1978, Jeni Slater, found a momma cat with a newborn litter of kittens in
a hollow stump behind her home. This momma had big eyes and large
ears and Jeni was taken with these fascinating cats. She selected
two kittens of opposite sexes and hand raised them as pets.
Jeni was (and still is) a wildlife artist living near the coastal town of Watamu, Kenya, on a coconut plantation. Her plantation backed up against the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. She raised those two babies and started feeding those Sokokes that would come out of the forest for her handouts of fish. She called her find "Sokokes" after their forest home.
Jeni raised several litters of these kitties (using additional kitties from those who came to dinner); her friends fell in love with them and she shared kittens with several of them. One friend, Gloria Moeldrup, was allowed to take a breeding pair of them to Denmark in 1983. Those kitties were named Jeni and Mzuri. Then, in 1989 Gloria took 3 more to Denmark. Jeni had had a previous offer to take some to England, but would not allow it as she could not bear the thought of her Sokokes in a 6 month quarantine. The Sokokes given to Gloria and to Bob Schwartz were the only whole Sokokes Jeni placed. The other Sokokes were altered pets without breeding rights.
|Jeni, at her Watamu
home with the Indian Ocean in the background. Gloria at home in Denmark.
We owe much to both of these lady's but more so the Sokokes owe everything
© Photos use with permission of the Danish Sokoke Council.
All rights reserved.
Time at Jeni's (left). Close up (right) of wild Sokokes who came
for dinner (note the spotted one in background). We've lost the spotted
ones, as only the more "african" tabbies were brought out of Kenya, and
spotting is dominant, so it can't be carried. (Jeni's husband was a fisherman,
so the menu was often extra fish from the days catch.)
(c) both photos are used courtesy of Bob Schwartz
and the Danish Sokoke Council. All rights reserved.
It was a local vet that first suggested to
Jeni that these might be something "wild" which started her looking into
that possibility. And, that is where the mystery (and controversy)
There are street cats in Watamu of a similar body type, but these come in many colors and patterns including white spotting. These street cats are evidently similar to the cats in the bookThe Cats of Lamu Island. Lamu is located just off the Kenyan coast, but a couple hundred miles north of Watamu and the A. S. Forest. [In 1987, between the time that Mzuri and Jeni and the next 3 kitties were taken to Denmark, Jeni introduced a black Watamu street cat into the genepool; she was concerned with the inbreeding. This action was based on advice from a local "genetics expert". We believe this is probably when the lynx point gene was introduced and is upheld by preliminary study of pedigrees where the white tabbies occured.]
Dr. Richard Leake speculated these may be a Taita Wildcat. I, personally, believe that these are a branch of the family of African Wildcats. (Whether or not the Taita Wildcat is part of that family, even Dr. Leake did not know.) While their appearance differs from the known subspecies of African Wildcats in some ways, there are also many similarities especially in behavior. Most of the descriptions of African Wildcat behavior and habits fit perfectly.
From a genetics point of view, I have a problem believing that they are a feral street cat "gone wild" (as some Sokoke breeders believe) because they produce "cookie cutter" babies (all the same ticked "African tabby" pattern) without any sign of the white spotting factor. So, the absence of this trait suggests to me that they are not originally domestic. Whether or not they are "wild", they are definately a naturally occurring breed. (Meaning they've developed without the interference of "man" in a free roaming habitat.) We've been told by the head of the Genom Project at UC Davis, that if they are what we believe, their DNA would not be identifiably different from mainstream domestic cats (other than the absence of the European Wild cat markers that would naturally be present in some of the current domestic breeds).
|It is so exciting to see the new African Sokokes. In the "feeding" photo is Sammy who was instrumental (along with his friends), in finding the new Sokokes. He is one of Jeannie's staff and loves the cats and is excellent with them. Since the original eight, more Sokokes are continuing to be located and brought to Jeannie's. This information and the new babies arriving to these, is probably the best news of all.|
more information on Sokokes visit the official page of the Danish
Sokoke Council. There is more information there as well as links
and addresses of breeders from all over the world, photos of Sokokes with
links to their pedigrees, etc. (These pages have not been recently
updated but there is still good information there.) For additional
information on the new Sokokes, visit Anita Engebakken's
pages, and Edith Peulicke's
pages to see the wonderful photos taken on her trip to Africa to bring
home her Genet and Mara. (I've also put together a vertual trip to
the Sokoke Forest with some of her photos
along with others and a map.)
You can also read the entire article written for a British cat magazine Cat World, May-June issue 1973 by Pat Turner. (This article is now only available online. The magazine was sold several years ago and the old archives are no longer available.)
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