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8 Cat Breeds with Wild Roots

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Treating a wild cat as a pet is not a good idea, but throughout history, some have taken servals, caracals, fishing cats, ocelots, and even lions and tigers into their homes. The desire to own a wild animal can have consequences, so cat breeders have used their skills to develop cat breeds that fulfill the desire for an exotic cat without the danger.

1. Savannah

Savannah cats are created by crossing a house cat with an African Serval. The original hybrid is called an F1 and is considered too "wild" to be a house cat. When you breed an F1 Savannah with another Savannah or another cat breed, the resulting kittens are called F2. Breeding F2 females produces a generation called F3, which still has a considerable amount of Serval genes, but three generations of domesticity. F1 females are retained as breeding stock, although the male hybrids are often infertile. Sometimes F2 or F1 Savannahs are bred with Servals to create Savannahs with a higher number of Serval genes. Or they may be bred with Savannah males of even later generations (F5 or F6). Male Savannahs are usually sterile in the first few generations.

The first Savannah hybrid was born in 1986 and named Savannah by breeder Judee Frank. That cat's traits inspired Patrick Kelly to team with Joyce Sroufe to develop the breed. A Savannah is the largest of all domestic cats, can leap great distances, and is illegal to own in some states. They are intelligent, curious, and often remind their owners of a dog. The International Cat Association (TICA) recognizes Savannahs as a championship breed

2. Bengal

Tyler T, Wikimedia Commons

The Bengal cat is a considerably older breed than the others in this list, but as a breed derived from a wild cat hybrid, it is worth a look. The Bengal breed, which developed from a cross between a domestic cat and an Asian leopard Cat, is also the starting point for other breeds in this list. There have been stories of naturally occurring crossbreeds in Asia from way back, with the oldest confirmed case in 1934. The breed as we know it began with geneticist Jean Sugden-Mills, who crossed ALCs with domestic cats in 1963. Twenty years of breeding resulted in the breed that was accepted as truly domestic by TICA. Bengal cats are large cats with distinctive markings. Generations F4 and beyond are considered to be good house pets.

3. Toyger

Gaynorjl, Wikimedia Commons

Los Angeles cat breeder Judy Sugden has been working since the late eighties to breed a house cat that resembles a tiger. The result is the Toyger, a registered breed that has a lineage beginning with domestic shorthairs and Bengals selected for their markings. Toygers are now available from breeders all over the world. The breed is still in development, and TICA now has the toyger classified as a championship breed

4. Ocicat

The Ocicat was named for its resemblance to an ocelot, but it has no actual ocelot, or any wild cat, in its family tree—at least since the breed was developed in 1964. Only its appearance earned it a spot on this list. Virginia Daly, a longtime Michigan cat breeder, was trying to get a Siamese cat with Abyssinian points. She bred together cats with Abyssinian, Siamese, and American shorthair lineages. A kitten named Tonga resulted, which had ivory-colored fur with golden spots. Tonga was not used for breeding, but the same parents later produced kittens with the same markings. Ocicats come in a variety of colors, but are known for their spots. The breed standards say an Ocicat should be heavier than it appears and be well-muscled. Ocicats are sociable and their behavior may remind you of a dog—such as the way many like to play fetch. The Ocicat is recognized by TICA as a championship breed

5. Chausie

Lance Klausner, Wikimedia Commons

The Chausie was developed from hybrids of the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus), the largest species of the genus Felis, found in Asia. They can grow up to three feet long and weigh 35 pounds, but are generally around 18 pounds. Like the hybrids that developed into the Savannah and Bengal breeds, the males of the first few generations are usually infertile, and the F4 and F5 are considered truly domestic and suitable for cat shows. TICA classifies the Chausie as a championship breed.

6. Cheetoh

The name "Cheetoh cat" probably brings up the image of the laid-back cartoon cheetah named Chester who advertises Cheetos. But it is also a fairly new breed of house cat. According to the International Cheetoh Breeders Association, the Cheetoh is an attempt to breed a cat that looks more like a wild cat than other breeds but is still a gentle house pet. Carol Drymon bred the first Cheetoh in 2001 by crossing a Bengal and an Ocicat. A Cheetoh is a vary large cat, with healthy males reaching 23 pounds. Such a large cat with leopard-like spots may scare strangers, but is quite tame and as safe around children as any other house cat. TICA considers the Cheetoh an experimental breed.

7. Serengeti

The goal of breeding the Serengeti Cat is to produce a cat that resembles the wild Serval but does not contain any Serval bloodline. The first Serengeti Cat was bred by Karen Sausman in 1994 by crossing a Bengal and an Oriental Shorthair. This "foundation cat" and its progeny have been bred with many other types of cats to improve the breed—but no Servals. However, its lineage does include the Asian Leopard Cat whose genes contributed to its Bengal Cat ancestor. Serengeti Cats have long ears and long legs like a Serval, and a neck that does not taper where it meets the head. They are agile, active, and vocal. TICA classifies this cat as an advanced new breed.

8. Pixiebob

Nathalie Bent, Wikimedia Commons

The PIxiebob breed began as a result of natural mating. Carol Ann Brewer observed bob-tailed cats in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. She adopted one of these cats in 1985, who then mated with a neighbor's cat. She obtained more of the "legend cats," bob-tailed local cats that somewhat resembled bobcats, and are thought to be results of natural matings between bobcats and domestic cats, although no proof exists. Pixiebobs are tall cats with back legs slightly longer than the front legs. They have thick double coats that may be short or long. Breed standards allow for up to seven toes in a PIxiebob, the only championship breed allowing for polydactly. Pixiebobs gained championship status with the TICA in 1998. Although Pixiebobs are often stone-faced like a wild cat, they are loyal and make good pets.

You should, of course, check with specific breed organizations before you select a breeder or adopt an exotic show cat. A great alternative is to check with your local shelter for a cat that desperately needs a home.

See also: In the Beginning: The Origins of 9 Cat Breeds and 8 Obscure but Adorable Wildcat Species

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Ted Cranford
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science
Scientists Use a CT Scanner to Give Whales a Hearing Test
Ted Cranford
Ted Cranford

It's hard to study how whales hear. You can't just give the largest animals in the world a standard hearing test. But it's important to know, because noise pollution is a huge problem underwater. Loud sounds generated by human activity like shipping and drilling now permeate the ocean, subjecting animals like whales and dolphins to an unnatural din that interferes with their ability to sense and communicate.

New research presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California suggests that the answer lies in a CT scanner designed to image rockets. Scientists in San Diego recently used a CT scanner to scan an entire minke whale, allowing them to model how it and other whales hear.

Many whales rely on their hearing more than any other sense. Whales use sonar to detect the environment around them. Sound travels fast underwater and can carry across long distances, and it allows whales to sense both predators and potential prey over the vast territories these animals inhabit. It’s key to communicating with other whales, too.

A CT scan of two halves of a dead whale
Ted Cranford, San Diego State University

Human technology, meanwhile, has made the ocean a noisy place. The propellers and engines of commercial ships create chronic, low-frequency noise that’s within the hearing range of many marine species, including baleen whales like the minke. The oil and gas industry is a major contributor, not only because of offshore drilling, but due to seismic testing for potential drilling sites, which involves blasting air at the ocean floor and measuring the (loud) sound that comes back. Military sonar operations can also have a profound impact; so much so that several years ago, environmental groups filed lawsuits against the U.S. Navy over its sonar testing off the coasts of California and Hawaii. (The environmentalists won, but the new rules may not be much better.)

Using the CT scans and computer modeling, San Diego State University biologist Ted Cranford predicted the ranges of audible sounds for the fin whale and the minke. To do so, he and his team scanned the body of an 11-foot-long minke whale calf (euthanized after being stranded on a Maryland beach in 2012 and preserved) with a CT scanner built to detect flaws in solid-fuel rocket engines. Cranford and his colleague Peter Krysl had previously used the same technique to scan the heads of a Cuvier’s beaked whale and a sperm whale to generate computer simulations of their auditory systems [PDF].

To save time scanning the minke calf, Cranford and the team ended up cutting the whale in half and scanning both parts. Then they digitally reconstructed it for the purposes of the model.

The scans, which assessed tissue density and elasticity, helped them visualize how sound waves vibrate through the skull and soft tissue of a whale’s head. According to models created with that data, minke whales’ hearing is sensitive to a larger range of sound frequencies than previously thought. The whales are sensitive to higher frequencies beyond those of each other’s vocalizations, leading the researchers to believe that they may be trying to hear the higher-frequency sounds of orcas, one of their main predators. (Toothed whales and dolphins communicate at higher frequencies than baleen whales do.)

Knowing the exact frequencies whales can hear is an important part of figuring out just how much human-created noise pollution affects them. By some estimates, according to Cranford, the low-frequency noise underwater created by human activity has doubled every 10 years for the past half-century. "Understanding how various marine vertebrates receive and process low-frequency sound is crucial for assessing the potential impacts" of that noise, he said in a press statement.

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Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

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