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Siberian exile

   A “Siberian Exile” for Siberians: Will They Ever Be Back?

By Alex Kolesnikov, PhD in molecular genetics

Part 1.

Discussion that is currently taking place all over, including pages of this magazine (Droug, A.K), about the future of Siberian breed has elicited important antagonisms existing within society of the lovers of famous Russian indigenous cat. Apart from these opposite views, most disturbing is the fact that many members of this society don’t have clear vision of how the breed would have been developed. Why it is so important?

No emergency brakes allowed in planes. Likewise, biological evolution does not permit “bus stops” to land down and relax with impunity. An evolutionary “stop” frequently results in steep and hardly surmountable regression. This is true for natural evolution and is even more true for the artificial one. 

Lack of understanding of some basic biological principles other than applied genetics of fur coloration can play bad joke with a breeder. It is especially true in the case of young breeds that require significant work for stabilization of the cat type. Being captured in this maze, a number of breeders as well as cat judges flooded Russian Internet resources and printed media, with their opinions regarding Siberian breed, which often lack any felinological content, yet full of emotions and finger-poking. The energy and stubbornness of these persons would be better used in some other, more focused and peaceful purposes.

In fact, it’s hard, to get rid of a thought that in the fire of emotions none of these persons remember about cats. In this article it would be better to put this entire discussion apart and to concentrate on the first and foremost issue of the breeder, the cats themselves. 

Image 2During the last decades we, alas, hear quite often the word “Red Book”, “disappearing species” and so on. Natural evolution on the Earth is more and more replaced by the anthropogenic one. And probably this process will not turn back, at least in the foreseen future. A stark example of anthropogenic evolution is provided by cat domestication and spreading. A sufficiently large population of domestic cats with common phenotype living in similar environmental conditions can potentially give rise to so-called “aboriginal” or “native” breed. One can assume that it’s not a hard work to create new native breed starting from this point. Presumably, such population contains rich genetic material, preserved during the decades and maybe even centuries partly by natural and partly by human selection. In a cat community of this type differences between the representatives are small enough to identify certain “type”, which is needed to be developed, highlighting its most characteristic features, trying to elicit the essence of the notorious E Pluribus Unum, thus creating not the distilled “room” breed, but the real, “wild” animal…

However, this way can be much more difficult, rather than it looks at a glance. In reality, phenotype (or “type”) similarities occurring in natural cat populations do not necessarily reflect high level of identity between cats’ genotypes. Prevalence of certain stably reproducible phenotype in q cat population does not necessarily indicate that upon active artificial selection within a part of this population, this stability will be preserved and than easily diverted towards desired changes.

The basis of native breed is determined by the majority of felinologists as the product of the spontaneous selection in the isolated synanthropic population with common phenotype. Only in cat populations that are sufficiently large and relatively isolated for long periods of time (many decades, or, better, centuries), the genotype is also stabilized. Only such population can be converted to a native breed without undue difficulty. 

Role of artificial selection preceded to tImage 4he native breed formation can be negligible (NFC, MCO), as well as significant (KOR). The latter considered as “cats of fortune”, and even almost sacred animals in their homeland. The pathway of stabilization of the population is thus insignificant, only long period of any kind of stabilizing selection of either type is required to achieve the genotype homogeneity. 

Still, from geneticist’s point of view, any population of synanthropic cats is much more diverse, not to say chaotic than the “normal” biological species. Nevertheless, such population obeys general biological laws. Knowledge about these rules or patterns, during the breed creation and development can help to avoid the movement to a wrong direction that can finally bring a breeder to the blind alley (without even alley cats – A. K.).

Formation of the population’s genotype (i.e. the sum and the distribution of all genes of the population) is described in terms of matching part of genetics, the population genetics. Knowledge of the basics of this discipline would be very helpful to the participants of the discussion about Siberians and Neva Masquerade cats if they really interested to figure out some origins of the problem.

Let us start from the rudiments. Where “Siberian” phenotype comes from, what is a Siberian cat now, and what do we want to see in it in the future?

Some felinologists assume that certain archetypical cat in the past formed the ancestry of many, if not all semi-longhair and longhair cats. The latter were subjected to intense artificial selection. One can note that the fur of truly longhaired cats, such as Persians, is, most probably a product of a long artificial selection. It’s hard to imagine that the fur of Persians’ would confer to the wild orImage 3 semi wild cats any advantages during the natural selection. A dense semi-long coat, subjected to season changes is quite different in terms of selective advantage in natural conditions. Obviously, even two centuries ago the human civilization was absolutely different from what is seen now, and the role of nature’s factors in evolution of domestic animals was much higher. Commonly accepted ancestor of domestic cat is African wildcat, Felis lybica. Given the differences between cats of Middle East origin and classic shorthair cats which are direct descendants of Egypt cats, and, therefore, of F. lybica, and to a smaller extent of Felis chaus (jungle cat), one can assume that semi longhair cats of Middle East acquired significant proportion of genetic material from other cats. The features such as fur structure and length, solidly built body, and some other phenotype elements are unlikely to evolve within the several centuries in Middle East cats. 

A forest wildcat, Felis silvestris, or to be precise, its subspecies is the most likely contributor. Parenthetically, it should be noted that zoologists count more than 20 subspecies of F. silvestris. Best known one is European wildcat whose role in evolution of domestic cats in Europe is usually negated. However, the habitat of the forest wildcat does not limited by Europe and includes Middle East, Turkey, Caucasus, and partially even more eastern regions such as Iran. Some divergent subspecies of F. silvestris live in India and in Tibet as well. 

Image 5Felis silvestris - European wildcat

The habitat area of Middle East subspecies overlaps with those of F. chaus and F. lybica as well. It is this region, where the major focus of old LH and SLH cats (TUA, TUV in Turkey and LH cats in Iran) is located. This area can be considered as ancient homeland for LH and SLH cats. 


Felis lybica - African wildcatImage 6

The subspecies of forest wildcat in Middle East is known as Felis silvestris caucasica. Its fur is dense, and contains well-developed undercoat in winter. And that’s not surprising. Harsh winters are not rare in Caucasus Minor mountains, and in Turkey and Iran highlands as well. Much of those territories are higher than 1500 meters above the sea level, and in winter nights the temperature can drop to -300C. Speed of winter winds in this region is also high. Summer, on the other hand, is very hot and dry.
That is the reason why F. silvestris caucasica have a semi long fur with dense undercoat shedding during warm period. As we can see from the picture, F. caucasica is characterized by a brawny cylindrical body, rounded head with blunted muzzle, and visible but not accented transition from relatively sloping forehead to nose, quite short massive legs, and relatively short tail. In other words…reminds quite a lot…yes, a Siberian breed. Is this an accidental coincidence?

Image 7
Felis Silvestris Caucasica - picture taken by Russian felinologists in Armenia

Most probably it is not. An anecdote from Soviet era comes to mind, about the pilferer, who purloined components from the firearms factory, which also produced bicycles or other civilian stuff…doesn’t matter, in hope to assemble something for home use, but every time he tried – he got Kalashnikovs… Let him off easy, because this simple anecdote serves as a great illustration of basic genetic postulates and points at the case under discussion as well. 

How exactly, the genes defining long fur, emerged in the population of house cats is not known. It is however not particularly important whether wild SLH cats have been domesticated independently, or cats migrated from a major domestication centres in Egypt and Asia Minor to the East, acquired the appropriate genetic material from the wildcats on their way. Important is, that as a result, Siberian cat has a clearly identifiable phenotypical prototype; most probably it is the Eastern subspecies of European forest cat located in Caucasus and Asia Minor region.

Although the fur of the European forest cat cannot be qualified as fully “short”, is still hard to compare with dense and hard fur of F. silvestris caucasica. Interestingly, the plasticity of the wildcat is so high that in the mountains regions of Europe, the Alps and Pyrenees, the length of fur of wild forest cats increases comparing to “classic” European wildcat (see the picture)

It is possible to imagine the ways, by which phenotype of semi long haired cat has spread from the Caucasian-Asia Minor region further to the East, recreating into sinanthropic animals. Unlike Medieval Europe, the lands of Asia Minor and Caucasus in 7-14th centuries of Common Era, were “blooming”. A cat in the Moslem countries is an animal, which is beloved if not sacred. That is why it is safe to assume that cats from Persia and Arabic world, and later from Turkey have spread with merchants to the east and northeast directions. And, probably they looked very much like modern SLH cats in Russia. As additional prove of this theory is the existence of Bukharian cat, now almost forgotten in Russia, which looks much like both modern Siberian and Caucasian forest cat. Migrating in such way, together with Moslem population and merchants to the north-east, archetypical SLH cat reached first the regions of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, and from there Volga and South Siberia. And after that, SLH cats have spread further to Siberia and European Russia. It’s highly probable that after Russia liberated from the Tatar yoke, the alternative flow of cats from Europe to Russia increased. But, it happened not earlier than in 15th and 16th centuries…

Thus, characteristic features of Caucasian forest cat, which allowed it to survive in continental climate, with harsh winter in the highland forests, played a big role in the modern standard of Siberians. That is why preservation of these features, accenting and unification of these features in Siberian breed would be the wisest way in the breed development. 

Currently, F. silvestris caucasica is endangered species placed into the Red Book of Russian Federation. It is under state law protection in Armenia as well. This fact, which lacks direct relation to the discussed issue is brought for the reason, so I can bring you back to the problem of behaviour of population in the process of natural evolution as well as in the process of beginning and development of the breed.  When a species is considered as endangered? It happens when the population numbers decrease to a few thousand animals. At this point, the population fate fall under influence of circumstances that can abruptly change the way of natural selection. In population genetics such processes are termed as “genetic drift” and “bottleneck effect”. 

These processes can induce replacement of characteristic population genotype by totally different one, which was present in the initial population in a very small proportion. In artificial selection within small population with unknown genotype it is very difficult to predict selection outcome and, accordingly, difficult to achieve desired stable changes in the phenotype. In other words, the more is degree of genetic diversity in small population taken for selection, the less is the chance of its successful “guiding” towards desired phenotype. 

This means, that during selection, towards for example, a fur colour, some other unwanted change in phenotype can happen. These can be changes in length of legs, form of head, fixation of predisposition to a hereditary disease, and other. And the chances of such unwanted effects grow with the decrease in the population size and with each generation born in such population separated from the original gene pool. 

Modern Siberian Cats

After all, let’s see how many Siberians of good quality at this time are actively participating in selection in Russia and countries of ex – USSR? Rough calculations made with the help of the Internet show that number of these animals does not exceed one and a half to two thousands.  Besides, if consider that a big part of them doesn’t have even theoretical opportunity to mate with each other, and many  subpopulations of Siberians are highly inbred, the situation looks even more serious. Although Siberian cats are not under direct threat of extinction, the quality of the mating in their population from the point of view of preserving in the mentioned genetic terms and purposeful improvement of the breed is at the level, which is characteristic for the most dangerous situation, described in the Red Book. There is something to think about, isn’t it?

The end of the first part. 

We outlined here past and present of Siberian cats and discussed general problems encountered in development of native breeds starting from the “wild” populations. 

In the second part we turn the attention directly to the situation with Neva Masquerade cats, their relation to the Siberian breed, their origin, etc applying the topics discussed in the Part 1. 

Copyright 2003 A. Kolesnikov, Moscow, Russia ( English version of an originally Russian article published in the Russian Cat Magazine "Droug" in January 2003. The original article uses partly different illustration).



Teil 2

                 Siberian Cat : Without a Masquerade

Siberian Cat, from unknown unknown to known unknown
Several years ago, I wrote a paper on the potential origins of the Siberian breed. That article has been considered as the first part of certain cycle of articles devoted to Siberian cats. Since then, however, almost five years passed, and neither I, nor anybody with longer experience in Siberians in Russia has managed to continue the cycle of papers available to foreign readers and devoted to this remarkable breed. It is not to blame Russian cat community that nothing has been done to familiarize the rest of the world with “what is going on” in SIBs, but, on the other hand, surprisingly little has been done except of important internal events such as seriously updating the “core original” Russian Siberian standard in 2005, and carrying out several workshops devoted to the future of Siberian breed. This is of course not to mention breeding itself in which some remarkable achievements have been made especially if comparing latest 4-5 years with mid-90s.

Meanwhile, the breed has been spread around the world. Although there are SIB catteries now as far away from Russia as in Malaysia, Australia, and South America, many people are still quite unaware of Siberians even in the good old Europe. Being at European shows, I most frequently hear a question from a casual spectator and even from a breeder with no relation to SLH breeds: “what is this cat”? Fortunately, modern felinology became so popular that most of the show visitors and attendees do understand that they neither see MCO, nor NFC, but something new and still uncommon. It is especially true if considering Siberians with rare colors almost never seen in other SLH breeds, such as e.g. golden.

So, why the article sequels have been shelved for years? Mostly because the integrated picture of the present and future of SIBs lacked in the author’s mind. Although it is useful to appeal to the history, the most important is the future of the breed development, and this is not as evident and shining as it should be. And one should be very careful in making statements on the future of such a volatile idea as a cat breed development. Seeing thousands cats, collecting a lot of information, participating in numerous discussions, and in a workshop devoted to the amendment of the original Siberian breed standard, helped me a lot to form more or less consistent view on the current situation and on the future of Siberian breed. That was not possible five years ago, at the times when the consistency of Siberians has been seriously endangered, and any reliable genetic information on SIB breed was lacking.

                    Siberian standard and siberian archetype:
                                             seeing is believing?
The issues of breed standard and breed development were and can be the subject of quite heated debates. So, in these parts I tried to present facts that can be verified by the members of SIB community with relative ease. Also, I hope that each reader will make his/her own conclusions, and, at the best, fortify them with other proven facts and observations.

What are the most important topics in current development of SIB breed? First and foremost is the correct and consistent interpretation of the standard by all the breeders. As a young breed with old aboriginal roots, representing different lines in different locations both in Russia and abroad, Siberian cat needs clear identification of an archetype and building the archetype features into the standard. The standard itself and explanation of its peculiarities are highly important for such a native breed as Siberians. In view of this, I wrote a separate article devoted exclusively to that topic and based on the workshop held in 2005 and devoted almost exclusively to the SIB standard. This will be the part three and the final one to this moment of the SIB essay. As such, I will not consider the standard issues deeply in this part, however, some overlapping between the articles will be inevitable for the purpose of better understanding. The second topic logically ensuing from the breed youth is the problem of the breed consistency and the ways of the breed stabilization. And it is the issue currently severely hampering breed development both inside and outside Russia. Systematic breeding of SIBs started only 20 years ago, but it have been already experienced significant problems. The following issues impeding certain aspects of SIB development, especially for foreign breeders are: 1st the “on default” consideration that 20 years ago, the SIB breed has been started not by amateur Argonauts rushed into a felinological fleece search, but by the felinology professionals, 2nd yet another belief that the cats from two Russia’s capitals indeed formed the Siberian breed, and 3rd the belief that cats imported decades ago from Russia can be used for development of modern SIBs as successfully as their remote descendants. With failure of such attempts, an opinion that SIBs lack any archetype has become widespread in certain breeder’s circles.

If not investing a lot of time in thorough research of pedigrees, one can express the common view that almost all the initial SIB genepool originates from St. Petersburg and from Moscow. This view is, however, not correct. If speaking about sheer numbers, yes, one can say that more than 90% of the initial foundation population came from these two cities. (This is not taking into account cats that have been brought to Germany during last decade of USSR and later have been recognized as SIBs). But if speaking about the impact of certain lines on modern Siberians, it readily becomes evident that some foundation cats having greatest influence of further development of SIBs as the consistent breed, are in fact originating from outside Moscow and St. P. Famous Abakans (Amur, Aldan, and Argo), or to say more precisely, their immediate ancestry, came from Siberia and Far East. These males can be found in maybe half of pedigrees of Moscow’s SIBs, and they are of obvious Siberian and Far East origins. In general, a number of excellent and even outstanding SIBs have been born as the result of crossing Moscow lines and those from Siberia and Far East. Examples are not limited to the early Abakan line, but also represent Irdie (Treskuchii Sibirskii Moroz Mur), Busik and his offspring from Krasnoyarsk, and some other cats. This observation strongly suggests the existence of certain archetype in Siberians, that can be partly hidden in local populations, but is immediately revealed after quite a plethora of outcrosses between cats from different locations (Fig. 1).

This observation is very important because it provides genetic proof of the concept at which early description of Siberian cat has been built. More archetype description will be available in the Part three, where three male cats are presented that have been born at different places and from partially or significantly different parents. All, however, have some common lineage, although it can be very remote (once in the 5th generation for male 2 and male 1, for example). Importantly that all the males born more than 10 years ago, and all the ancestors in their pedigrees other than those from the Abakan line (or pre-Abakan cats in male 2) are totally different.

Yet another pair of photos depicts two females (Fig. 1) with so distant relatives in the ninth knee of the pedigree. These females were born about five thousands kilometers apart, and none of their relatives ever met…except of the pre-Abakan cats originating from Siberia and Far East. These examples are given only for the purpose of explaining why not numbers but gene combinations are important to claim the actual participation in the breed foundation. In addition, these examples indicate the Siberian cat archetype that could not been eradicated despite lack of systematic breeding in a number of catteries during early ninetieth.

              Neva Cats: No Ace Ventura behind the Mask
The third topic is the problem of Neva Masquerades and their relatedness to Siberians. This topic is actually a part of the previous one, and all the beliefs described above count for this very issue. Neva Masquerades have been accepted as a color variety of Siberian breed in a number of cat associations such as WCF, CFA, TICA etc. Main grounds of acceptance were arbitrarily described as “long persistence of said color variety among aboriginal semilonghair cats in Russia”. No genetic analysis and analysis of actual origins of Neva cats was possible at the time of recognition. Participaion of SLH colorpoint cats from the very beginning of SIB breed in Saint Petersburg (without careful analysis of their origins) has been considered as sufficient ground for inclusion of Nevas into the forming Siberian breed. Let us (with huge delay, but there is some excuse for that as a reader can understand from this article) try to perform at least part of such analysis in order to better understand the roots of Neva Masquerades.

Current Russian felinology is very competitive with a number of excellent cats and catteries of variety of breeds, known both nationally and internationally. Not only Siberians are recognized in all major cat associations in the world, but several other Russian native breeds have emerged, such as Don sphinxes, Kurilean bobtails, and few other, less known. One currently observing Russian felinology, but lacking the insight of experts as well as the insider’s knowledge of situation 15-20 years ago, can infer that it was in the same state during those days, just like in their own (read Europe, US/Canada/Australia etc) country. Such a view will be a big mistake. I read at some websites of SIB catteries abroad that “in USSR cats were not allowed due to food shortage”. This statement is funny, but not more than the assumption on experienced and well-developed Russian felinology 20 years ago. Luckily, acknowledgment of the SIB archetype was one the most important achievement of early breeders and cat judges. At that time, they did not compile comprehensive breed standard, and the SIB standard underwent a number of corrections during the past years. However, they captured the breed’s archetype features common both for big cities and for Siberian backwoods.

Despite this success, the background at which SIBs and Nevas emerged was obviously formed by amateurs. Nowadays in Russian felinological media it is the “le ton mauvais” to remind about lack of systematic education of first Russian felinologists and to refer to actual origins of colorpoint “Siberians”. It has become especially true since heated debates between anti-Neva and pro-Neva Big-endians and Little-endians taken place 3-4 years ago. I tend to express an irony here (courtesy to Jonathan Swift) because the arguments in those debates drawn by both sides were mostly senseless and ridiculous. For not to be unsubstantiated, I will just mention that the persons argued for making separate breed basing on Nevas have been accused in the attempts to “eliminate Nevas because they started to win over traditional Siberians at shows”. It is interesting, however, why those pesky “Neva Terminators” haven’t been suspected in “elimination” of other competing SLH breeds such as MCOs, NFCs, TUAs etc etc. On the serious and regrettable side, those debates have led to attempts to hide facts about origins of Nevas. As a result, and a number of myths has been summoned to legitimatize Nevas as true and genuine Siberians. Although analysis of myths created 3-5 years ago it is not particularly interesting task (not as interesting as for the myths survived millennia of human history), it is what we need in order to understand the Neva origins, and trends of SIB breed development.

The primary idea was that “colorpoint semilonghair cats have been present in Russia in numbers for centuries, together with other cats”. As the “evidence”, a case of so-called “Pallas cat” is frequently cited. Indeed, Pallas observed a colorpoint cat near Mokshan town (Volga river) in 1793 (Fig. 2 a). On the basis of this observation, it has been “concluded” that colorpoint cats have been in Russia in abundance for centuries. However, close examination of this nice drawing obviously shows us classic apple-headed shorthair Thai cat (Fig. 2 b, c), whose origin at South-East Asia is well-known and now is out of debates (see below). So, if trying to infer origins of Nevas from Pallas-like cats, Neva cat will not loose its origin as the outcross of Russia’s indigenous cat and a Thai cat.

Let us refer to some sources of first-hand information by opening the book of Olga Mironova, “Aboriginal cats of Russia” issued in 2003, pages 29-31. This part of the book is devoted to Neva Masquerades. At the beginning of the chapter, Mironova absolutely openly admits that “It happened so that Siberian cats became a kin to proliferated offspring of Siamese (Thai – A. K.) cats imported to us from abroad by distinguished director of Puppet Theatre, Sergey Obraztsov” [Ref. 1]. As we all understand, puppets and puppet theatres play significant role in the life of Russia and other countries as well, however, it cannot be considered as a reason to accept the outcrossed breed “Neva Masquerades” as Siberians.

Was the Obraztsov’s case (Moscow) of importing colorpoint cats to Moscow a single one? Of course, it was not. Maybe even the import of parent(s) of “Pallas” (not to mix with true Pallas Cat, that is, Felis manul) cat by Volga’s basin merchants wasn’t the first one. Cats of unusual color did attract the attention of wealthy people at any times, so it is not surprising that some Thai cats entered Russia centuries ago. However, this caused no reflection on Siberian kin at those times since even the sources describing notable (and quite expensive) Bukhara cats, close relatives of Siberians but imported from Central Asia by roughly the same Volga basin routes and thus had more chances to meet Thai cats than any other Russian cats of that era, speak about brown tabbies and keep absolute silence about Bukhara (or Zeravshan, that is a nearby river –A. K.) Masquerades [Ref. 3].

Thai cats were popular in Soviet Union, especially after establishing of closer relations with Indochina’s countries at late 60s. My uncle lived in Caucasus was proud owner of Thai cat since 1972. That was typical colorpoint apple-headed shorthair cat with kinked tail brought from Vietnam by oil geologists. Of course, main ports, St. Petersburg and Vladivostok were primary gates of entering Thai cats to Russia during those times. That is the most natural explanation on why, the cp gene is abundant in these cities, especially in St. Petersburg, but is rare or absent in the rest of Russia (except of Moscow that is and was the center of everything).

Description of Neva Masquerades as the outcross between Thais and Siberians was given by several authors in a felinological media of Russia and former Soviet Union. Only after the “Endians’ ” wars took place in ca 2004, it has become politically incorrect to mention the origins of Nevas, and since then Mironova’s book has been cited only partially, e.g. "true Siamese, Balinese, and Himalayan cats entered Russia long after recognition of Nevas, and have never been used in development of Neva Masquerades" (ibid, p.30). Also, some citations of well-known Siberian breeders have been rapidly forgotten. T. E. Pavlova wrote in 2002 in the Ukrainian “Tvoya Koshka” (Your Cat) magazine: “First emerging in St. Petersburg, Neva Masquerades immediately attracted public attention. Characteristic features taken from Thai (old-type Siamese) did not impair the type of Siberians, but rather introduced refined charm and exotic into the breed”.

Following Mironova’s text, I mentioned Balinese cats. Here we are approaching one of the culprits of this story, i.e. how and why quite a number of colorpoint cats have become Neva Masquerades in a short period of time. I am watching a videotape record from a cat show of now dissolved cat club “Soyuz” taken place in ca 1994. I see many famous SIBs there, Svetik, Bukashka, Knyaz Vasiliy, and some others. At the same time, I see proud couple holding huge and muscular colorpoint SLH cat saying “And it is our Balinese”. Nowadays this big cat could have been referred to as Neva Masquerade with almost 100% confidence. Let us return to the “Aboriginal cats of Russia”. “During first cat shows, SLH cats of Siamese color have been inscribed for breed recognition. They (as a rule – A. K.) have been immediately ascribed to Neva Masquerades. Sometimes owners of such cats described them as Balinese by themselves… I have been forced to make a description of these cats as domestic ones, or as Neva Masquerades if they deserved that”. However, first shows have been held at the late 80s, and the show we are discussing here has been held not earlier than at the end of 1993 according to participating Siberian cats whose registration dates are known. Therefore, times when owners could “describe the cat by themselves” have already been well in the past. And of course these “Balineses” occurred due to acceptance of inexperienced “judges”. Actually there is nothing unusual in the mentioned “Balinese” case. “Transferring” of “Balineses” to Nevas at the end of 80s is described in colors in the online article of WCF Judge Irina Sadovnikova and is supported by citing appropriate pages from the cat show catalog (see Ref. 6 and Appendix II, respectively). Russian felinology matured only relatively recently, and at the beginning there was common trend to create own “replicas” of well-known foreign breeds because Western prototypes were out of reach for Soviet and then Russian cat fancy due to financial, communication, and other reasons. At the beginning, “homemade” Norwegian forest, Siamese, Balinese, European Shorthair (the latter with more rights to exist in Russia) occupied significant part of cat shows.

What was the reason to this? Obviously, the reason was mostly financial because kittens of the “rare breed” could have been sold with much more success than e.g. brown tabby SLH “alley” cats. Also, there was great desire of significant part of young cat fancy to see their household pets as “pedigreed” cats. To the current situation, occurrence of these “Balinese” cases just mean that quite a number of colorpoint SLH cats later became Neva Masquerades have the origins other than occasional outcrosses of Thai cats with Russia’s alley cats in 60s-80s.


                          Spread of colourpoint mutation:
                         Growing a needle in the haystack
In the book, Mironova says about “recent explosion” in numbers of cp “SIBs”. Let us analyze, can this explosion occur due to natural reasons such as plain increase in the number of catteries, increase in guided breeding events etc. That the colorpoint mutation is present in all mammals is a Punchinello's Secret. However, in most of the populations this mutation is extremely rare. Despite all the power of modern molecular biology, it is still only one case of unequivocal detection of “Siamese” mutation in Humans [Ref. 2]. Cats from Southeast Asia represent unique mammalian pool in which this mutation is abundant. In other cats is as rare as in the rest of the mammals.

It is known that colorpoint mutation is present in the well-known Abakan line whose ancestors are cats from the Abakan cattery, Amur, Aldan, and Argo Abakans and some relatives of their parents. The known carrier of this mutation was Mura, the foundation cat of the De Glemur cattery. Mura, born in the mid 80s, herself has no relevance to Abakans, it is Moscow-originated cat that could acquire cs gene from e.g. Thai cats or their descendants. Despite abundant presence of Mura in pedigrees of Moscow-bred cats, only a handful of colorpoint cats were born within these lines, some in Moscow, some in Finland, some in US and some in Poland. To the best of my knowledge, during ca 15 years of breeding within these lines, less than ten litters containing colorpoint kittens was born. Of course, when these colorpoint kittens were used with other colorpoints in purposeful breeding, the numbers increased. But if speaking about spontaneous emergence of colorpoints (and breeding of Mura’s offspring for many years represents unique experiment because that breeding had no purpose to select colorpoint cats among other colours), the percentage appears to be very low. Thus, the reasons for “explosion” in the numbers of colorpoint cats during early 90s is anything else but plain increase of numbers of cp kittens among already existing Siberian lines during breeding. One of the reasons is selection for “Balinese” cats and further re-determination of many of these “Balineses” as Neva Masquerades. It is now not known which XLH cats were used to generate “Balineses”, but it is quite obvious they had little relevance to Siberians simply because “Balinese” catteries did not care about that. Another source was of course outcrosses, purposeful or occasional. There is some evidence of crossing Siberians with Persians in “experimental” pedigrees of some Russian clubs (Fig. 3), but unequivocal evidence is lacking if those crosses yielded any colorpoint cats further used in breeding. Although there is a lot of rumors regarding deliberate use of Persians and Thai cats during early to mid 90s to “create” new lines of Nevas, direct evidence of such actions is currently lacking. Either pedigrees reflecting these events have been later “cleansed” or the trend was not mass, especially taking into account already maturing felinological community. 

                                   Concluding remarks
Basing on the above material, the following conclusions can be made regarding origins and spread of Neva Masquerades:

There were several waves of Nevas entering the Siberian breeding pool, each originating under certain unique circumstances, and thus having unique genetic background. First wave emerged at the end of 80s when a number of fancy colored cats of Moscow and St. Petersburg have been recognized as Siberians because they “were the product of Mother Nature breeding between Russian aboriginal and Thai cats”. Only recent genetic analysis has shed some light on the difference between “Mother’s Nature” genetic background and the resulting mixed genotype. Second wave came with rise and fall of Balinese cats of Russian vintage when the Russian felinological community grew out of its infancy and realized that their Balinezski, Norwezhski, and Siamski will never be accepted by the rest of the world. The third wave was rather a ripples caused by occasional attempts to “increase the numbers” and “broaden the genepool” of Siberians by outcrossing them with Persians.

During almost all the time except of very recent years, there was open acceptance of the fact published in books as well as in periodical media that Neva Masquerades emerged in big cities as the outcross of Thai and Russia’s native SLH cats mostly during the second half of XX century. Such open acceptance, however, rapidly faded when certain part of the developing Russian felinological community tried to impeach the idea of identity between Nevas and traditional Siberians.

The argumentation on the long-term existence of colorpoint cats in Russia cannot be accepted because these cats did not left any detectable trace in history and folklore except of Pallas’ drawing of Thai-looking cat. On the contrary, Bukhara cats being close relatives (or maybe even ancestors) of modern Siberians have been described as cats of wild-type coloration [Ref. 2]. Till now big, “fluffy” and “grey-striped” cats in Southern Urals region, Moslem autonomous republics of Russia, and Central Asian countries are called as “Bukhara”, and not “Siberian” cats. This is important because the population of Bukhara cats had much more chances to encounter cats from South-East Asia brought there via prolific merchants’ routes, than any of the cats living on Russia’s territory. Garteveld [3] indicates that the price of a pair of Bukhara cats is “75-100 rubles, and here (in Asia – A. K.) they are not significantly cheaper than in Moscow”. The sum of 100 rubles at the beginning of XX century in Russia was approximately one-half to one-third of the annual salary of a worker or a clerck. It is unlikely that the presence of other remarkable cats such as colorpoints at Russian or neighbouring markets would have been passed without a trace.

As cited above, the main basis for “legitimizing” Neva Masquerades as part of Siberians is as follows: 1. outcrosses of Russian SLH cats with Thai cats occurred before breed recognition, and 2. Thai cats already represent the pool of Russia’s indigenous cats. Both statements are, however, proved wrong. Quite a number of outcrosses of colorpoint cats with those genetically and phenotypically irrelevant to Siberians occurred years after SIB and Neva recognition, and initially had no purpose to generate Neva Masquerades, but rather to breed “Balineses”. Only with growing understanding of this way of breeding as the wrong one, significant part of these cats was “transferred” to Neva Masquerades in ca 1992-1995.

The most important is that recent molecular genetic analysis unequivocally demonstrated that Siamese clade of cats (in which Thai cats represent one of the archetypes) is genetically most distant from the rest of the cat breeds as well as from European and Mediterranean alley cats [Ref. 4]. Siberian cats included in that study represent no exception and are located at the opposite branch of this genetic tree. Importantly, this analysis concerns not colorpoint and non-colorpoint cats, but cats of SEA and other regions regardless of the color. For example, Korats included in that analysis have been shown to genetically belong to the SEA clade and appeared as distant from other cats as their colorpoint cousins [Ref. 5].

This data indicates that cats of SEA region have been geographically separated from the rest of the domestic cat population for quite a while, and acquired unique structure of the genome. It is therefore little sense in crossing the animals (Thais and Russian SLH cats) that are as genetically distant as it is possible within the evolutionary tree of domestic cats, and in declaring such an outcross to be “natural” and “useful”. In fact, massive outcrossing of genetically distant cat populations inevitably results in loss of the unique traits of both clades. Instructively, it is what occurred with Persians, probably the most advanced breed, if speaking about extremalization and development of artificial traits in pedigreed cats. Although there are little doubts in the historical origins of Persians from Iran and Middle Asia, and close relatives of these cats, Angoras and Vans indeed possess region-specific features in DNA, whereas Persians lost them completely. Persians are thus representing a stark example of what happens with the genetic background of a breed if breeding proceeds only towards the desired artificial-looking extreme type paying no attention to how this type has been achieved. What is fully permissible in the case of an artificial breed is totally unacceptable, if speaking about preservation of genetic uniqueness of a native breed such as Siberians.

Why rapid loss of unique genetic background is inevitable in Siberian-Thai pointed outcrosses aimed at propagation of colorpoints? It is because the colorpoint gene is recessive. It is relatively easy to introduce a dominant trait (e.g. silver color) into a cat population while largely preserving the genotype of this population. Since dominant trait is always “visible”, it can be bred into a cat population by using single ancestor and by monitoring the trait by eye. During several generations of breeding, each time with the cat that represents new member of the said population, the traits “imported” with the desired dominant one are gradually “washed out” of the population. The only thing needed to make such a genetic “laundering” highly efficient is to remove all the “intermediate” cats from breeding.

On the contrary, in order to perform “clean” breeding-in a recessive colorpoint gene into a cat population, one should have understanding of molecular genetics, and be ready to invest considerable funds into performing at least several tens (better hundreds) DNA tests. One can afford seamless introduction of recessive gene into new background, according to the above scheme, only using strict control of heterozygotes at each breeding step. These heterozygous cats containing normal and colorpoint alleles will lack colorpoint phenotype, and their genotype must be revealed by DNA test (polymerase chain reaction, PCR).

There are some unpublished indications that the genome of Siberian cats contains DNA sequences uncommon in other breeds. For example, Siberians are thought to cause less allergic reactions comparing to any other cat breed. Whether it is indeed the case, remains to be investigated, but spread of foreign genes from Thai and other colorpoint-carrying cats in Siberian population can rapidly eliminate the opportunity to know if there was a real molecular mechanism behind this.

Additional study is needed to confirm these initial findings, but if consider unrestricted breeding of Siberian cats with Neva Masquerades already containing significant proportion of non-native genetic material, the uniqueness of Siberian genome is at risk to never been described.

In my opinion, consequences of introduction of Neva Masquerades in Siberians are quite obvious. In Russia, despite all debates the trend to breed Nevas and Siberians separately has never changed and only a small fraction of catteries practices the opposite. Hope that the information presented in this paper will be useful for current and future Siberian breeders worldwide.

© A. V. Kolesnikov, PhD, Senior Scientist, Shemyakin & Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences. Moscow, Russia, January 2004-May 2008



1. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9056655/Sergey-Vladimirovich-Obraztsov

2. http://www.jci.org/articles/view/115075

3. Garteveld V. I. Amidst loose sands and cut throats. Moscow, 1913

4. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2267438

5. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=2267438&blobname=nihms-37932-f0002.jpg

6. http://cat-sibiryak.ru/st-Sadovnikova1.htm 


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