The Sokoke cat is a breed that originated in Africa and has mostly been bred in Western Europe. Originally known as the Khadzonzos, these cats originate in the Sokoke-Arabuke forests of Kenya, where a Kenyan farmer named Jeni Fraser found them. The Kenyan farmer, according to the account, found five Sokoke kittens in the forest, with stripes reminiscent of a tabby cat. In fact, its origins are a matter of some discussion. Some see Sokoke cats as part of another genus altogether, others see it as a cross-breed between a wild African and a domesticated European cat, and still others as a key to discovering the origins of the so-called tabby pattern in most domesticated cats.
The Sokoke breed was first imported into Denmark, in the 1980s, and records have been carefully kept. It was there where they acquired their present name, in honor of the place where they were found. In 1990, Gloria Moeldrop, the woman who first imported and bred Sokoke cats, imported more of them to strengthen the gene pool. The European registry for cats recognized this breed in 1993, and so far, is not quite common in the United States.
Sokoke cats have long, thin bodies with long front legs and shorter hind legs. These bodies are known to resemble ocelots a bit. They have relatively thinner layers of hair compared to other cats. Sokoke cats can mature in about 18 to 24 months. The striking brown stripes, referred to as a “blotched” tabby pattern,have given Sokoke cats a name among the Giriama tribe: Katzonzo, meaning, “looks like tree bark.”
The Giriama tribe once ate Sokoke cats in preference to their domestic livestock, and nowadays, younger Giriama are not quite so familiar with the breed, mainly because, one breeder speculated, they may be embarassed with the breed’s past associations. Older Giriama would still remember the Sokoke, then known as the Katzonzo, as being sweet to eat, and they can distinguish between three wild and one domestic varieties of this cat.
Sokoke cats are generally low-maintenance, meaning that they are easy to groom and maintain. In fact, their founding breeders in Denmark claim that they are so domesticated that families would not have problems keeping them as pets. They are active and lively creatures, much as they might have been in the wild. They are also known to be very communicative, and female Sokoke cats are known to be quite noisy when in heat. While not being lap cats, they are willing to sit in owners’ laps if signalled to do so.
In the wild, they mostly live among the trees in the forest and are very good swimmers. Thus, it is no surprise that Sokoke cats have a strong affinity for, and fascination with, water in such domestic settings as sinks and toilets. The Sokoke breed is, like most African wild cats, almost extinct. Thus, breeders urge that those who take on Sokoke cats should see them as a commitment to breed them carefully–in fact, as a breeder says, “When you get a Sokoke, you get more than a cat.
You get a challenging hobby.”In fact, the Sokoke cat is important for genetic reasons, as they possess certain genes absent from most domestic cats. The European cat registry has thus taken special interest in ensuring that not only this breed, but the rare genetic mix it has, remains alive.