UAE's 'desert cats' recognised as breed

A species of cat native to the UAE, the Arabian Mau, has been identified as a breed by the World Cat Federation.

An Arabian Mau cat which has been officially recognised as an indigenous cat to the UAE.
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DUBAI // A species of cat native to the UAE has been identified as a new breed by the World Cat Federation, the first such recognition in a decade. The Arabian Mau, which is exclusive to the Gulf, has inhabited the Middle East for more than 1,000 years and is common in the UAE. Often referred to as a desert cat, the animals have largely migrated from their natural sand dune environment to populated areas in search of easier food and shelter.

They are now common sights in cities, with experts estimating that a good percentage of stray cats foraging for food on the streets are Maus. Some are also kept as pets. Petra Mueller, head of the Middle East Cat Society, has studied the breed and its habits for years, visiting Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. She coined the term Arabian Mau and was instrumental in getting it recognised.

The World Cat Federation (WCF) is to announce the formal recognition of the breed at next month's International Cat Show in Dubai. It has also granted the breed a provisional licence to take part in competitions and compete for titles such as best in variety for Arabian Mau and best in show. "It is a very big thing when we recognise a new breed," said Anneliese Hackmann, president of the German-based WCF.

"The last time this happened was more than 10 years ago when we formally accepted the Brazilian shorthair, which is also a special cat that lives in a particular part of the world. "The climate in the Middle East is very hot so the cat has evolved to adapt to its natural surroundings." The Arabian Mau will be permitted to participate in international cat shows from January. It is also expected to be included in the annual world cat show in Berlin next October, at which it will compete with more than 700 cats with the title of world champion at stake.

The WCF has recognised all three variants of the breed: pure white, mackerel tabby and patched black and white. The federation has also urged the Ministry of Environment and Water to promote international awareness of the Arabian Mau. Ms Mueller, who has been living in the UAE for the past 14 years, is concerned the species' future may be threatened by the development boom. Dubai Municipality launched a campaign last week offering prizes to the first 500 people who report sightings of strays cats, in an effort to reduce the population of feral cats by 70 per cent. Animals that have not been neutered are at risk of being put down.

The Minister for Environment and Water, Dr Rashid bin Fahad, could not be reached for comment. Ms Mueller first alerted the WCF of the unique Arabian cat breed in 2005. She was then asked to conduct a two-year study of four generations of the breed, including their history, character, originality and breeding habits. Her proposal was eventually submitted to the board for a vote of approval in August.

The cats characteristically have big ears, high legs, and their fur is shorter and rougher, compared to European house cats. They are also distinctive because they breed only among themselves, and do not mate with other stray cats. Ms Mueller, whose Dubai home is refuge for more than 50 cats, hopes her discovery will help change attitudes towards the animals in the Middle East. "Cats in the Arab world are traditionally thought to bring bad luck,"she said.

"Unfortunately, a programme has been introduced in the UAE where street cats are trapped and then destroyed. "I hope that the discovery of this unique breed will boost the identity of cats here and encourage people to buy or adopt them, as they are better suited for the climate. "These cats are not only the national cats of the UAE but they can also be found all over the Gulf. I decided to call it the Arabian Mau because "Mau" means cat.

The International Cat Show in Dubai will take place from Nov 14-15 at the Children's City in Creek Park.