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Hypoallergenic Siberian Cat: The Truth or a Myth?
The Facts about Allergies and Allergens
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
How is it that the Siberian is non-allergic cat
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:
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
(Measurements are mg/g of sample)
We are planning to run tests on our other cats as well later this year.
By Alex Kolesnikov, PhD in molecular genetics, Sibaris
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.
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.
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.
A forest wildcat, Felis silvestris, or to be precise, its subspecies is the most likely contributor. Parenthetically, it should be noted that zoologists 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.
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 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.
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?
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
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.
These processes can induce replacement of
characteristic population genotype by totally different one, which was present
in the initial
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.
© 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
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):
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.
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 in 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?
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.
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.
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.
Siberian Cat: Unmasked
By Alex Kolesnikov, PhD in molecular genetics, Sibaris
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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" . 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 .
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 . 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.
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 . 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  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 . 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 .
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.
Cover of the book cited under Ref. 3:
Pages from show catalogues for shows held in Latvia
and in Russia.
© A.V. Kolesnikov, PhD, Moscow, Russia January 2004-May 2008.
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