THE CONTEMPORARY HISTORY OF BREEDING SIBERIANS
The Present and the Future of Siberian Cats
Coming back to the breed type and standard, we would like to mention that during the past 10 years quite a lot of lines in different countries all over the world were going in the desired direction, seeking to establish a stable population. Though there are differences in the standards of the major world associations, most of the main ideas of these standards are similar, allowing to select the cats of the type we are describing.
In 2002 TICA, which had begun admitting Siberians to shows many years ago, finished its long work on introducing the Siberian breed into its list of fully recognized breeds, and accepted Siberian Colourpoints for championship status.
CFA is now working on accepting the breed for championship status, too.
Two Siberian Cat clubs have been founded recently in the UK, which are working on their affiliation with GCCF, and on having the breed accepted in all colour varieties.
Unfortunately, the position of FIFe is different from all other world associations. FIFe accepted its Siberian standard only in 1997; it does not accept the colourpoint variant, and requires high set cheekbones and more length for the head type, which reminds of the time when Siberians were compared to poor type Maine Coons.
To sum up, the Siberian Cat has now become an equal member of the pedigreed cats family in the whole world. The geography of Siberians is getting wider and wider, from Sweden and Canada in the North to South Africa and Australia in the South, from California in the West to Japan in the EastÖ Everywhere breeders are appearing.
In its native land, Russia, the Siberians were for a long time the cats of enthusiasts, the cats that didn't have any market value for Russian mass breeders, the cats that got derisive nicknames from some club leaders, breeders and even judges. "We are not interested in alley cats", was the mildest thing one could hear from them. One can hardly believe now that some four years ago a *** club board member (she is besides a well-known judge) answered to the President of the Siberian Cat Club (Moscow) Mrs. Tatiana Pavlova, when the latter wanted to enter some cats in a show of the *** club: "We don't want rubbish heap cats in our club shows". Today the said judge has turned out to be the protector of native cat breeds, the first breeder of Siberian cats, the guardian of blood purity. The market value has changedÖ
And as always, with the increase in market value, more and more people who were at least indifferent or opposed to the now popular breed yesterday, are trying to dictate their new laws to those who have been loyal since the very beginning. Wars are being fought under the festive surface of cat shows. Wars in which the crucial question is: Shall we preserve our breed or shall we satisfy the breeders' ambitions? These wars are fought around the Siberian Colourpoint.
These beautiful blue-eyed cats have a strange history and fate. It seems that now they can be either loved or hated; all the recent events have turned this colour variety from one of many into the line of demarcation between the owners and breeders of Siberian cats. Fortunately, the majority of world associations and breeders all over the world keep to the original position of the first Russian breeders, in which they are joined by the overwhelming majority of contemporary ones in Russia.
In 2001 a small group of breeders from Moscow started a discussion on the Siberian Colourpoint. The main idea was that Colourpoints were not original Siberians, but a result of cross-breeding, and should be judged as a separate breed with a different standard. If we disregard ridiculous arguments like "the colourpoint is too big(!)" and "they win the shows too often", the main serious arguments in favour of this opinion are the following:
1. The Siberian Cat,
being a natural breed, should originally have the same genes as the Maine
Coon and the Norwegian Forest, and the colourpoint is not allowed for these
2. The Siberian Cat comes from cold forest regions covered in snow, so a colourpoint cat can't survive in this climate.
3. The colourpoint gene has never existed in Russia, so the Siberian Colourpoint must be a recent outcross to Siamese, Balinese or Persian CP.
The conference called on the initiative of those breeders took place in Moscow. The discussion ended in a decision carried by a great majority of votes of judges and breeders: the Siberian Colourpoint is an original colour variety of the Siberian Cat, and it is not only permissible, but also advisable to breed and show all varieties together.
Let us expand on the arguments quoted above.
Genetically, the colourpoint is a mutation, the origins of which are still being debated. The studies of gene frequencies in domestic cat populations are giving rather unexpected results. It is known from annals that colourpoint cats have existed in South-Eastern Asia (Thailand etc.) for several hundred years, and it is probable that this mutation originated there. Gene frequency studies show that the frequency of colourpoint cats in South Eastern Asia (Chiangmai, Thailand) reaches 0,35 (a very high figure). However, in Omaha, USA, it reaches 0,34! In some areas of France (Aimargue) - 0,32. In Canada (Charlottetown) - 0,29. It is rather hard to believe that colourpoints originated in Omaha, but the high percentage of this colour in places having nothing in common with South-East shows that colourpoints can perfectly well survive in much colder areas where they presumably got through migration. Let's not forget that we are speaking of semi-longhair colourpoints, and the frequency of the longhair gene in the same places gives striking results: Thailand - ZERO! Not absence of data, but a zero result of research. Omaha: 0,37. France: 0,37. Canada - 0,42. Research has been carried out in some selected areas, not in all places and even in those places not for all genes, so it can't be called complete. (The data has been quoted after the article by K. Klein, editor P.Borodin). But it gives enough material for scientifically based hypotheses.
The conclusion from the data given above is that while the colourpoint mutation can have first originated in the South-East of Asia, after spreading by migration it appeared and stayed in domestic and feral cat populations in other parts of the world, including northern and western ones. After getting into northern populations it successfully penetrated semi-longhair cats and thus enriched the population gene pool. In cat populations, one can't speak of purely natural factors influencing gene frequency. A cat is a domestic animal, and as such it can't develop independently of human tastes and preferences. Centuries before cat fancy came into being, domestic cats experienced selection for colours (compare rapid decrease in all-black cats during witch hunt years in Europe). New attractive colours appearing in a population either through mutation or through migration, were noticed by people and contributed to the cats' survival. Feral cats very often got adopted due to attractive colours. That is why domestic cats are an exception to the general species population rule, which says that the centre of origin of the species has the biggest number of different genes. In domestic cats, the opposite is true: the further from the area of origin (Middle East), the richer the gene pool. It can be explained only by human preferences.
The former considerations are necessary to understand the term "natural breed". As many other terms, it is often misinterpreted. Some people argue that a natural breed of cats is the one which originated without ANY influence of humans. A senseless interpretation, because it excludes all domesticated animals and leaves only lynx, leopard, manul, tiger - in short, all the wild cat species. Comparing the Siberian to other natural breeds, the Maine Coon and Norwegian, we can mention some data that shows that occasionally, though very rarely, colourpoints have fallen in some Norwegian lines, but have been excluded from the gene pool allowed for that breed due to breeding policy. In the Siberian the breeding policy was different, as colourpoints have occurred too frequently to be excluded.
Returning to the question if colourpoints had ever existed on the territory of Russia before planned breeding began, we should say that unfortunately the colourpoint mutation has not yet been included into statistic research in the places which interest us, Asia Minor, Middle Asia and Russia. But there is at least one historic proof of the existence of semi-longhair colourpoints in the Middle Asian regions of old Russia: a picture of this kind of cat, dating from the 18th century and published in a book by a Russian geographer General Pallas in 1794.
The reader has probably mentally followed the directions along which cats had been brought into Russia, and the ones along which they came into the West of Russia from the Volga area (part 1). The reader has also followed the data from 1988 to 1990 catalogues and noticed that the areas where semi-longhair colourpoint foundlings were numerous, are the Volga area and St. Petersburg. Later (when cat fancy reached these then underdeveloped regions) numerous stray semi-longhair colourpoints were also seen in Uzbekistan (remember Bukhara? This is a town in the contemporary Uzbekistan). Central Russia (Moscow) doesn't show this number of colourpoint foundlings. Data from other regions are lacking (late start of cat fancy) or incomplete, but the overall impression is that other regions can report appearance of stray colourpoints much less frequently. This data corresponds to our hypothesis of the Asian genes brought into the Volga area and then spreading wider; slow natural migration would make the West and centre of Russia have less colourpoints than on the Volga and in Middle Asia, whereas enforced mass migration (St. Petersburg) made them as numerous.
3. Judging Siberian Cats.
Siberians have become, one can't yet say that the breed type is established
everywhere. Some breeders have begun breeding for colour and lost the
desired type (or didn't have it, to begin with). One can often see cats
in shows which should actually be left without any title. Not all judges
feel sure about choosing the winning Siberian.
In the St. Petersburg Felinological Society we now use a slightly updated version of the standard, and recently we have proposed some amendments and additions to the current WCF standard.
Among the additions is a more detailed scale of points and a more exact definition of colours.
colours in solid and tabby including colourpoints, excluding chocolate/lilac,
Any amount of white is acceptable.
Colourpoints without white or with a smaller amount of white are preferred.
All tabby patterns excluding Abyssinian ticking.
In colourpoints all allowed tabby patterns are judged together.
SCALE OF POINTS
Here we would like to give
some comments on the standard and clarify the viewpoint of those
Russian breeders and judges who selected this type of cats and laid
the foundation of the modern Siberian breeding.
The points within body, head and coat help to understand better which cat should win. The guidelines here are:
Type wins over size; Cheekbones are the determining factor in head type; Coat texture and structure is five times as important as coat colour. Taking into consideration the occurrence of cats with signs of outcrossing to other breeds and cats bred for colour only, we should try to pick out both slender type and Persian hybrids.
Thus, when we have a Siberian on the table and look at him/her to get an overall impression, we first take into account proportions, body shape, legs and feet. Legs should be felt to estimate bone structure. Oval feet and slim legs (which usually go together with a narrow head) are enough to withhold a title! A medium-sized female with adequate bone structure and proportions will win over a giant male whose legs are too long.
In the head we first look at the face and feel the cheekbones (fur can conceal lack of width). Then we estimate the contours of the lower head. A whisker pinch is a fault, but a slight break of the line doesnít prevent the cat from winning, if the cheekbones are really broad. The profile line should show slight curves and a nose of a harmonious length. Norwegian-like is as undesired as Persian-like; a square chin is not better than a receding one. A tapering nose shows that the head type leaves to be desired. In the eyes we estimate size, shape, set and colour. Round orange or copper eyes are proofs of Persian ancestors Ė a judge might decide to withhold a title, if the coat is equally Persian-like. The ears are penalized slightly, if they are too big or set on top of the head. But again, a cat with high set ears but a broad rounded head wins over that with wide set ears but a narrower head.
One canít forget how the Siberian coat feels after having had this experience. Itís firm on the back, but not rough at all, smooth, glossy and waterproof. If one puts the hand on the back one feels the resilience of the dense undercoat under the firm covering hair. Breeders should strive for firm upper coat in all colours, but judges should allow just a tiny bit finer covering hair in dilutes and colourpoints. Yet it is much firmer than by Birmans, to say nothing of Persians! Undercoat should be plentiful, if the cat is not shedding hair, but anyway, present.
Looking at the tail, one should bear in mind that both too long and too short are faults. The tail tip should just reach the shoulder blade, but not exceed it.
Now colours Ė the standard excludes chocolate and cinnamon, because these colours were not there in the original gene pool. White spotting is allowed in any amount, and an odd spot canít prevent an animal from winning. For colourpoints additional criteria are contrast and mask, but belly spots are not serious faults Ė colour has only 5 points in the standard! Colourpoints with less white are preferred in order to discourage breeders from making Siberians look too much like Ragdolls.
Siberian cats, beautiful animals with a winning personality and an interesting history, are getting increasingly popular all over the world. We hope that joined efforts of breeders and judges will help to preserve this unique breed in all its distinctions from other cat breeds. We hope that the time will come soon when every cat admirer will recognize a Siberian in every colour variety at first sight.
(c) 2001 Irina Sadovnikova
(c) Web Design Olga Gromova