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The Egyptian Mau is a very rare, elegant, and quite extraordinary cat. The Mau is the original “foundation” cat, from which all other subsequent domestic cat breeds have been derived. In ancient history, the Egyptian Mau is believed to date back at least 30,000-35,000 years. These are the very cats that have been depicted throughout history in Egyptian scrolls, paintings, and sculptures, standing regally beside kings and queens, highly revered for centuries by the Egyptians and other eastern cultures. It is a living example of the “survival of the fittest” throughout evolution.
A fascinating aspect to the Egyptian Mau is that at some point in its history, it actually chose to seek out the companionship of humans, after running feral for many thousands of years. The breed name itself is a reference to the Middle Egyptian word “mau” (literally meaning, cat).
A papyrus painting dated around 1100 B.C. shows the Egyptian god “Ra” portrayed as a spotted cat slaying the evil serpent Apep. In 1580 B.C., a papyrus record quotes a spotted cat as saying, “I am the cat which fought near the Persea Tree in Annu on the night when the foes of Neb-er-tcher were destroyed!” On a more mundane note, a 1400 B.C. tomb painting found in Thebes depicts a spotted cat retrieving a duck for an Egyptian hunter, suggesting that these cats were not only worshiped but were an important part of everyday hunting and sustenance as well.
Egyptian Maus first came to the attention of European cat fanciers in the early 1900s, and enthusiasts in Italy, Switzerland, and France worked hard to develop the breed. However, World War II destroyed the Egyptian Mau population, as it did many other breeds, and by the mid-1940s, the Mau was almost extinct. Through the efforts of the exiled Russian Princess Nathalie Troubetskoy, the Mau was redeemed from the brink of extinction. While in Italy, she rescued some of the few remaining specimens. She also succeeded in importing at least one Mau from Egypt.
In 1956, Troubetskoy immigrated to the United States, bringing with her three Maus that were bred from her original stock. Upon arrival, Troubetskoy began her own Egyptian Mau cattery (called “Fatima”), and initiated a campaign to promote the breed. The Mau soon attracted a following of aficionados who wanted to preserve and develop this rare, congenial, and historically significant specimen.
Because the gene pool was very small, and because additional Maus were almost impossible to obtain from Egypt, some inbreeding and outcrossing were required to continue the breed in North America. Selective breeding for good temperament was the highest priority. (There were some attempts by British breeders to create Maus from cross-breeds of Abyssinians, Siamese and Tabbies, however these did not resemble the true Maus. This mix became the basis for the Ocicat instead.) Finally, in the 1980s, breeder Cathie Rowan brought thirteen additional Maus into the United States, opening the way for more imports. This widening of the gene pool was conducive to the breed's ultimate health and well-being.
In 1968, CFF was the first to accept the Egyptian Mau. CCA soon followed, and the CFA granted Championship status in 1977. Today, all major associations accept the Mau.
The Egyptian Mau is the only cat breed that is naturally spotted. All other spotted breeds have been created by human development efforts, resorting to outcrossing all kinds of cats, including wild cats. But the Mau’s spots are natural and one of the breed's most striking features. Considerable variety exists in placement and shape. The spots can be large or small, round or oblong, or combinations thereof. What is important is that the spots be vivid and distinct, with good contrast between the background color and the color of the spots.
The Egyptian Mau face shows tabby-like markings including the characteristic “M” on the forehead. Two “mascara” lines grace their cheeks. The first begins at the corner of the eye and continues along the cheek's contour. Some historical lore mentions that ancient Egyptian women patterned their distinctive and elaborate eye makeup after the Mau cat’s markings.
While cat lovers might at first be attracted to the Egyptian Mau's beautiful spotted coat, most become enthusiasts because of the breed's gracious temperament and personality. Maus, like their ancestors that were taken along on duck hunts with their Egyptian companions, love to retrieve. In fact, they love any play activity that mimics hunting behavior, and if allowed outside will become very competent (and some might even say savage) hunters.
Egyptian Maus are small to medium-sized, short-haired cats. The breed conformation is described by The Cornell Book of Cats as a balance between the compactness of a Burmese and the slim elegance of a Siamese. Its medium-length body is muscular, with the hind legs longer than the front legs, giving the Mau the appearance of standing on tiptoes when upright.
The Egyptian Mau is the fastest of all the domestic cats, with its longer hind legs, and a unique flap of skin extending from the flank to the back knee, that provides for greater agility and length of stride. Maus have been clocked running at over 36 miles per hour, when permitted to! These are obviously very agile, powerful cats who also love to jump. Their astonishing flexibility helps them achieve incredible heights in a single bound.
Maus are also distinguished by their very musical voices. They are known to chirp, chortle and emit other distinctly unusual vocalizations when they are stimulated. Another behavior, quite common in happy Maus, has been described as "wiggle-tail." The cat, male or female, wiggles and twitches its tail, and appears to be marking territory, also known as spraying, but it is not actually releasing urine. It’s just a little dance that a happy Mau loves to do!
The Egyptian Mau is well known for high intelligence and very close bonding with responsible and loving members of its family. It is often reported that Maus will greet them eagerly at the door at the end of a long day at work. Although it requires more effort than with other breeds, Maus can be enticed to become "lap cats," but their alert and inquisitive nature usually overrides such relaxed behavior.
As kittens, Maus will test out their ability to attack and scratch. They are also very hard to wash if you do not have thick gloves or a thick skin. Maus will fight trespassing cats with astonishing ferocity and uncannily disappear from strange and loud humans. And, an occasional stray mouse doesn’t have a chance with a Mau in the house!
Egyptian Maus are a relatively rare breed to encounter. As of 2006, a total of only 6741 Maus were registered with the CFA. Maus come in five colors. From most to least common these colors are: silver, bronze, smoke, black, and blue/pewter. All are startlingly beautiful. Black and pewter Maus cannot be shown, but may be used in breeding. All Maus must have green eyes, but an amber cast is acceptable in kittens and young adults up to eighteen months old.
Extremely stable in temperament—perhaps more so than any other breed, this cat is genetically encoded to be dependably and reliably charming, friendly, and vivacious, with very little variation from one cat to the next. This facilitates the task of choosing the best kitten from the litter – they are all perfect in terms of temperament.
In addition to its very stable disposition and a very loving personality, this cat is quite gregarious and inquisitive. They develop very deep loyalty, just as a dog would. Neither “couch potato” nor wallflowers, this ebullient cat is a proud, powerful presence that fits beautifully into any welcoming residence.
These cats are extremely adaptable. They make terrific pets for seniors, for homes with small children, dogs or other pets, single people, families and even those indifferent to pets altogether. For some reason, men who have claimed that they don’t particularly like cats feel very differently about Egyptian Maus once they get to know them, including weary servicemen and war veterans. They also make excellent therapy cats, and are very suitable for those who may be disabled, physically or mentally.
Although its popularity is steadily growing, the Egyptian Mau breed is still quite rare, and the demand for kittens tends to exceed the supply.
Barron’s Encyclopedia of Cat Breeds