British Shorthair cat. It is wrong and dangerous statement, which purpose is not obvious to me. Best SIBs I know, including the famous Abakan line, Treskuchii Sibirskii Moroz Mur (Irdie), a number of remarkable cats from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and some other were in fact the offspring of outcrosses between the cats from European part of Russia and those from Siberia or Far East. In the case of Saint Petersburg, where cat population has been artificially restored after WWII and 900 days of siege, such outcrosses occurred naturally when cats brought from Siberia met those re-introduced from other parts of Russia. That the purposeful out crossing of few cats of similar type and mostly known history differs from immediate arbitrary mixing of large numbers of totally unrelated cats with unknown history, is again the subject of separate discussion that is the off-topic here.

Of course, no purely "forest" cats exist in Siberian Taiga, or elsewhere in Northern Russia, simply because the 1-meter or even deeper snow layer and the complementary deep frost are both highly unfavorable for successful hunting of smaller carnivores. On the other hand, the similarities of type in the above-mentioned successful outcrosses between geographically separated animals indicate that Siberians are not merely alley cats of unidentified type, but descendants of rather definite archetype developed during centuries of strong selection pressure under harsh climatic conditions. Humans just helped these cats to survive, and by no means had they treated Siberians or their ancestors as coddled creatures that are feed exclusively by the owners and that are not allowed to leave homes. On the contrary, only cats capable to all-weather protection of crops and other stocks from rodents, birds, and other petty thieves, received the selection advantage. How Siberians developed, and to what type of selection pressure they have been subjected, is worth to remember not only to all the proponents of the "alley cat" idea, but also to all the SIB breeders. Indeed, if the archetype does existed, it is wise to follow it in breeding rather than to re-invent some sort of bicycle. Yes, the native breed is probably the alley cat, but still the cat selected under certain pressurizing conditions.

 

What else speaks in favor of existence of Siberian archetype? Just look at this pair of photographs (2A): 2A. Siberian archetype.


Cats shown here are barely relatives (maybe once in 8th or 9th generations). One cat has been bred in Krasnoyarsk, another in Finland. Are they dissimilar? Or are they almost twins?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Quite the same cats were used as the examples when the FIFe standard for Siberian cat has been initially adopted (Fig 2B). Surprisingly, but it might be supposed that a number of the people including judges of various systems either forgot or never seen these cats representing the Siberian archetype.

2B. Helios Onix Gloria and Tsarevna Cecilia Seliger, cats used as the examples at FIFe SIB recognition Show in 1997. The archetype issue is closely linked to the type description that is in turn intimately  related to the breed standard. Indeed, if considering the standard for the native breed, it is worth describing those important traits that highlighted the pre-breed population of indigenous cats rather than to artificially devise certain new features not found (or rarely found) in the original stock. It is logical both from the genetics point of view and taking into account preservation of unique traits of an aboriginal breed that have been developed for centuries. Otherwise, what is the purpose to take and indigenous cats from here and there and make them a breed? In addition, if there are no such features, and one cannot use them as the anchor in describing breed characteristics, no breed can be developed. Such theses are simple, yet often they are overlooked. What is the future SIB breed development, how can it proceed towards extremalization, is broad and separate topic that will be discussed elsewhere in another essay. What is the coloration issue, and why type must prevail over color in the aboriginal breed, is also a matter of separate discussion. Here it can be only pointed out, that whereas the concept of type prevalence has been utilized with tremendous success in SIB's sister breeds, NFC and MCO, it has been often neglected in SIBs themselves. As the result, the race for colors in SIBs has lead to sprawling of Neva Masquerades and cats of other artificial "rainbow" colors. Whether or not it helped to maintain the breed integrity, is obvious from the Fig 3.

This "race over rainbow", that I, otherwise, call "the 90s problem" is responsible for a loss of many important brown tabby lines from early 90s (some might remain in3. Race over the rainbow. US) and for paying little attention to maintenance of the SIB archetype. As such, many breeders, judges, and just future SIB owners especially outside Russia received controversial and sometimes plainly misleading information on how the real Siberian looks like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

So, what is the SIB archetype, and which features of this type are needed to be underscored in the standard?


Although the primary feature of a SIB is the head (Fig. 4), and the head determines the overall type and proportions of Siberian and distinguishes SIBs from sister breeds, the coat arrangement is the issue I would like to place in front of all other traits considering current situation. Among some felinologists, the idea circulates that SIB's coat is long and fluffy, and the fluffier the cat, the more "Siberian" it is. By following this idea, very little attention is paid to coat structure, and to peculiarities in the texture of different coat components. It is, however, relatively easy to prove the "fluffy" theory wrong. As the aboriginal cat, the Siberian was evolved to be protected from weather conditions, and from other problems associated with the environment which these cats inhabited for many years. Therefore, the coat must be water repellent, must form descent protective layer that shields animal from wind, cold and rain, as well as disallow burdocks to easily populate the coat while the cat hunts. And the coat is almost completely shedding twice a year. The cat with the cloudy never shedding coat is by no means a member of SIB's pride.

 

Which type of the coat is perfect? First, the fur hierarchy must be excellently and unambiguously expressed. Rough and glossy guard fur decorates tail, back, and shoulders. This must be supported by thick and rough regular fur that forms compact windshield and heat insulation all over the body. And the undercoat lining must be also thick and compact to prevent easy bur sticking. Finally, too long, thin, and poorly shaped fur (frequently thanks to exceedingly long undercoat) is in disharmony with strong and compact body of a Siberian. One would probably like to see strong excellently balanced wildcat rather than a broiler chicken, finally. Therefore, decorating fur such as frill and, knickerbockers must be pronounced yet compact and accurately shaped rather than scattered and of Persian type (Fig. 5 A and B). I doubt that long fuzz as the decorating fur well coincides with glossy and thick guard hair covering top of the body. In the similar vein, the bulk of decorating fur must be formed by thick and relatively rough regular fur rather than by soft and exceedingly long undercoat-like hairs. The idea regarding triple undercoat in Siberians is generally abandoned now, at least it can be stated so basing on the discussion that took place at the latest IFSJ workshop. The undercoat must be distinctly shorter than regular fur, otherwise the fur looks like fuzzy cotton wool rather than the uniform coat of wild animal. This is especially detrimental for the shape of the tail that appears as a sultan's fan rather than as thick and compact barrel. In addition, silky and long coat usually masks the quality of cat boning making the impression of the medium-sized and finely built cat as of the big and strongly boned one.

 

The form of the head is another complex and extremely important issue. First and foremost, the head shape is the major trait that makes Siberian a breed and not just a look-alike of NFC and MCO as it has often been stated at the beginning of SIB breeding. I might alienate NFC and MCO breeders, bit in my opinion Siberian-like cats preceded any other semilonghair breeds including not only MCOs and NFCs but also TUAs and TUVs. Wild-like SLH cats most probably originated from Middle East and Transcaucasia, and then spread to different locations in Europe, Siberia, Russia, Asia, and other places. Second, the head type must be in strong coincidence with the body type, which is strong, heavily boned and, in contrast to the sister SLH breeds, is relatively compact. Third, the head type must follow the archetypal Siberian cat and its most likely ancestor, Felis Silvestris Caucasica. Where is the difference between heads of SIBs, NFCs, and MCOs, is clearly seen in Fig. 6. The head of a SIB lacks such extremities as exaggerate whisker pads and muzzle of MCO, and straight profile and overall triangle shape of NFC. But these are well-known features that frequently mask less evident but by no means less important characteristics.

 

I often hear a question: what is the so-called trapezoid form of the SIB head? Indeed, when seen straightly enface, the head of a Siberian is in the form of broad  modified wedge, as correctly stated in several standards. If the head will be trapezoid from this point of view, this will dictate a very broad lower jaw that is obviously impossible. The puzzle is easily solved, however, when a typycal SIB is observed from the upper front view. In that case, whisker pads, nose leather, and cheekbones form relatively smooth yet definite line that can be seen as shorter base and sides of a trapezium. The longer trapezoid base is the virtual line drawn across the eye pupils and the nose bridge. Importantly, the smaller base of this trapezium must be sufficiently broad and by no means must it degenerate into a triangle. (Fig. 7A) As the result, the shape of whisker pads in Siberians is at least as important as in Maine Coons. These must be very well filled, but not hanging down or protruding significantly outside the smooth cheekbone line. Hence, transition between whisker pads and cheekbones must be perfectly smooth, without any hint to a pinch, and the breadth of cheekbones must be substantial, otherwise whisker pads will be protruding and disproportional with respect to narrow and high set cheekbones. At the same time, and unlike Persians, Siberians do have substantially protruding muzzle, although it is shorter than the muzzle of MCOs. Too short, bulldog-like muzzle with exaggerate or "hanging down" whisker pads might be a sign of Persian contamination (Fig. 7B).
 

Apart from lower part of cheekbones and whisker pads, the muzzle is formed by upper and lower jaws. Whereas it is easy to imagine the upper jaw, there is a lot of controversy regarding the shape of chin and the overall form of the lower jaw. Statement regarding weak and recessed chin is the major hurdle. In fact, some felinologists consider that "slanted chin" automatically means "weak jaw". This results in promotion of Siberian cats with extremely froggy jaws. It is not explained, how thin and, in fact, physically weak jaw conducts with the Siberian cat behavior as the dedicated rodent hunter.

 
Ideally, the slightly recessed, slanted, rounded chin should be maintained in Siberians. This contributes to overall soft contour of Siberian head, and in fact, is in good accord with the archetype. At the same time, the jaw of the hunter cat must be thick, to be in good proportion with massive head, and to underscore the cat's ability to efficiently capture and immediately kill the prey. The idea that pedigreed Siberians lose their ability to hunt, is a common delusion, to say the least. The thin, deeply slanting, froggy jaw is totally unacceptable in a wildcat. A thick, strong jaw with rounded chin supports the correct overall breed presentation and distinguishes SIBs well from sister breeds.

The shape of a Siberian's eyes is one of its more debated features. Different standards describe almost any eye form of Siberian, from "almost round" to "oval". The degree of roundness is not defined. This opens the possibility to various strange interpretations of what is the SIB's eye shape is. A point that has been established rather firmly, is that the SIB's eyes must be neither round, nor almond-shaped. In fact, if one take closer look at the eye of Siberian, especially on the cats forming relatively stable lines, it is evident, that eye shape is more complex and can be regarded to as the modified, "slightly slanting monk's hood" family of eye shapes. In any case, the upper arc of the eye-socket is shorter, whereas the lower is longer with distinctly pointed form of the outer edge of the eye. What can be an important drawback, to which little attention is paid, is a straight line at the inner eye line that distorts the harmonic eye shape (Fig. 8).

To go into more details regarding original proportions of Siberian's head, some biometric parameters should be mentioned. Biometric analysis of a number of type cats revealed, that in SIBs, the length of the nose (D1), and the distance between the top of the head and eyebrow line (frontal bone, D2), and the distance between the top of the nose leather and bottom of the chin (D3) are almost identical. This will be very helpful in distinguishing SIBs of correct type from those looking like MCOs (too protruding muzzle and too strong chin), and NFCs, (too straight profile and potentially weaker chin). In the former case, the D3>D2, and in the latter case, D3<D2. If the cat carries some Persian-like features, D1<D2 and D1<D3.


Importantly, if the forehead is not flat, as it must be in Siberians, overall proportions between D1-3 are often distorted. Also, distance between ears is very important. In the existing standards, distance between ears is interpreted too arbitrarily. Although it is usually well-determined, that ears must not be set too high and too close to each other, the maximum distance is usually not defined. As the result, cats with ears set too wide apart are not penalized, moreover they are preferred by some, especially FIFe judges, although most of such cats have Persian-like layout with too small ears set very low and almost buried in the fur. Some biometrics could have been helpful, and the distance between ears is to be set between 1 and 1.5 width of ear base. To do correct estimation, the width of the ear base must be considered as the anatomical item rather than the width of the part of the ear at the place where it is seen above the fur.

 

The visible height of the ear would be only slightly more than the width of the ear base. When all these parameters, distance between ears, ear width, and ear height are applied together, it becomes clear that any other type of the ear is almost impossible without introducing severe distortion in the described correlations. In fact, the anatomical ear base (and not the part of the ear visible above the fur) is so wide that if considering a distance between ears significantly more than one ear base, the ears must be positioned almost under the cat's chin close to each other. Again, correlation coefficients could be ideal for the accurate description of SIB standard, but since their official application is still beyond the borders of modern felinology, it is unknown whether these coefficients will be ever included in the SIB standard. The only addition is to be made here is that the Siberian's body (as it seen with the fur) fits well into the "golden section", i.e. the ration of torso height to its length is roughly 1:1.6 (Fig. 10).

What I would also like to mention, is the range and the correlation of the points that affects judging a Siberian. The first and foremost in a SIB is the head, following by muscular well-boned body (unfortunately, fat animals with bad boning are sometimes considered as better comparing to well-boned but normal animals that are seemingly lighter than the over weighed ones). Meanwhile, this is often the case in judging a Siberian, who should be "heavy". The second necessary word in the phrase, i.e. "heavily boned" is oftentimes forgotten. A Siberian with green eyes but moderately developed head and boning is often judges as a superior to the Siberian with excellent type and boning but with yellow or yellow-green eyes. This is simply intolerable. There is a number of delusions of such kind caused by very ambiguous wording in some SIB standards.


Additional work is needed to elaborate correct and unambiguous wording for description of the eye shape and for determination of appropriate penalties in Siberian standard. Yet another "eye issue" is the depth of the eye placement. Sometimes, there is a criticism regarding "too deeply set eyes". Although, it can be correct under some circumstances, a native-like breed cannot have bulging eyes which are again, good indicator of Persian-like type. The odious here is the "sweet facial expression" emerged in some American SIB standards or breed descriptions for unknown reasons. This describes not a native Siberian, but a doll-like cat with round eyes, round face, round everything. Why not to name such a cat as a pet classic Persian instead?


Here we approached some of the crucial points in the vision of what is a Siberian breed. In my opinion based on the observation of good number of SIBs in Russia and abroad, "rounded" and "fluffy" Siberians are sometimes treated as a "substitute" to classic Persians. As the result, there are constant attempts to "converge" the type of Siberian cat with the "Persian" style. Unfortunately, the consequences of such nostalgia can be dire for Siberians. The latter, although having very friendly and often dog-like personality, are not lap animals, but dedicated hunters, incredibly smart, powerful, agile cats with sanguine temperament. Those seeking Persian-like features in Siberians would better turn their attention to other breeds. Those looking a cat for agility competition would probably find in Siberian the best and the smartest agility performer among all cat breeds.


This article is not a SIB standard description, although it might look like this. A number of issues important for the standard remained untouched, some topics, on the contrary, have been described with the degree of detalization that is unnecessary for the standard. No standard of particular European or American system has been taken for direct comparison. In fact, I attempted to present here the review of the discussion that took place in July 2005 when the international society of judges in felinology (IFSJ) held a workshop devoted to regular reviewing and adjusting the Russian Siberian standard. These workshops nowadays gather quite a number of judges and breeders, and, importantly, they are direct successors of consensus statements on Russian native breeds prepared by few enthusiasts almost two decades ago. Some of those enthusiasts are still active members of IFSJ workshops (!). I hope that other systems in the future will pay more attention to the IFSJ SIB standard and derivatives thereof, because it is still largely developed by the same people who actually noticed the now well-known archetype and founded Siberian breed in Russia.


© A.V. Kolesnikov, PhD, Moscow, Russia January 2004-May 2008.
 

Siberian Cat: Unmasked

By Alex Kolesnikov, PhD in molecular genetics, Sibaris cattery, Russia.
(Reprinted with permission)

Part III.
 

Siberian cat, from Mystery to History

Several years ago, I wrote a paper on the potential origins of the Siberian cat; the first in a long series of writings on the breed. Since then, however, almost five years passed, and neither I, nor any of my fellow Russian cat-fanciers have made further publications on the breed available in foreign countries.  Rather than being due to any laziness on the part of the cat community, it is more the fact that nothing much of note has happened in the field lately; except of course for a serious update of the “core original” standards that occurred in 2005.  With regards to breeding, however, some remarkable achievements have been made in the last four to five years; especially compared to the mid-1990's.

 

Meanwhile, the breed has begun to spread around the world.   Although there are now SIB catteries in far and away places such as Malaysia, Australia, and South America, many people are still quite unaware of the Siberian breed...even in good old Europe.  When I attend European cat shows, the most frequent question I get from casual spectators, and even breeders, is invariably: "what is this cat?” Fortunately, modern felinology has become so popular that most of the people that  go to cat shows can discern that the unknown cat is neither a Maine Coone, nor a Norwegian Forest Cat, but something new and uncommon.  It is especially easy to come to this conclusion when a specimen has a coat of a rare color the likes of which are almost never seen in other SLH breeds; golden, for instance.  So, why have the sequels to my article been shelved for so many years?   Well, mostly because the integrated picture of the present and future of SIBs was lacking in the author's mind.  Although it is useful to appeal to history, the most important aspect is the future of the breed's development; and this is not as evident as it should be.  One should be very careful in making statements on the future in such a volatile field as the development of a cat breed.  Seeing thousands cats, collecting a lot of information, participating in numerous discussions, and in a workshop devoted to the amendment of the original Siberian breed standard, has helped me a great deal in forming a more or less consistent view on the current situation, and on the future, of Siberian breed.  This was not possible five years ago, because at that time the consistency of Siberians was in serious jeopardy, and reliable genetic information on SIB breed was lacking.

 

Siberian standard and Siberian archetype: seeing is believing?

The issues of breed standard and breed development have always been the subject of heated debates. So, in these areas, I tried to present facts that could be verified by the members of the SIB community with relative ease. Also, I hope that each reader will make his/her own conclusions, and I hope even more so that the reader comes out fortified with knowledge.
What are the most important topics in the current development of the SIB breed? First and foremost is the correct and consistent interpretation of the standard by all the breeders. As a young breed with old, aboriginal roots representing different lines both in Russia and abroad, the Siberian cat needs the clear identification of an archetype; and this archetype must be fully integrated into the breeding standard. The standard itself and an explanation of the breed's peculiarities are highly important. In view of this, I wrote a separate article devoted exclusively to that topic; I drew heavily from the aforementioned workshop of 2005.
This will be the third and final part of the SIB essay. As such, I will not consider the standard issues so deeply in this part. However, some overlapping between the articles will be inevitable for the purpose of better understanding. The second topic logically ensuing from the breed youth is the problem of the breed consistency, and how this affects the ways of the breed stabilization. It is the biggest issue currently severely hampering breed development both inside and outside Russia. Systematic breeding of SIBs started only 20 years ago, but it has been already experienced significant problems.



The major issues impeding certain aspects of SIB development, especially for foreign breeders, are:


1. The "on default" consideration that 20 years ago, the SIB breed had been started not by amateur Argonauts rushing forth on a quest for the golden fleece of catdom, but by professional cat experts.
2. The belief that two separate breeds of cat, from two different cities in Russia, comprised the Siberian breed.
3. The belief that cats imported decades ago from Russia can be used for development of modern SIBs as successfully as their remote descendants. With the failure of such attempts, the opinion that SIBs lack any archetype has become widespread in certain breeder's circles
 

 

If not investing a lot of time in the thorough research of pedigrees, one can express the common view that almost the entire initial SIB gene pool originated from St. Petersburg and from Moscow. This view is, however, not correct. If speaking about sheer numbers, yes, one can say that more than 90% of the initial foundation population came from these two cities. (This is not taking into account cats that were brought to Germany during last decade of USSR that were later recognized as SIBs). But if speaking about the impact of certain lines on modern Siberians, it readily becomes evident that some foundation cats have the greatest influence upon the further development of SIBs as a consistent breed do in fact come from outside of the capitals. Abakans (Amur, Aldan, and Argo), or to say more precisely, their immediate ancestry, came from Siberia and the Far East. Over half of the pedigrees of Moscow's SIBs can be traced back to these cats, and they are of obvious Siberian and Far Eastern origins. In general, a number of excellent, and even outstanding, SIBs have been born as the result of cross-breeding between Moscow lines and those from Siberia and the Far East. Examples are not limited to the early Abakan line, but also represent Irdie (Treskuchii Sibirskii Moroz Mur), Busik and his offspring from Krasnoyarsk, and some other cats. This observation strongly suggests the existence of a certain archetype in Siberians,that can be partly hidden in local populations, but is immediately revealed after quite a plethora of outcrosses between cats from different locations (Fig 1.)


Pedigrees of these females can be found at URLs:
http://www.pawpeds.com/db/?a=p&id=293706&g=4&p=sib&date=iso&o=ajgrep (for the cat on the left), and
http://www.pawpeds.com/db/?a=p&id=218781&g=4&p=sib&date=iso&o=ajgrep (for the cat on the right).
 

This observation is very important because it provides genetic proof of the concept of the Siberian archetype. More archetype description will be available in the Part three. Here in Fig 1, three male cats are presented. Each was born at different places, from partially or significantly different parents. All, however, have some common lineage, although it may be very remote (once in the 5th generation for male 2 and male 1, for example). Importantly, all the males born more than 10 years ago, and all of the ancestors in their pedigrees, other than those from the Abakan line (or pre-Abakan cats in male 2), are totally different.


Yet another pair of photos depicts two females with very distant relatives; in the ninth knee of the pedigree. These females were born about five thousands kilometers apart, and none of their relatives ever met...except perhaps the pre-Abakan cats originating from Siberia and the Far East. These examples are given only for the purpose of explaining why not numbers, but gene combinations, are important to claim the actual participation in the breed foundation. In addition, these examples indicate the Siberian cat archetype that could not be eradicated; despite the lack of systematic breeding in a number of catteries during the early nineteen-nineties.
 

Neva Cats: No Ace Ventura behind the Mask.

 

The third topic is the problem of Neva Masquerades and their relation to Siberians. This topic is actually a part of the previous one, and all the facts described above account for this very issue. Neva Masquerades have been accepted as a color variety of the Siberian breed in a number of cat associations such as WCF, CFA, TICA etc. Main grounds of acceptance were arbitrarily described as "long persistence of said color variety among aboriginal semilonghair cats in Russia". No genetic analysis and analysis of actual origins of Neva cats was possible at the time of recognition. Participation of SLH colorpoint cats from the very beginning of SIB breed in Saint Petersburg (without careful analysis of their origins) has been considered as sufficient ground for the inclusion of Nevas into the forming Siberian breed. Let us (with huge delay, but there is some excuse for that, as a reader can understand from this article) try to perform at least part of such an analysis in order to better understand the roots of Neva Masquerades.


Current Russian felinology is very competitive with a number of excellent cats and catteries of a variety of breeds, known both nationally and internationally. Not only Siberians are recognized in all major cat associations in the world, but several other Russian native breeds have emerged, such as Don sphinxes, Kurilean bobtails, and few other, less known. One currently observing Russian felinology, but lacking the insight of experts as well as the insider's knowledge of situation 15-20 years ago, can infer that it was in the same state during those days, just like in their own country. Such a narrow vie is a big mistake. I read at the websites at certain SIB catteries abroad that "in USSR cats were not allowed due to food shortage". This statement is funny, but not more than the assumption about experienced and well-developed Russian cat science of a generation past. Luckily, acknowledgment of the SIB archetype was one the most important achievements of early breeders and cat judges. At that time, they did not compile a comprehensive breed standard, and the SIB standard has undergone a number of corrections during the past years, however, they captured the breed's archetype features for both the urban and the wild populations.

Despite this success, this all occurred under a panel obviously formed by amateurs. Nowadays in Russian felinological media it is the "le ton mauvais" to remind the public about the lack of systematic education of the first Russian felinologists, and to refer to actual origins of colorpoint "Siberians". It has become especially true since heated debates between anti-Neva and pro-Neva Big-endians and Little-endians from 3-4 years ago. I tend to express an irony here (courtesy to Jonathan Swift) because the arguments in those debates drawn by both sides were mostly senseless and ridiculous. For me not to be unsubstantiated, I will just mention that the persons who argued for making Nevas a separate breed have been accused of attempting to "eliminate Nevas because they started to win over traditional Siberians at shows". It is interesting, however, that those pesky "Neva Terminators" haven't been suspected in "elimination" of other competing SLH breeds such as MCOs, NFCs, TUAs etc etc. On the serious and regrettable side, those debates have led to attempts to hide facts about origins of Nevas. As a result, and a number of myths has been summoned to legitimatize Nevas as true and genuine Siberians. Although analysis of myths created 3-5 years ago it is not particularly interesting task (not as interesting as for the myths survived millennia of human history), it is what we need in order to understand the Neva origins, and trends of SIB breed development.

The primary idea was that "colorpoint semilonghair cats have been present in Russia in numbers for centuries, together with other cats". As the "evidence", they brought forth the case of a so-called "Pallas cat". Indeed, Pallas observed a colorpoint cat near Mokshan town (Volga river) in 1793 (Fig. 2A).

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the basis of this observation, it has been "concluded" that colorpoint cats have been in Russia in abundance for centuries. However, close examination of this nice drawing obviously shows us a classic apple-headed shorthair Thai cat (Fig. 2B, C), whose origin at South-East Asia is well-known and undebatable. So, if trying to infer the origins of Nevas from Pallas-like cats, Neva cat would not lose its origin as a the result of one of Russia's indigenous cat breeding with a Thai cat.

Let us refer to some sources of first-hand information by opening the book of Olga Mironova, "Aboriginal cats of Russia" issued in 2003, pages 29-31. This part of the book is devoted to Neva Masquerades. At the beginning of the chapter, Mironova absolutely openly admits that "It happened so that Siberian cats became a kin to proliferated offspring of Siamese (Thai - A. K.) cats imported to us from abroad by distinguished director of Puppet Theatre, Sergey Obraztsov" [1]. As we all understand, puppets and puppet theaters play significant role in the life of Russia and other countries as well, however, it cannot be considered as a reason to accept the outcrossed breed "Neva Masquerades" as Siberian.

Was the Obraztsov's case (Moscow) of importing colorpoint cats to Moscow a single one? Of course, it was not. Maybe even the import of parent(s) of "Pallas" (not to mix with true Pallas Cat, that is, Felis manul) cat by Volga's basin merchants wasn't the first one. Cats of unusual color did attract the attention of wealthy people at any times, so it is not surprising that some Thai cats entered Russia centuries ago. However, this caused no reflection on Siberian kin at those times since even the sources describing notable (and quite expensive) Bukhara cats, close relatives of Siberians but imported from Central Asia by roughly the same Volga basin routes and thus had more chances to meet Thai cats than any other Russian cats of that era, speak about brown tabbies and keep absolute silence about Bukhara (or Zeravshan, that is a nearby river -A. K.) Masquerades [3].

Thai cats were popular in Soviet Union, especially after the establishment of closer relations with Indochina's countries during late 60s. My uncle, who lived in Caucasus, was the proud owner of a Thai cat since 1972. He was a typical colorpoint, apple-headed shorthair cat with a kinked tail imported from Vietnam by oil geologists. Of course, the main ports, St. Petersburg and Vladivostok, were primary gates for bringing Thai cats to Russia during those times. This is the most natural explanation for why the cp gene is abundant in these cities, especially in St. Petersburg, but is rare or absent in the rest of Russia (except of course for Moscow, which is and was the center of everything).

The description of Neva Masquerades as the outcross between Thais and Siberians was given by several authors in a felinological media of Russia and theformer Soviet Union. Only after the "Endians'" wars took place in 2004 did it become politically incorrect to mention the origins of Nevas, and since then Mironova's book has been cited only partially, to wit:  "true Siamese, Balinese, and Himalayan cats entered Russia long after recognition of Nevas, and have never been used in development of Neva Masquerades" [sic] (ibid, p.30). Also, some citations of well-known Siberian breeders quickly became forgotten. T. E. Pavlova wrote in 2002 in the Ukrainian "Tvoya Koshka" (Your Cat) magazine: "First emerging in St. Petersburg, Neva Masquerades immediately attracted public attention. Characteristic features taken from Thai (old-type Siamese) did not impair the type of Siberians, but rather introduced refined charm and exotic into the breed".

Following Mironova's text, I mentioned Balinese cats. Here we are approaching one of the culprits of this story, i.e. how and why quite a number of colorpoint cats have become Neva Masquerades in a short period of time. I am watching a videotape record from a cat show of the, now dissolved, cat club "Soyuz" taken place in 1994. I see many famous SIBs there, Svetik, Bukashka, Knyaz Vasiliy, and some others. At the same time, I see a proud couple holding a huge and muscular colorpoint SLH cat saying "And it is our Balinese". Nowadays this big cat could have been referred to as Neva Masquerade with almost 100% confidence. Let us return to the "Aboriginal cats of Russia". "During first cat shows, SLH cats of Siamese color have been inscribed for breed recognition. They (as a rule - A. K.) have been immediately ascribed to Neva Masquerades. Sometimes owners of such cats described them as Balinese by themselves... I have been forced to make a description of these cats as domestic ones, or as Neva Masquerades if they deserved that". However, the first shows were held during the late 80s, and the show we are discussing here started being held not earlier than  1993, according to participating Siberian cats, whose registration dates are known. Therefore, times when owners could "describe the cat by themselves" exist in recent memory. And of course these "Balineses" occurred due to acceptance of inexperienced "judges". Actually, there is nothing unusual in the mentioned "Balinese" case. "Transferring" of "Balineses" to Nevas at the end of 80s is described in colors in the online article of WCF Judge Irina Sadovnikova and is supported by citing appropriate pages from the cat show catalog (see Ref. 6 and Appendix II, respectively). Russian felinology matured only relatively recently, and at the beginning there was a common trend to create one's own "replicas" of well-known foreign breeds because Western prototypes were out of reach for Soviet, and then Russian, cat fancy due to financial, communicative, and other problems. At the beginning, "homemade" Norwegian forest, Siamese, Balinese, and European Shorthair (the latter of which has more rights to exist in Russia) occupied significant part of cat shows.

What was the reason for this? Obviously, the reason was mostly financial because kittens of the "rare breed" could have been sold with much more success than, for instance, brown tabby alley cats. Also, there was great desire of a significant part of the young cat fancy to see their household pets as "pedigreed" cats. To the current situation, the occurrence of these "Balinese" cases just mean that quite a number of colorpoint SLH cats that later became Neva Masquerades have origins other than occasional outcrosses of Thai cats with Russia's alley cats in 60s-80s.

 

Spread of colorpoint mutation: growing a needle in the haystack.

In the book, Mironova writes about a "recent explosion" in the numbers of cp "SIBs". Let us analyze:  can this explosion occur due to natural reasons, such as an increase in the number of catteries, an increase in guided breeding events etc. That the colorpoint mutation is present in all mammals is a secret with the subtlety of a locomotive. However, in most of the populations this mutation is extremely rare. Despite all the power of modern molecular biology, it is still only one case of unequivocal detection of "Siamese" mutation in Humans [2]. Cats from Southeast Asia represent a unique mammalian pool in which this mutation is abundant. In other cats it is as rare as in the other extant mammals.

It is known that the colorpoint mutation is present in the well-known Abakan line, whose ancestors are cats from the Abakan cattery: Amur, Aldan, and Argo Abakans and some relatives of their parents. The known carrier of this mutation was Mura, the foundation cat of the De Glemur cattery. Mura, born in the mid 80s, herself has no relevance to the Abakans, but it is a Moscow-originated cat that could acquire the cs gene from; for instance, Thai cats or their descendants. Despite the abundant presence of Mura's genes in the pedigrees of Moscow-bred cats, only a handful of colorpoint cats were born within these lines, some in Moscow, some in Finland, some in US and some in Poland. To the best of my knowledge, during the 15-odd years of breeding within these lines, less than ten litters containing colorpoint kittens were born. Of course, when these colorpoint kittens were used with other colorpoints in purposeful breeding, the numbers increased. But if speaking about spontaneous emergence of colorpoints (and breeding of Mura's offspring for many years represents unique experiment because that breeding had no purpose to select colorpoint cats among other colors), the percentage appears to be very low. Thus, the reasons for an "explosion" in the numbers of colorpoint cats during early 90s is nothing more than plain increase of numbers of colorpoint kittens among already existing Siberian lines during breeding. One of the reasons is the selection for "Balinese" cats, and further re-determination of many of these "Balineses" as Neva Masquerades. It is now not known which XLH cats were used to generate "Balineses", but it is quite obvious they had little relevance to Siberians simply because "Balinese" catteries did not care about that. Another source was of course outcrosses, purposeful or occasional. There is some evidence of crossing Siberians with Persians in "experimental" pedigrees of some Russian clubs (Fig 3.), but unequivocal evidence is lacking if those crosses yielded any colorpoint cats further used in breeding. Although there is a lot of rumors regarding deliberate use of Persians and Thai cats during early to mid 90s to "create" new lines of Nevas, direct evidence of such actions is currently lacking. Either pedigrees reflecting these events have been later "cleansed" or the trend was not mass, especially taking into account already maturing felinological community.

 

Concluding remarks.

Based on the above material, the following conclusions can be made regarding the origin and spread of Neva Masquerades:

There were several waves of Nevas entering the Siberian breeding pool, each originating under certain unique circumstances, and thus having a unique genetic background. The first wave emerged at the end of 80s when a number of fancy colored cats of Moscow and St. Petersburg were recognized as Siberians because they "were the product of Mother Nature breeding between Russian aboriginal and Thai cats". Only recent genetic analysis has shed some light on the difference between this "Mother's Nature" genetic background and the resulting mixed genotype. The second wave came with rise and fall of Balinese cats of Russian vintage when the Russian felinological community grew out of its infancy and realized that their Balinezski, Norwezhski, and Siamski would never be accepted by the rest of the world. The third wave was rather a ripple caused by occasional attempts to "increase the numbers" and "broaden the genepool" of Siberians by outcrossing them with Persians.

During almost all the time except in very recent years, there was open acceptance of the fact published in books, as well as in periodical media, that Neva Masquerades emerged in big cities as the outcross of Thai and Russia's native SLH cats mostly during the second half of the 18th century. Such open acceptance, however, rapidly faded when certain part of the developing Russian felinological community tried to impeach the idea of identity between Nevas and traditional Siberians.

The argumentation on the long-term existence of colorpoint cats in Russia cannot be accepted because these cats did not leave any detectable trace in history and folklore except for Pallas' drawing of a Thai-looking cat. On the contrary, Bukhara cats being close relatives (or maybe even ancestors) of modern Siberians have been described as cats of wild-type coloration [2]. Till now big, "fluffy" and "grey-striped" cats in Southern Urals region, Moslem autonomous republics of Russia, and Central Asian countries are called as "Bukhara", and not "Siberian" cats. This is important because the population of Bukhara cats had much more chances to encounter cats from South-East Asia, brought there via prolific merchants' routes, than any of the cats living on Russia's territory. Garteveld [3] indicates that the price of a pair of Bukhara cats is "75-100 rubles, and here (in Asia - A. K.) they are not significantly cheaper than in Moscow". The sum of 100 rubles at the beginning of XX century in Russia was approximately one-half to one-third of the annual salary of a worker or a clerk. It is unlikely that the presence of other remarkable cats such as colorpoints at Russian or neighboring markets would have been passed without a trace.

As cited above, the main basis for "legitimizing" Neva Masquerades as part of Siberians is as follows:

1.    Outcrosses of Russian SLH cats with Thai cats occurred before breed recognition, and

2.    Thai cats already represent the pool of Russia's indigenous cats.

Both statements have, however, been proven false. Quite a number of outcrosses of colorpoint cats with those genetically and phenotypically irrelevant to Siberians occurred years after SIB and Neva recognition, and initially had no purpose to generate Neva Masquerades, but rather to breed "Balineses". Only with growing understanding of this way of breeding as the wrong one, a significant part of these cats was "transferred" to Neva Masquerades in ca 1992-1995.

The most important development is that recent molecular genetic analysis unequivocally demonstrated that the Siamese clade of cats (in which Thai cats represent one of the archetypes) are genetically the most distant from the rest of the cat breeds, even taking into account European and Mediterranean alley cats in that statement [4]. Siberian cats included in that study represent no exception and are located at the opposite branch of this genetic tree. Importantly, this analysis concerns not colorpoint and non-colorpoint cats, but cats of SEA and other regions regardless of the color. For example, Korats included in that analysis have been shown to genetically belong to the SEA clade and appeared as distant from other cats as their colorpoint cousins [5].

This data indicates that cats of the SEA region have been geographically separated from the rest of the domestic cat population for quite a while, and acquired unique structure of the genome. It is therefore little sense in crossing animals (Thais and Russian SLH cats) that are as genetically distant as it is possible within the evolutionary tree of domestic cats, and in declaring such an outcross to be "natural" and "useful". In fact, massive outcrossing of genetically distant cat populations inevitably results in loss of the unique traits of both clades. Instructively, it is what occurred with Persians, probably the most advanced breed, if speaking about extremalization and development of artificial traits in pedigreed cats. Although there are little doubts in the historical origins of Persians from Iran and Middle Asia, and close relatives of these cats, Angoras and Vans, indeed possess region-specific features in DNA, whereas Persians lost them completely. Persians thus represent a stark example of what happens with the genetic background of a breed if breeding proceeds only towards the desired artificial-looking, extreme type, paying no attention to how this type has been achieved. What is fully permissible in the case of an artificial breed is totally unacceptable, if speaking about the preservation of genetic uniqueness of a native breed such as Siberians.

Why is the rapid loss of unique genetic background inevitable in Siberian-Thai pointed outcrosses aimed at the propagation of colorpoints? It is because the colorpoint gene is recessive. It is relatively easy to introduce a dominant trait (e.g. silver color) into a cat population while largely preserving the genotype of this population. Since the dominant trait is always "visible", it can be bred into a cat population by using a single ancestor and by monitoring the trait by eye. During several generations of breeding, each time with the cat that represents new members of the said population, the traits "imported" with the desired dominant one are gradually "washed out" of the population. The only thing needed to make such a genetic "laundering" highly efficient is to remove all the "intermediate" cats from breeding.

On the contrary, in order to perform "clean" breeding-in a recessive colorpoint gene into a cat population, one should have understanding of molecular genetics, and be ready to invest considerable funds into performing at least several tens (better hundreds) DNA tests. One can afford the seamless introduction of recessive gene into a new background, according to the above scheme, only using strict control of heterozygotes at each breeding step. These heterozygous cats containing normal and colorpoint alleles will lack the colorpoint phenotype, and their genotype must be revealed by way of DNA test (polymerase chain reaction, PCR).

There are some unpublished indications that the genome of Siberian cats contains DNA sequences uncommon in other breeds. For example, Siberians are thought to cause less allergic reactions compared to any other cat breed. Whether this is indeed the case, remains to be investigated, but the spread of foreign genes from Thai and other colorpoint-carrying cats in Siberian population can rapidly eliminate the opportunity to know if there was a real molecular mechanism behind this.

Additional study is needed to confirm these initial findings, but if oneconsiders unrestricted breeding of Siberian cats with Neva Masquerades already containing significant proportion of non-native genetic material, the uniqueness of Siberian genome is at risk to never been described.

In my opinion, the consequences of introduction of Neva Masquerades in Siberians are quite obvious. In Russia, despite all debates, the trend to breed Nevas and Siberians separately has never changed and only a small fraction of catteries practices the opposite. I hope that the information presented in this paper will be useful for current and future Siberian breeders worldwide.

References

[1] http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9056655/Sergey-Vladimirovich-Obraztsov

[2] http://www.jci.org/articles/view/115075

[3] Garteveld V. I. Amidst loose sands and cut throats. Moscow, 1913

[4] http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2267438

[5] http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=2267438&blobname=nihms-37932-f0002.jpg

[6] http://cat-sibiryak.ru/st-Sadovnikova1.htm

Appendices

Fragment of "experimental" pedigree of "Siberian" containing Persian cat:

 

Cover of the book cited under Ref. 3:

 

Pages from show catalogues for shows held in Latvia and in Russia.
"Balineses of novice class" are highlighted with red line:

© A.V. Kolesnikov, PhD, Moscow, Russia January 2004-May 2008.

 

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