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The Sokoke cat breed is one of the most recently developed new breeds, and is considered to be a natural breed rather than one that was created with a lot of human intervention. The Sokoke name comes from the original area of the breed’s home environment, the Arabuko Sokoke in Kenya.
The Sokoke cat has an interesting history, beginning with the native feral cats of the coastal area of Kenya. The breed as we know it today was “discovered” by the West by wildlife artist and horse breeder Jeni Slater in 1978.
The Sokoke is recognised as a naturally occurring native breed, and DNA examination of the breed as part of the Cat Genome Project has determined that the Sokoke shares their racial origins with the spotted wild cats of the East Kenya coast, and the cats of Lamu Island, on the Lamu archipelago in Kenya. The basis of their genetic makeup is a derivative of the Arabian wildcat and the Asian domestic cat.
The breed is currently recognised by most formal breed registries, including TICA (The International Cat Association) and the GCCF, The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, which is the umbrella organisation for pedigree cats in the UK.
The Sokoke cat is lean, long and leggy, with fine, tapered limbs. The hind legs are slightly longer than the forelegs, as is typical of wildcat breeds. The stifles of the Sokoke are particularly straight, which gives the breed a distinctive tip-toeing walking gait.
The Sokoke coat can be found in various shades of brown with a blotched tabby pattern, with hollow-looking centres to the spots due to the presence of the agouti gene within the breed, which produces a salt-and-pepper coat colour and pattern. Cats of the breed may have either green or amber eyes.
Their coats are short and rather coarse to the touch, with virtually no undercoat. Occasionally, a recessive gene will produce a longhaired kitten, but this is very uncommon.
While colour and pattern variations are rare within the breed, various recessive colours are recognised, but not considered to be acceptable in show cats. Some of the known recessive colour variants within the breed include black, blue, and seal-lynx point.
Selective breeding of the Sokoke has also led to various pattern variations on the base tabby, including chained, clouded and “chaotic,” all of which are types of marbling, and which have led to the early stages of development of a new colour line and pattern variant of the breed.
One very unusual trait of the Sokoke cat’s natural behaviour is that the sire of the litter, when permitted, will actually help to raise the kittens, and will actively take part in their care, often lying in the nesting box with them along with the queen. Queens also commonly wait for several months to wean their litters, although progression to independent living in the juvenile cats is very rapid once this is achieved.
The Sokoke breed is a very active, lively one that has a particular penchant for climbing, and they are also fairly vocal, and will chat throughout the day with both their owners and other cats that they may live with.
Sokoke cats form very strong bonds with both other cats that live with them and also their owners, and so very careful consideration should be given to buying or adopting a Sokoke cat, as they find it very hard to adjust to the removal of their familiar family.
Because the Sokoke cat is a naturally occurring breed that has not seen a significant amount of selective breeding or human intervention into the breed’s traits, they tend to be very robust and healthy, particularly when compared to other pedigree breeds. The average lifespan of the domestic Sokoke is fifteen years, which is significantly higher than that of many other pedigree breeds.
One issue that does pose a potential challenge to the health of the Sokoke is the fact that their presence in the Western world is a relatively recent thing, and as such, the Sokoke breed lines do not have the benefit of many generations of natural resistance and immunity to many common infectious conditions that can affect cats, but that most UK cats have a certain degree of natural resistance to.
This means that the Sokoke may be best kept as an indoor-only cat, or given restricted access to the outside world by means of enclosed gardens and fenced runs. The Sokoke is also not well suited to weathering British winters, and is prone to feel the cold more than most other breeds.
The Sokoke cat is vocal, lively, playful and active, and so requires plenty of entertainment and stimulation in order to thrive. They enjoy company, and are happiest with another feline companion, and they also form strong, lifelong bonds with their owners.
Essentially, the main caveat and consideration that potential Sokoke owners should think hard about is their ability to keep the cat for the entire duration of their potentially long life, as the breed will often fail to thrive under a change of ownership, or the removal of the people and cats that they have formed bonds with.
Added to this, potential Sokoke breeders should consider the natural urges of the queen and sire when it comes to allowing the kittens a prolonged period of time with the queen prior to weaning, and the sire’s desire to take part in the daily life of the litter.
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