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Felis Catus-History of the Domestic Cat

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The history of the domestic cat begins with the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago which brought with it the extinction of the dinosaur. The dinosaur's end was the beginning of the first placental mammals. As the mammals adapted quickly to the planet changes, they also became a new dominant life form.

About 55 million years ago in the late Paleocene period, the first recognizable cat ancestor appeared. The new species, called the "miacids" adapted to forest life with long tails, strong claws, and teeth. They were literally the forerunners of the carnivore chain that evolved into our modern-day carnivores: cats, dogs, bear, and even seals.

20 million years ago, the first true cats appear in fossil records as the Proailurus, the miacids descendents. This prehistoric carnivore lived in Europe, Africa, Asia and even the Americas via a land bridge. The Proailurus was a compact, small animal weighing about 20 pounds. It had a long tail, large eyes, sharp claws, and teeth. Its claws would have been retractable to some extent and was at least partially arboreal (moved in trees).

The Proailurus eventually evolved into what was the Pseudaelurus some 10-20 million years ago which gave rise to the major felid lines including the extinct machairodontine (carnivorous mammal subfamily endemic to Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Europe) and the extant felines (one of two subfamilies, the Pantherinae and the Felinae). The Pantherinae includes the Tiger, Lion, Jaguar, and Leopard while the Felinae includes the Cougar, Cheetah, Serval, Lynxes, Caracal, Ocelot, and the "Domestic Short Hair Cat".

It was during the Proailurus age that some of the first small cats we recognize today probably appeared which included the first wildcat (Felis Lunensis or Martelli's wildcat). Though extinct, its bones have been found across Europe including Britain.

2 million years ago, Felis Silvestris appeared. Evolutionary refinements brought forth the European wildcat which is still with us in European forests. To avoid confusion with other wildcats, their names were changed to Felis Silvestris Silvestris. With their excellent camouflage, night vision, and perfect hearing, they have evolved into super forest predators, tackling their own weight and many things larger.

20,000 years ago, the wildcats were driven south (many into Africa and Asia) due to the thick ice of the great glaciations which spread all the way to the Mediterranean. When the ice began to retreat 10,000 years ago, some of the animals headed north while many remained behind and adapted to the warmer climates. Thus, in Asia, the already established and spotted Asiatic wild cat Felis Sylvestris Ornata (which had populated the area from earlier glaciations), increased in numbers.

In Africa, however, a lightly striped African wildcat (Felis Sylvestris Lybica) appeared. It was slimmer with shorter hair than its European ancestors.

Studies suggest domestic felines descended from a group in the Middle East around 130,000 years ago and, instead of the traditional view of the domestic short hair cat tamed by Egyptians 4,000 years ago, claims have indicated that they were bred by farmers in the Mesopotamia cradle of civilization. The domestic feline family tree has been traced back to a small family of wild cats on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates in modern-day Iraq. They also found the closest living relative of the pet cat is the Near Eastern wildcat-a shy and rare creature which resembles a large tabby.

Although the first domestic short hair cats appear in Mesopotamia, it was the Egyptians who turned them into pets and the Romans who exported them around the world.

The domestication of cats took place long after dogs were tamed. It is believed the first wild dogs living along side hunters were around 100,000 years ago.

The Scottish Wildcat Action Plan from WildCRU, Last of the Scottish Wildcats by Coffee Films, Wildcat Haven by Mike Tomkies, numerous articles and studies fished from Google and the original Caring for the Scottish Wildcat website by Allan Paul. Mesopotamia-130,000 years ago by David Derbyshire

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Cynthia Leaphart
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