Sokoke Breed History
This Sokoke Breed History Article is Listed in Sokoke Cat Breed Information
The true origin of the Sokoke cat is still a mystery. The breed is without doubt a domestic cat from Kenya that lived without human interference for a long time. How long is not known. The mystery lays in the pattern, the classic tabby – called African tabby among Sokoke breeders and owners. This pattern is one thought to have originated in Europe, so how did it get to Africa on the Sokoke cat? The classic tabby is not a pattern to be found on the typical domestic cat in Eastern Africa.
At one point this breed probably got in contact with a Siamese pointed cat, or a carrier for this gene. This is the only likely explanation on the appearance of snow Sokokes, which are Siamese pointed. For this gene to evolve twice in domestic cats history is so to speak impossible. Except for the pattern and the Siamese gene the sokoke has little in common with other breeds of pedigree cats.
The Sokoke was accepted by FIFe in 1993, as the second breed being accepted by FIFe before the recognition by other cat organizations. There is now two forest cats, the Norwegian and the Afro-Danish Sokoke making their mark on the world of cats. It originates from the Sokoke Arabuke forest on the Kenyan coast, one of the few remaining but rapidly dimishing, rainforests in East Africa.
Historically, we can only find one reference to the Sokoke Forest Cat. This is in the Giriama tribal name for cat “Kadzonzo”. The Giriama tribe have lived traditionally around the forest for hundreds of years. All the tribal elders we have known can describe the best of the Sokoke cats perfectly and can differentiate from the three wild genera, as well as the domestic breeds.
This is proof of the cats’ very close relationship with the old culture. Today’s Giriama tend to be ignorant of the Kadzonzo. I believe this is deliberate and has deep sociological reasons…. the modern Giriama do not wish to associate with the primitive, but fairly recent, survival behaviour of the past.
All the older generations discussing Kadzonzo say, ” the cat was very sweet to eat”. We assume from this it was part of the general diet. The cats were probably eaten in preference to the domestic stock, which represented wealth. The old culture had many forms of survival which are now “unacceptable” to the modern Giriama. Therefore “Kadzonzo” is conveniently forgotten. Indeed the name Kadzonzo is almost an embarrassment to some.
Not much was known about the Sokoke cat before the Kenyan farmer Jeni Slater in 1978 found a litter of kittens in her coconut plantation. Jeni Slater is an experienced horsebreeder and found the kittens so special that she brought them home as pets. Their pattern “blotched tabby” does not exist in East Africa, and their body type is described as “foreign” (tall and slender) whereas the Kenyan housecats are of the “cobby” type and with a much thicker coat.
There is a number of rare species that only exists in the Sokoke forest, but as in many parts of the world the threat to forest habitat by expanding populations is happening here too. The Sokoke bushy tailed Mongoose, the Sokoke golden-rumped Elephant Shrew, the Sokoke Scops Owl are all under threat of extinction. It is therefore not surprising that an unusual feral cat discovered by Jeni Slater caused little or no local interest.
Jeni Slater’s story in the history of the Sokoke cat is now paramount. To quote Jeni Slater: “my gardener came to me one morning in 1978 and reported some strange kittens with a mother born in a hollow under a tree in my garden. I went to investigate, and saw, these huge eyes and big ears, and long tail erect and a smallish head with beautiful body markings. I knew immediately that this was something unusual and I therefore took a pair from the litter. With the help of the house staff I hand reared them. I had much experience in hand rearing orphaned animals during my farming days in Molo Kenya”.
As mentioned before Jeni Slater had little local interest for her find. It was pure luck that the Slaters were professional fishermen, and therefore feeding a growing number of Sokoke cats was not impossibly expensive.
The second piece of good luck for the survival of the Sokoke Cat was that Gloria Moeldrup was a fishing client of the Slaters, Jeni invited Gloria to see the cats, and she also like Jeni recognized a unique makeup, pattern and behaviour of the cat. In 1984 Jeni expressed fear that the breed might not survive in Kenya due to many administrative difficulties. Gloria Moeldrup then decided to move a breeding pair to Denmark, where in 1984, Sokoke cats where shown for the first time in Copenhagen and in 1985 “Jenny” and “Mzuri” had their first litter.
From then on came the long journey to recognition, in 1990 Gloria Moeldrup imported three more cats from Watamu to strengthen the breeding stock. The aim to start with was to breed enough cats to keep the breed alive and healthy.
Then in November 1992 the judges committee of FIFe looked at nineteen Sokoke Cats representing five generations. There are now (1997) about 20 breeding Sokoke cats in Denmark, one cat in Italy and three in Holland. ~ Gloria Moeldru