7 Facts About Turkish Van Cats

The Turkish Van is a striking, silky cat with a white body and colored head and tail. True to its name, it's thought to hail from modern-day Turkey’s eastern Lake Van region. Here are seven facts about the gorgeous kitty.

1. THE TURKISH VAN IS LIKELY AN OLD BREED ...

Like many cat breeds, no one quite knows the Turkish Van’s true origins. According to legend, ancestors of the Turkish Van sailed aboard Noah’s Ark. Once the boat reached Mount Ararat—a volcanic mountain in eastern Turkey that serves as the Biblical vessel’s mythical landing place—the cats hopped off and swam for dry land. God blessed them, and his divine touch caused their white coats to develop their signature coloration. These cats became the progenitors for the Turkish Van breed.

In reality, the Turkish Van breed probably developed in central and southwest Asia. It's believed that the furry cat has lived in Turkey’s isolated Lake Van region—a mountainous area that’s home to the country’s largest lake—for generations, thanks to local legends, traditional folk songs, and ancient artifacts that reference the cat and its unusual markings. The Turkish Van has reportedly also been spotted in neighboring countries including Iran, Iraq, and parts of the former Soviet Union.

2. ... BUT THE CAT WAS ONLY RECENTLY RECOGNIZED IN AMERICA.

The Turkish Van eventually migrated from Turkey to central Europe, possibly thanks to merchants, explorers, military troops, or returning Crusaders, who brought the cat home with them during the late 13th century. But according to most sources, the cat didn’t make its mark on the world until the mid-1950s, when two British women named Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were photographing Lake Van for the Turkish Tourist Board; when they had finished their project, the Tourist Board thanked them with a pair of unrelated dark red and white felines. Lushington took them back to England, began breeding the kitties, and imported more cats from Turkey to further the bloodline.

Eventually, the foreign breed was registered with the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF). Originally called “Turkish cats,” their name was later changed to the Turkish Van to avoid confusion with the Turkish Angora breed. (Over the years, the Turkish Van has also been known by a handful of other names.) In 1969, the GCCF officially granted the Van full championship status.

No one knows quite how or when Turkish Vans made their way to America, but in the early 1980s, two breeders named Barbara and Jack Reark imported two of the cats from France, helping to pave the way for the Van’s acceptance as a new breed. By 1985, The International Cat Association (TICA) also recognized the Van, and the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) followed suit in 1994.

The Turkish Van is still relatively rare in America, so if you want to purchase one you might have to search long and hard for a breeder who sells the silky kitties. In 2013, CFA registration statistics showed that the Turkish Van ranked 41st in popularity out of the 43 breeds the organization accepts for championship status—probably because so few of them exist in the U.S.

3. THE TURKISH VAN IS PROTECTED IN ITS NATIVE LAND.

Even though the Turkish Van is beloved in the Republic of Turkey, one 1992 survey revealed that only 92 of the purebred felines remained in the country's Lake Van region. To expand the cat's bloodline, the Turkish government officially recognized the Van and launched measures to protect it, while a local university developed breeding programs. Today, very few Turkish Vans are exported to other countries, and most of America’s breeding stock comes from Europe.

4. THE TERM "VAN MARKINGS" WAS COINED TO DESCRIBE THE TURKISH VAN'S COAT.

If you’re a cat aficionado, you’ve likely heard the term Van markings, which describes a mostly-white feline with colored markings that are restricted to its head and tail. This phrase was originally coined to describe the Turkish Van’s unique coloration. The Van’s markings can come in multiple shades, including red, cream, black, and blue, and patterns like tabby and tortoiseshell [PDF]. Cat registries have rules about how many colored markings can cover the white portion of the Van’s body before it’s considered a bicolor cat instead of a Turkish Van. The CFA, in particular, only allows for 15 percent of the Van's entire body, excluding the head and tail color, to be colored.

You’ll also find solid white Turkish Vans, and Vans that have been “blessed” with a color patch between their shoulder blades; cat fanciers refer to this as the “Mark of Allah.”

Aside from its markings, the Van is known for its beautiful fur. It has a plumed tail, and a silky, semi-long coat that’s water-repellant. The coat is thick and dense in the winter, sheds to a shorter length in the summer, and has no undercoat, so it’s tangle-free and easy to groom. This fur covers a broad-chested, muscular body, which according to some accounts, can weigh anywhere from 7 to 20 pounds.

5. TURKISH VAN CATS SOMETIMES HAVE ODD-COLORED EYES.

Turkish Van kittens are initially born with pale blue eyes, which change to a deeper blue or amber as they grow older. Occasionally, you’ll also see a Van with one amber eye and one blue eye, or two blue eyes of different hues. This unusual trait stems from the cat’s piebald white spotting gene, which sometimes prevents melanin, or pigment, from imbuing one eye’s iris with color.

6. TURKISH VAN CATS ARE SAID TO LOVE WATER.

Turkish Vans are often called “the swimming cats” because they’re said to love water. Fans of the fluffy feline claim they’ve seen the kitty jump into showers, pounce at dripping faucets, and splash through puddles, kiddie pools, and thunderstorms.

It’s unknown why Vans like water, but it’s likely that the breed developed its love for swimming—and its water-repellant coat—to hunt for the fish that live in Lake Van. Still, these claims are speculative, so unless your Turkish Van has proven its love for all things liquid, don’t try giving it a bath without clipping its claws first.

7. THE TURKISH VAN IS A LIVELY CAT.

If you’re looking for a quiet, cuddly lap cat, the Turkish Van is not the pet for you. But if you’re looking for a livewire feline that likes to play games, leap onto high surfaces, and race around the house, the Van might be your best bet.

Hundreds of Kangaroos Roam the Green at This Australian Golf Course

burroblando/iStock via Getty Images
burroblando/iStock via Getty Images

Anglesea Golf Club has all the makings of a regular golf club: an 18-hole golf course, a mini golf course, a driving range, a clubhouse, and a bistro. But the kangaroo mobs that hop around the holes add an element of surprise to your otherwise leisurely round of one of the slowest games in sports.

Person takes photo of a kangaroo
Anglesea Golf Club

According to Thrillist, the kangaroos have been a mainstay for years, and the club started giving tours a few years ago to ensure visitors could observe them in the safest way possible. For about 25 minutes, a volunteer tour guide will drive a golf cart with up to 14 passengers around the course, sharing fun facts about kangaroos and stopping at opportune locations for people to snap a few photos of the marsupials, which are most active in late afternoon and early morning. Kangaroos are friendly creatures, but Anglesea’s website reminds visitors that “they can also be quite aggressive if they feel threatened.”

Post-graduate students and academic staff from Melbourne University’s zoology department have been researching Anglesea’s kangaroo population since 2004, and some of the animals are marked with collar and ear tags so the researchers can track movement, growth, survival, and reproduction patterns throughout their life cycle.

One of the reasons kangaroos have continued to dwell on land so highly trafficked by people is because of the quality of the land itself, National Geographic reports. The golf course staff regularly sprinkles nitrogen fertilizer all over the green, which makes the grass especially healthy.

Kangaroos graze on Anglesea Golf Course
Anglesea Golf Club

If you decide to plan a trip to Anglesea Golf Club, you can book a kangaroo tour here—adult tickets are $8.50, and children under 12 can come along for just $3.50 each.

[h/t Thrillist]

10 Surprising Facts About Shoebill Storks

MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images
MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images

Shoebill storks have been called the world’s most terrifying bird (though the cassowary might disagree). These stately wading birds stalk the marshes of South Sudan, Uganda, and elsewhere in tropical East Africa, snatching up prey with their unique, immediately recognizable bills. But there are a lot of misconceptions about shoebill storks—the first being that they're not actually storks. Here are some more surprising facts.

1. Shoebill storks could win staring contests.

Shoebills live in the vast wetlands of the Nile watershed in eastern Africa. You really can’t mistake them for any other bird: They grow 4 to 5 feet tall, have bluish-gray plumage and an 8-plus-foot wingspan, and their bill, which takes up a majority of their face, looks like a huge Dutch wooden clog. Shoebills can stand virtually motionless for hours with their bills held down against their necks. Complemented by their golden eyes, the posture affects a very convincing death stare.

2. Shoebills may be more closely related to pelicans than storks.

Shoebill stork looking at the camera
ApuuliWorld/iStock via Getty Images

Over the past couple of centuries, naturalists have debated where shoebills should appear on the Tree of Life. Some taxonomists said that the shoebill's syrinx, or vocal organ, resembled those of herons belonging to the family Pelecaniformes, which also includes ibises, pelicans, and boobies. Others countered that herons have specialized feathers than release a powdery down to help with preening, but shoebills didn’t have these feathers, so they must be storks belonging to the family Ciconiiformes. “There is, in fact, not the shadow of a doubt that it is either a heron or a stork; but the question is, which?” zoologist Frank Evers Beddard wrote in 1905. More recent studies on the shoebill's eggshell structure and DNA have supported its place among the Pelecaniformes.

3. Shoebills poop on themselves.

Shoebills practice urohydrosis, the effective—if revolting—habit of defecating on their legs to lower their body temperature. In fact, this characteristic confused taxonomists: In the past, some felt that the shoebill’s habit placed it within the family of true storks, since all true storks also use their own droppings to cool off.

4. European naturalists were introduced to shoebills in the 1840s.

Shoebill stork
neil bowman/iStock via Getty Images

A German diplomat and explorer named Ferdinand Werne was the first European to hear about the shoebill. On his expedition in Africa to find the source of the White Nile in 1840, Werne camped at Lake No, part of a 12,000-square-mile wetland called the Sudd in what is now South Sudan. Werne’s indigenous guides told him “that they had seen an extraordinary bird, as big as a big camel, with a bill like a pelican’s, though wanting a pouch,” according to a 1908 edition of The Avicultural Magazine.

About 10 years later, a collector named Mansfield Parkyns brought two shoebill skins to England, giving British zoologists their first look at the weird bird. At an 1851 meeting of the British Zoological Society, naturalist John Gould presented a description of the shoebill based on Parkyns’s specimens and gave it the scientific name Balaeniceps rex.

5. Shoebills are also called whale-headed storks.

Balaeniceps rex means “whale-head king,” evidently a reference to its bill shape resembling the head of a baleen whale (as well as a shoe). Other names for the shoebill include the boat-bill, bog-bird, lesser lechwe-eater (referring to the shoebill’s alleged taste for lechwe, or aquatic antelope), and abu markub, or “father of a slipper” in Arabic.

6. Shoebills love lungfish.

Yum, lungfish! These air-breathing, eel-like fish grow to more than 6 feet long and comprise the shoebill’s favorite food. Shoebills also chow down on actual eels, catfish, lizards, snakes, and baby crocodiles. To catch their prey, shoebills stand still in the water and wait for an unsuspecting fish to appear. Then, the bird swiftly “collapses” on its target, spreading its wings and diving down bill-first to ambush the fish. Then, with the fish in its mouth, it decapitates it by grinding the sharp edges of its bill together.

7. Shoebills really earned their fierce reputation.

Victorian photographers learned the hard way that shoebills could be as mean as they looked. “The shoebill is capable of inflicting a very powerful bite,” 19th-century zoologist Stanley S. Flower wrote, “and is by no means a safe bird for a stranger ignorant of its ways to approach, a fact which we often have to impress on amateur photographers anxious to obtain ‘snap-shots’ of Balaeniceps at close quarters. It has been amusing to see how rapidly in some cases their enthusiasm has waned, when (as requested) confronted with the great bird screaming shrill defiance and crouching as if were about to spring, with gaping bill and half-spread wings.”

8. Shoebills have always been a rare curiosity at zoos.

Shoebill stork with its mouth open
neil bowman/iStock via Getty Images

In the 19th century, the Sudanese government made the shoebill a protected species, but that did not stop collectors from attempting to transport shoebills to zoos. Flower, then director of the Zoological Gardens in Giza, Egypt, brought three shoebills (along with four giraffes, nine antelopes, a lion, a leopard, three servals, two ostriches, two porcupines, an aardvark, five tortoises, a crocodile, and several other animals) on a train north from Khartoum to the gardens. The temperature rose to 118°F and the irritated shoebills barfed up their dinners. Their diet of fresh fish that Flower had ordered never materialized, so he resorted to feeding the birds canned shrimp. Miraculously, the birds arrived at the Zoological Gardens in one piece and survived in captivity for at least five years. Today, only a handful of zoos open to the public have shoebills, including the Prague Zoo in the Czech Republic, Pairi Daiza in Belgium, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and the Dallas World Aquarium.

9. Shoebills are worth thousands of dollars on the black market.

Shoebills rarely breed in captivity: In the last hundred years at least, only two chicks have hatched. In today’s zoos, all shoebills were either born there or were legally collected from the wild. Unfortunately, their scarcity and mystique have also made shoebills a sought-after bird for poachers in the illegal wildlife trade. According to Audubon magazine, private collectors in Dubai and Saudi Arabia will pay $10,000 or more for a live shoebill.

10. Shoebills are at risk of extinction.

The IUCN Redlist estimates between 3300 and 5300 mature shoebills live in the world today, and that number is decreasing. The iconic birds are threatened by a number of anthropogenic forces, including loss of their marshland habitat from farming, livestock ranching, oil and gas exploration, fires, pollution, and more. International wildlife groups and local conservationists are monitoring shoebill habitats in South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia and patrolling the sites for poaching, but much more attention is needed to protect shoebills.

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