The only natural breed of spotted cat, the Egyptian mau is an agile, strong cat with a beautifully spotted short coat. Unlike the spotted Bengal, however, the mau is pure feline – it possesses no wildcat blood in its ancestry. What it does have is a long, fascinating history that may even go back to the time of the cat cult in ancient Egypt.
History and Origin of an Egyptian Mau Cat
One of the oldest breeds, the Egyptian mau is thought to be the ancestor of the sacred cat worshiped by ancient Egyptians. As the story goes, during the time of the cat cult, maus were worshiped as the physical manifestations of gods, and Egyptian women patterned their elaborate eye makeup after the mau’s facial markings.
In Egypt, cats were first welcomed for their ability to keep rodents away from stores of grain, but later they became much more – first beloved household companions and then objects of worship. In Egyptian mythology, cats were identified with the goddess Bast, who was often depicted as a slender, regal woman with the head of a cat. So revered were cats as Bast’s physical symbol, that upon a feline’s death Egyptians went into mourning, shaving their eyebrows as signs of their grief. Such cats were often mummified, along with rodents and other small prey, to nourish them in the afterlife.
Evidence in the form of writing, ornaments, frescoes, statues and papyrus paintings shows that spotted cats did indeed exist during the time of the Egyptian cat cult, and fanciers believe that the mau is a direct ancestor of those cats. However, whether the mau is truly the ancestor of the sacred cat of Egypt we will never know, since no direct proof of this exists.
The modern and better documented history of the mau begins in the early 1900s, when fanciers in Italy, Switzerland and France worked to develop the mau. However, as it did many purebred breeds, World War II decimated the mau population and by the mid-1940s the mau was almost extinct.
The efforts of the exiled Russian princess Nathalie Troubetskoy brought the mau back from the edge. While in Italy, she rescued some of the remaining maus and, using her political connections, she obtained several more through the Syrian embassy. In 1956, Troubetskoy and three maus immigrated to the United States. Once there, Troubetskoy established a cattery and promoted the breed. Many modern maus can trace their ancestry back to Troubetskoy’s cats.
In the 1980s, another breeder succeeded in bringing 13 maus into America, paving the way for more imports. In the 1980s and 1990s more imports further enlarged the gene pool. The new bloodlines and careful selective breeding brought the breed the health and stability it needed.
Today, all major associations accept the mau and while numbers are still low, the breed has a strong following of fans who feel the mau is indeed worthy of worship.
Appearance of an Egyptian Mau
The mau is long, graceful, and muscular with a stride like a cheetah. A unique flap of skin extends from the flank to the back knee, which allows for greater length of stride and agility. The Egyptian mau is the fastest breed of domestic cat, clocked at more than 30 miles per hour.
They are medium-sized cats, and usually weigh 10 to 14 pounds for adult males, and 6 to 10 pounds for adult females. The mau’s head is a slightly rounded wedge shape, with a slight rise from the bridge of the nose to the forehead. The muzzle is neither short nor pointed. The alert ears are medium to large, pointed, broad at the base, and set with ample width between. The large, alert eyes are almond shaped and slightly slanted. Eye color is gooseberry green.
This breed’s most striking feature is the randomly placed, distinctive spotting. Considerable variety exists in placement and shape; the spots can be large or small, round or oblong, irregular or uniform, or in any combination. Regardless, the spots must be vivid and distinct with good contrast between the background and the color of the spots. The face bears tabby barring including mascara lines on the cheeks. The characteristic “M” on the forehead is sometimes described as a scarab beetle mark in reference to the most popular of the magical amulets worn by ancient Egyptians. The legs and tail also possess barring and the tail ends with a dark tip.
The coat is medium-short with a lustrous sheen. Three strikingly beautiful colors are universally accepted – silver spotted, a pale silver ground color with charcoal black spots; bronze spotted, a warm bronze ground color shading to tawny-buff on the sides with dark brown-black spots; and black smoke, a pale silver ground color with all hairs tipped in black with jet black spots. Blue silver, blue smoke, blue spotted, and blue solid, all dilute versions of black, also occasionally occur and can be registered with some associations but not shown for championship.