Saturday, March 29, 2008

African Cats

Africa has cats. We all know that. The problem is that most of the cats of Africa can rip you to shreds without so much as an "if-you-please." Sure, Egypt and their adored cats were in Africa, but that culture was radically different from those of the remarkably diverse peoples inhabiting the rest of this vast continent. Big and dangerous cats were everywhere, and I would think that dealing with them would be precarious at best. For instance, imagine how scratched up you can get when performing the marginally difficult task of giving your cat a bath. Now imagine if that cat weighed about 400 pounds like the African Lion. And lions aren't the only big African cats; don't forget cheetahs and leopards. Fortunately, these magnificent creatures usually won't harm humans unless they are starving or terrified. The indigenous people of Africa have nothing but the respect for these big-cats (and indeed all animals) and their ancient myths and legends are filled with the exploits of these creatures. But there was one African cat that wasn't so big. To the Africans it was just another cat, albeit, a smaller one. We've given it the scientific name Felis Libyca or simply the African wildcat. Around 4497 years ago (c.3000 B.C. ) this wildcat made its way through Ethiopia and up into Egypt. These are believed to be the very cats that the Egyptians domesticated. While we're on the subject, the cat we all know and love today is descended from the pairing of the African wildcat Felis Libyca and the European wildcat Felis Silvestris, (do you suppose this where the cartoon Sylvester got his name?) And just in case you are burning with curiosity, that adorable pussycat all snuggled nicely in your lap is designated Felis Catus. So next time you happen to be studying the behavior of your cat, remember its rich African heritage.

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