No one knows for sure when and where the first Somali appeared; some proponents think that the long coat was a spontaneous natural mutation in the Abyssinian. Genetic studies indicate, however, that the Somali probably originated around the turn of the century in England when breeders, low on breeding stock, used long haired cats in their Abyssinian breeding programs. In the late 1910s and in the late 1940s, during the aftermath of World Wars I and II, when so many breeds had dwindled to near extinction, breeders were forced to mix other breeds into their Abyssinian bloodlines to keep the breed going.
Raby Chuffa of Selene, a male Abyssinian that came to the United States from Britain in 1953, and that appears on the pedigrees of many Abyssinians, is considered the father of the Somali breed on this continent; all Canadian and American Somalis can be traced back to this cat.
Raby Chuffa's pedigree can be traced back to Roverdale Purrkins, an English Abyssinian female whose dam, Mrs. Mews, was of unknown ancestry and probably carried the longhair gene. Mrs. Mews was given to breeder Janet Robertson by a sailor during WWII. Mrs. Mews later produced two kittens: Roverdale Purrkins, registered as an Abyssinian, and a black unregistered male. Robertson used Purrkins to start her Roverdale cattery. Her cats and other Abyssinians of British origin were exported to Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
When long haired kittens cropped up in Abyssinian litters (possible whenever two Abyssinians carrying the recessive gene for long hair were bred together), the kittens were quietly disposed of, since no breeder wanted to be thought to have Abyssinian lines that were 'tainted' with un-Abyssinian genes. It wasn't until the 1960s that breeders, seeing the appeal of a long haired version of a breed that was rapidly gaining popularity in the United States, began seriously trying to turn these castaways into a breed of their own. At the same time, breeders in Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand began working with the new breed as well.
Some Abyssinian breeders wanted nothing to do with these long haired nonconformists and did not want to encourage the tenuous connection that the name 'Longhaired Abyssinian' would produce. Abyssinian breeder Evelyn Mague, one of the first U.S. breeders to work with the developing long haired breed, came up with the name 'Somali' because Somalia borders Ethiopia, the country formerly called Abyssinia for which the Abyssinian was named.
In 1972 Mague founded the Somali Cat Club of America and began bringing the Somali enthusiasts together. In 1975 the CFA's International Somali Cat Club was founded, and in 1978 the Somali earned Championship status in the CFA. Since then, the breed has steadily gained popularity and has won over the opposition. Today, the Somali has Championship status in all the North American registries.
Copyright © 1998 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. based on
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAT BREEDS by J. Anne Helgren.