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The Turkish Van Cat

| March 1, 2011
The Turkish Van Cat

The Turkish Van Cat

The Turkish Van comes from the south-eastern Lake Van area in Turkey and has been domesticated in this region for several hundred years. Known as the Van Kedi in its native land, it is sometimes referred to as the “Turkish Swimming Cat” from its habit of swimming to cool down and to catch food.

The Van Cat looks like a slightly larger version of the Angora, with the same long, silky fur. There should be no undercoat, giving a sleek, elegant, long-bodied appearance. The coat is white except for the head and the plumed tail, which are auburn in colour, with from five to eight faint ring markings on the tail of a tabby cat. The eyes are unusual because they are often of different colours – one amber and one blue. This feature, combined with their glamorous coat and unusual love of water, makes them favourites with the public.

The city of Van in Eastern Turkey is near to Mount Ararat, the supposed site of Noah’s Ark. Local folklore tells of the time when the Ark came to rest on the mountain and the floods receded. The cats left the Ark and made their way down the mountain to the settlement of Van. As they left, Allah blessed them and the patch of auburn hair at the front of their bodies is believed to be the place where he touched them.

There is archaeological evidence to suggest that domestic cats have been resident in Turkey for over 7,000 years. An excavation by the British Archaeological Institute in Ankara, at the Neolithic site of Hacilar, revealed small terracotta figurines thought to show women playing with cats.

It was not until 1955 that Turkish cats were discovered by the Western enthusiasts, when two British photographers, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, working for the Turkish Tourist Board, visited the Lake Van region. They were given a male and female kitten named, Van Attala and Van Guzelli Iskenderun. Delighted with these unusual cats, they took them back to Britain.

After a period of quarantine, the cats arrived at Laura’s home in Buckinghamshire, where they soon became noticed as an exceptionally attractive breed. On subsequent trips to Turkey, five more examples were collected. It was a long programme to have the breed officially recognised and in fact this took 14 years.

Laura registered her prefix, rather unwisely, as ‘Van’ and so following the rules of the GCCF, was obliged to drop the Van from the breed name which became “Turkish Cat”. When Laura eventually retired from breeding the name reverted to Turkish Van. Other requirements were imposed: More breeders had to be allowed to acquire specimens to create competition for showing. Furthermore, because the original Turkish owners had kept no records, 4 generations of recorded breeding were needed. The Turkish Van was finally accepted as a pedigree breed in 1969.

By 1989, over 300 cats had been registered from the original imports – known as ‘the magnificent seven’ and none of them had come from Van itself, where locals considered the odd-eyed all-white variety superior to Auburn marked cats.

In 1992, John and Pamela Hulme, who already had four Vans and who visited Istanbul each year, made the long trek across Turkey to find new bloodlines. This visit resulted in importation of an odd-eyed, all-white female, invaluable to the rather inbred Western population but giving rise to some controversy over which was the correct ‘van’ colour.

The Turkish Van breed was established in New Zealand by Noeleen Dally. The first male ‘Azilzade’ was imported from UK in 1980 and a female, ‘Izmar Bathsheba’ followed from Australia.

In November 1991, Andrew Hall and Anita Ralph imported their first queen ‘Cheray Earpatch’ from Australia and in 1992, ‘Winterway Navak’ from the UK, a male who gained Championship status after his first show season.

CATZ Inc recognises this breed for full Championship Status.

Copyright & Credit:
Breed Profile: Catz Inc. New Zealand Cat Registry – www.catzinc.org
Photos copyright & courtesy: www.flickr.com Mark Heath Photography | legless2007

Category: Feline Resources

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