|A "smoke" Egyptian Mau shows off the breed's athleticism--and spots.|
Photo by Borcard Serge [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0],
via Wikimedia Commons.
Physical characteristics of the Egyptian Mau
The Mau is one of only two naturally spotted breeds of domestic cat (the other is the Bahraini Dilmun Cat; I know—I’d never heard of this cat either, but as the name implies, they’re from Bahrain). The Mau's randomly spotted coat is quite handsome and hard to look away from, as are their “gooseberry green” eyes. They have distinctive facial markings that include an “M” across the brow and “mascara” lines on the cheeks. One story says that Egyptian women copied the cats’ pattern when applying their eye makeup. Their coat color can be silver, bronze, or smoke.
|A bronze Egyptian Mau. You can clearly see the|
"M" on the forehead and the "mascara" lines
on the cheek.
Photo by liz west,
[CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons.
These cats are medium sized and are known to be intelligent, athletic, and agile. They are loyal to their humans and generally enjoy interacting with them, though they can seem aloof, especially with those they don’t know. Egyptian Maus love to play with toys. They have even been known to retrieve… Oh, and sometimes they wag their tails. Check out the video below to hear some sounds from a Mau:
From Egypt to New York, by way of Rome
Can you spot the spotted cat in this fresco?
Maybe ancient Egyptians used cats as retrievers.
Fresco from the Tomb of Nebamun, Theban necropolis.
After 1450 BC.
Now in the British Museum.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Mau meant “cat” or “sun” in ancient Egypt, and spotted cats bearing a striking resemblance to today’s cat appear in Egyptian art going all the way back to about 1900 BC. Sometimes they appear in domestic scenes, where they are often shown with a woman, and in a wall painting from Thebes, the cats are shown with human hunters in the marshes, where they seem to be retrieving birds. Spotted cats are also seen in Greek and Roman art, notably in the Pompeii mosaic seen below. Nice-looking cat!
Jumping ahead several hundred years… The breed was known in continental Europe in the early 20th century, but their numbers declined as a result of the two world wars, and they were in danger of being lost completely by the end of World War II.
|Surely you can find him now.|
Detail from the marsh fresco.
Public Domain, via
|Check out the spotted cat in this Roman mosaic|
from the House of the Faun in Pompeii.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Enter the Russian princess. She was actually an exiled princess named Natalie Troubetsky. She lived in Rome in the early 1950s and learned of the Egyptian Mau. The cat captivated her, and she acquired two of them, a black male and silver female. Stories vary, with some saying the princess first encountered the Mau while she was in Egypt, and she imported two of them to Italy. Another story says that a little boy gave her a kitten in a box, and this kitten spurred her interest in the breed. At any rate, the princess had a female named Lulu and a male named Gregorio. She later imported another male, Geppa, from Egypt by way of the Syrian Embassy (or so the story goes).
The princess bred her cats, and when she immigrated to the United States in 1956, she brought along three cats that had resulted from this breeding. She went to New York City, where she started the cattery called Fatima. Egyptian Maus from the princess’s cats are called “traditionals.”
A new line, a bright future
There is a problem with breeds that are based on only a few individuals: inbreeding eventually weakens the breed’s overall health. The modern Egyptian Mau in the United States started with just those three cats Princess Troubetsky imported, and new blood was needed to strengthen and expand the breed.
Enter the Indian zookeeper…
The so-called “Indian Line” began with two Maus that were born in Egypt and then adopted by a zookeeper in India. They were imported to the United States in 1980 by the breeder Jean Mill. These cats added some diversity to the breed’s gene pool. With careful breeding, Egyptian Maus have become a healthy breed.
Today, Egyptian Maus create a stir in the show ring and delight humans with their playful, loyal nature. They remain rare, and are all the more special for that.
“The Egyptian Mau.” (2002). Cat Fanciers Almanac. http://cfa.org/Breeds/BreedsCJ/EgyptianMau/EgyptianMauArticle.aspx
“Egyptian Mau.” (n.d.). Cat Fanciers Association. http://cfa.org/Breeds/BreedsCJ/EgyptianMau.aspx
Pickeral, Tamsin. (2013). “The Egyptian Mau.” In The Elegance of the Cat: An Illustrated History. Hauppage, NY: Barron’s Educational.
Wydro, Bonnie, and Melanie Morgan. (1999). “The Egyptian Mau.” 1999 CFA Yearbook. http://cfa.org/Breeds/BreedsCJ/EgyptianMau/1999EgyptianMauArticlepage1.aspx