Meet The Ancient Egyptian Mau, Oldest Breed of Domesticated Cats on the Planet


The Egyptian Mau is one of the oldest breeds of domesticated cats on the planet. So old, there are pictographs from the tombs of ancient Egypt depicting theses small, yet highly prized creatures. One papyrus from 1100 BC shows the Egyptian god Ra in the form of a spotted cat beheading a rival along with even earlier drawings from thousands of years ago. The word “mau” is Egyptian for cat and may have come from the noise they made while hunting.

Photo credit: Vetstreet

Although most evidence is lost to history, the Mau is considered the direct descendant of the African Wild Cat, the animal from which it is believed all modern domestic cats developed. Domestication occurred between 4000 and 2000 BC. The Mau is only one of two domestic cat breeds with naturally occurring spots (the other the Bahraini Dilmun Cat). Ocicats and Bengal cats are modern crosses between other cats or cats and wildcats that create spots. The Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) considers the Mau to be a living relic.

Cats were revered in ancient Egypt and played an important role in religion, mythology and even everyday life. The cats were regarded as stealth hunters and were important for clearing rodents and were especially adept at hunting birds. But they were also worshipped as gods and even mummified for a life after death while their families would shave their eyebrows in mourning. Egyptian law also protected the cats and harming one was punishable by death.

Like most ancient cat breeds, through the centuries, purebred Maus grew smaller in number as cats and mankind spread around the Earth. But the Mau, like most “exotic” cat breeds such as the Siamese and the Burmese, had a resurgence in popularity in the early 1900s and appeared in cat shows around Europe. By World War II the Mau once again became rare with only a handful of them found in Italy. However, a chance meeting with modern royalty changed the course of Mau history.

Shortly before WWII, Princess Nathalie Troubetskoy of the Russian monarchy was living in exile in Italy. The story says that a young boy gave her a silver spotted female kitten that he had been given by a Middle Eastern diplomat. She named this cat Baba. Using her political connections, she learned the cat was an Egyptian Mau and she obtained several males from the Syrian Embassy and began breeding the cats herself. In 1956 she immigrated to the US bringing some of the cats with her and established a cattery. It is believed that all North American Maus can trace some of their ancestry back to her original Italian finds. Her cats were accepted into the Cat Fanciers’ Federation in 1968 and in 1972 a silver Egyptian Mau bred by the princess became the first Mau named Grand Champion of the Canadian Cat Association. The Mau was accepted into the CFA in 1977.

Egyptian Maus are extremely dignified, graceful and intelligent beings. They come in a variety of colors from black to blue although only Silver, Bronze and Smoke are allowed in championship competition. Even if not eligible for showing, all Maus make excellent pets as they are lovingly devoted to their families. Maus are covered with random spots and also have the tabby marking “M” on their foreheads and at least one “necklace” marking around their throats. Their eyes are green and have “mascara” lines around them, which make look like their wild ancestors. It is also believed that the elaborate mascara the ancient Egyptians wore was to make their eyes appear like the Mau. Another interesting fact is that Maus are the fastest domestic cats having been clocked at a top speed of 36 MPH.

While the Egyptian Mau’s exotic looks are what first attract people to them, it is their personalities that keep cat lovers wanting more. They love to play with toys, even fetch, and while not talkative, they do let their families know what’s on their minds. While these cats are quite popular in North America and Europe, with kittens fetching thousands of dollars for breeders, the Maus of Egypt are having a more difficult time.

With the recent troubles in Egypt the Egyptian Mau is once again under duress as many cats are living on the streets in their native country and suffering from poisoning, malnutrition and disease. The Egyptian Mau Rescue Organization (EMRO) is based inCairo and dedicated to rescuing this living antiquity. The organization assists both local and international adoptions of tame Maus along with vet clinics, boarding and humane education. The organization is a registered non-profit in Egypt (NGO or Non-Governmental Organization) and receives funding only through private donations. To learn more about the organization, visit their website or their Facebook Page. There is also a special webpage for North American Mau adoptions.

Carrie Dow
Carrie Dow is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Islands, International Living and Go World Travel. She also published a children's book about her annoying cat called Morning, Miss Moo, available in hard copy and digital format from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes. Mom to an English lab, a Queensland healer mix and a reformed alley cat, she hopes to make the world a little smaller by reporting on its companion animals.
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