Let's take some time to look at some of the most famous citizens of Egypt, the cats. The cat as we know it was first domesticated in Egypt. While the dog was assimilated quite easily into human society because of its "pack" mentality, the cat is a loner. In fact, the true domestication of the cat was probably something quite recent, historically speaking, possibly only a few thousand years ago. The first representations of domestic cats in Egyptian art begin about 1450 BC. By contrast, the dog has been alongside us for considerably longer. For many years, about the only domestication the cat probably had was regular feedings, usually of scraps set out for it to ensure that it would stay in a certain location and kill vermin. Thus the cat became a very important resource to the farmer, whose livelihood depended on the safety of his crops. As time went on, the cat slowly became integrated into human society, though still retaining much of its wildness. The cat in Egypt was a sacred animal. First, because it kept down the population of snakes and rodents that often plagued the people of both farm and city, and secondly, it was the totem animal of the goddess Bast. At one time in ancient Egypt, it was considered a crime to kill a cat, even accidentally. The penalty was death. Even today, cats retain their aura of mystery and aloofness. Just looking into their eyes is a magical experience.
| Looking at this cat, one can easily see the resemblance to the miniature version that curls up by the fire in our homes. In fact, it's only a little bit bigger than a common tabby cat. But this is the Egyptian Wild Cat, also known as the Kaffir Cat. The Egyptian Wild Cat hunts the same prey as its domestic counterpart: small rodents, birds, and snakes. Really, the only way to tell the Egyptian Wild Cat from a common tabby is its tail. It is shorter and thicker than that of the domestic cat. But if you can get close enough to an unknown cat in Egypt to see its tail, it probably isn't a Wild Cat. ||Our final collection of Egyptian land animals is a set of cats. Not gigantic jungle cats like the lion and the tiger (lions aren't found in Egypt anymore anyway), but the smaller Egyptian wild cats that are close cousins and ancestors to the common house cat. While the lions and tigers bear only a superficial resemblance to the domestic cat, these could easily be mistaken for one. But don't touch! Although just as cute, these are still wild cats, and will have little to do with us. The Caracal, or Desert Lynx, is the largest of Egypt's wild cats, though still much smaller than its jungle cousins. Note how its sandy-brown color allows it to blend in perfectly with the ground around it. The dark ear tufts are its most distinctive feature, and show it to be a cousin to the North American Lynx. The Caracal's main prey are birds. Its powerful legs and agile body give it the ability to leap into a flock of birds and kill before they even have a chance to react. Don't its front legs look like the front legs of the Sphinx? And here we have our familiar domestic cat. This particular one is from the Abyssinian breed, and greatly resembles the paintings and statues found in the New Kingdom. It's very easy to see why the Egyptians believed these cats to be sacred servants of the gods. |