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How the Domestic Cat Colonised the Planet

Wherever you travel you will always find cats and usually plenty of them. The domesticated cat has proved incredibly successful at colonising the planet but where were cats first domesticated and how did they achieve global domination?

Ancient Egyptians

Scientists have discovered that many of today’s moggies (Felis silvestris lybica) are descendants of felines which lived in ancient Egypt. They have established that cats were first domesticated some 10,000 years ago in the near east. This probably happened because farmers found them useful for controlling vermin.

Thousands of years later, cats began developing close relationships with human society in Egypt and have been found depicted in art dating from 2000BC. There was clearly something very appealing about these cats as they became more and more popular. Their behavioural traits must have made them particularly suitable as human companions. They also proved useful to sailors as they could control vermin on ships.

Travelling Far and Wide

It was the ships which enabled cats to travel to all corners of the globe. They would eventually populate every continent except Antarctica. Impressive!

In medieval times it was compulsory for ships to carry cats and so these little creatures were transported across the world via all routes of trade and warfare. These same ships also transported mice and rats across the globe to destinations where they previously had not been seen. This meant that these places needed cats to control the rodents and so the popularity of felines was assured.

Cats in Northern Europe

Cats gradually spread across the old world before an increase in shipping saw them travel everywhere. There were few cats in Northern Europe until the collapse of the Roman Empire, but now there are untold millions and it would be difficult to find any country in which they are not incredibly common.

Anyone who has lived with a cat will understand their unique ability to establish themselves whilst retaining their independence. They have quietly managed to infiltrate human society and make themselves both appealing and useful. A neat trick!

Summing up their findings, an international team of scientists, led by Belgian paleogeneticist Claudio Ottoni, wrote that "both the Near Eastern and Egyptian populations of Felis silvestris lybica contributed to the gene pool of the domestic cat at different historical times".


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