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Problems of the Siberian Breed

Irina Sadovnikova 

Article on problems of Siberian breed. 

At the Salt Lake City Olympics 2 couples got gold medals in skating. And everybody’s happy… But there was another way to increase the number of champions – divide skating couples into 2 categories: “real” and “not real”, same as the proposal of some Siberians breeders, suffering from competition.

Actually, there’s nothing new about these kinds of proposals. As soon as Siberian cats became popular and became known internationally, as soon as there emerged international standards for the most influential federations (although not exactly identical, but mostly so, while the Siberian type is concerned), in parallel “mini-standards” emerged, targeted to described someone’s private stock of cats. That same stock that is so yet far from the standard… So, why should one work on improving the type and coat, when it’s much easier to claim, that her or his cat is “real”? So, we don’t have the undercoat in our cattery – so we write that in the standard. The face is long, the ears are at the very back of the head – let’s put it in the standard, as well. We can try to understand such behavior with some foreign breeders, after all some of them started their breeding programs at the very beginning of the Siberian breeding, importing a bunch of animals that were very far from the ideal phenotype or first generation litters. But what are Russian breeders up to then?! 

In order to understand whether there are reasons to divide Siberian color points and Siberian non-color points into 2 separate breeds, we must remember, firstly, the history of breeding Siberian cats, secondly, main rules of professional breeding, that any respectable breeder uses. So, it’s 1987. Leningrad. First cat show in the city, organized by clubs “Kotofei” and “Kis” – this is actually the date of beginning of breeding of Siberians in St. Petersburg. First aboriginal middle-length furred cats appear at this show and “Kotofei” starts breeding work, directed at establishing of the Siberian breed. Soviet Felinological Association registers Siberian breed and at that exact time registers the color variant – Siberian color point (Neva Masquerade). At this historical moment, other groups of breeders try to breed Siberians that resemble other established breeds – Maine coons, Balinese, Norwegian forest. As it should, this direction of breeding ends nowhere. Mostly they received strong, well furred, big-faced cats, forget Norwegians and balinesians! 

Siberian standard of 1989 more resembles a lyrical description than a legal document, so referrals by Mrs. Lapina to it, saying that it didn’t mention the color point Siberians have no weight, as well. However, in the first document that does describe different colors, neva masquerade is mentioned as well – “Siberian color point” (standard of 1990). In 1991 a variant of this standard was accepted by WCF as a working one. (Official standard was accepted by the expert commission of WCF in 1994, based on the standard of St. Petersburg Felinological Society and published in the compilation of WCF standards in 1995). January 5 –6, 1991, “Kotofei” club. 118 Siberians are present at the show, 78 of them with a Siberian phenotype, with parents not registered. Out of the total number, 29 Siberians are in color-point group, 15 out of them possessing the Siberian phenotype. Dates of births of the fenotypical color-points: from 1986 to 1990. In Moscow, Siberian color points appear at shows after 1991. From 1991 to 1994, 63 cats were registered in show catalogs, 29 of them – fenotypical. These dates are extremely important in order to understand the fact, that there was no artificial adding of the acromelanism gene to the initial population of the Siberian cats, using the cross-breeding with the Persians (and even more impossible using Birmans and Ragdolls), since it was physically impossible – first color point Persians appeared in Russia later than first color point Siberians were registered. Even more impossible to imagine, would be the fact that someone, say about 30 years earlier than the 90-s was specifically trying to cross-breed stray Siberians and Siamese (especially remembering how poor the people were!), and then for many years to come mated the aboriginally colored, short-haired, lighter cats (products of cross-breeding) with their parents, in order to receive the combination of color, coat and type. And then, after finally achieving it, returned the cats back to the alleys! Let them spoil the aboriginal cats! 

Mrs. Lapina cites the words of E. Shevchenko, saying that word combination “Siberian cats with Thai blood” sounds strange. It does sound strange… but shouldn’t we also think of what “Siberian blood” is? With all due respect to the well-known expert I would like to say, that if madam Shevchenko herself gathered the half-wild cats in Siberian villages in the 1980-s and worked hard with them on building the breed, to which later some crooked cat clubs, for example ‘Kotofei”, added some blood of city mongrels, containing the acromelanism gene, then nobody would’ve even thought on arguing with her being right. However, the real situation is quite different. There are several hypothesis as to the source of acromelanism gene in the aboriginal middle-length furred cats in Russia; however, they should be commented upon separately.

In order to prove any sort of hypothetical statement, one needs a lot of research done, and there would be enough material to publish a book. Right now, however, any arguments supporting any of the opinions are down to “I believe it” or “I don’t believe it”, or even “This can’t be, because this could never be”. This way or another, let’s agree with Mr. I. Mikhailov (article “Strange Breed…”) that our present Siberian breed was founded on the base of the aboriginal city population of cats in European parts of Russia, and we shouldn’t shroud it in mysterious tales about “forest cat from Siberia”. Perhaps, this legend was the cause of refusal by FIFE to recognize the Siberian color points. In any case, the reason for refusal was stated as “forest cats (main coon and Norwegian) can’t have this kind of color”. FIFE went as far as to refuse to register any Siberian cat that has a color point anywhere down in its pedigree. On the contrary, American federations didn’t prohibit the usage of color points in breeding, and now TICA gave them full rights of existence. At the Directors meeting on Feb 15-17 2002, Siberian color points were unanimously granted the right to participate in shows in Champion status from May 1, 2002. I would also like to remind you, that best TICA cat of 2001 – is Irdi, Siberian cat of Russian descent, wild color, but acromelanism gene carrier. Irdi’s children (Concreole cattery) are of perfect type, both color point and non-color point. 

In America, as well as on other continents, we have a lot of examples of successful Siberian breeding. To mention a few, Della Neva cattery in Italy, From Ermitage and SiberianTayga in Germany, working according to WCF. Cats from these catteries often win at big shows in Europe. New Siberian catteries are emerging in Holland, Brazil, France. They wouldn’t even dream of excluding color points from their breeding programs! Siberians are actively imported to Great Britain. In March 2002 there was the first Siberian Cat Fancier club established there. British breeders are acting wisely, buying cats of all colors, color points included, from the different catteries – in Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow), America, Europe. With the invaluable help of the Dutch and Finnish breeders, cats from Russia escape the 6-months quarantine in Britain. Understanding the situation of the FIFE members, which are forced by their federation to exclude Neva Masquerade from breeding programs of their catteries, we would like to state our opinion – narrowing the gene pool isn’t beneficial for the young breed! And here we should remember the basics of the breeding rules. Everybody knows, that to establish the type is much harder than to establish certain color (if we don’t focus on the quality of the latter). Reason for this being that type is build with the numerous poly-genes, while color – by mono-genes. That’s why, as a rule, breeders use linear breeding, based on cats with exceptional type, with periodical inclusions of cats from non-related lines.

If the cattery has established a stable stock of cats of desired type – good for the breeder!, and it means that it is time to start working on colors. Successful breeders manage to squeeze between the rock of the tight inbreeding and the hard place of the unrelated cross-mating, periodically widening and renewing their gene pool. Ideal picture, isn’t it? Alas, reality is far from ideal. There are catteries that are building lines far from ideal, based on mediocre cats , but their own, cherished and loved mediocre cats! They don’t take enough time to establish the type, instead they rush into trying to get difficult colors, and it so happens, sometimes, they succeed in it, getting fantastic colors… of the pet quality cat. Some run away from Neva cats, as if they were seeing the Devil himself. Some are breeding “pure” lines of Neva cats.

Both narrow the gene pool this way and suffer from inbreeding depression. And this is what lies right on the very surface. Cross-breeding during last couple of years, that violate the ethics of purebred breeding is impossible to prove, but the results are easy to see. In all colors, ladies and gentlemen, in all colors! Half-Persian of wild color is just as bad as the half-Persian color point. Silver cat with long nose is just as bad as the Neva Masquerade with the long nose. And so on… How incorrect sound the words of Mrs. Lapina, even highlighted in color (to make them remembered better, it seems?), that “Specifically, Persian blood was added to Neva cats”! This shows that lack of ethics is a problem not only with those, who are involved in cross-breeding. We mentioned several catteries abroad whose work has earned the highest marks. We wouldn’t mention others – although we have plenty of “absolutely not to do” examples. We see cats with steep foreheads, with round eyes, with a halo of fur, white, silver shaded, blue on some of the Internet pages of several catteries in the U.S…

There is also a “famous” cattery in Central Europe, crowded with slim-legged, narrow-headed cats of all colors, including color points. There’s also a cattery in Eastern Europe, that was breeding silver main coons some years back and suddenly started to produce silver Siberians. But let’s stop at the border of Russia and let’s stress our main thought – both success and failure, as well as problems with breeding Siberians are least of all connected to presence or absence of the color point cats in breeding. It’s interesting that critical words on the address of the Neva cats (no, I would rather say, full rejection of them) come from catteries, that can’t win at shows, where competition is tough.

Oftentimes, their arguments nullify each other. Initiators of this discussion affirm, that Siberian color points have soft coat and too big a size. So, in other words, suspect that their roots lie with Persians. (by the way, where is the statement that Persian cat is bigger than the Siberian came from? Persian are heavier by type. But by no means larger!). Contrary arguments are offered from Germany, for example (by the breeder, whose mature 7-year old male cat recently lost to the exceptional 1-year old blue-tabby-point): “Neva cats aren’t Siberian, they are smaller, their faces are longer and legs are thinner”! Please, guys, agree on one version! By the way, in Mrs. Lapina article we have a mix of terms that just contradict each other. Citing: “Ears are going all the way up, stop appeared” (this is about presumed tendencies, appearing in the development of Siberian color points). It is known, that shortening of the head, growth of the forehead curve, appearance of the “stop” are signs of the heavier type and always go together with the wider placement of ears and lessening in size. On the contrary, highly placed, big ears – is one of the signs of a lighter type, together with the narrow head, straight profile, long slim legs, oval paws and very long tail. 

Now about the soft coat, which is discussed in at least 1/3 of the article.It is true, that in the “Kotofei” standard of 1990 there is a phrase: “ Coat is softer than in other wild color variants”. But if you read the full standard, and not the phrases taken out of the context that you choose to read, a few lines higher we will see: “Red color, as well as weaker colors (blue, cream) and their variants are accompanied by the thinner hair, that’s why in these colors the covering hair is not as stern as in black or agouti variants”. So, should we start a new breed for red, blue, cream and other Siberians as well? And what is even more surprising, is that the initiators of these discussion, as well as the author of the article don’t see (don’t know or don’t want to know?) several famous St. Petersburg lines of Siberian cats, based on Neva Masquerade cats, that are famous for the stern and oily covering hair. To this day, cats that have Max (POF, St. Petersburg) in their pedigrees are known for their hard hair in any color. It’s funny that one expert wrote in Germany, describing a red-tabby-point Siberian cat, imported from Russia (Max three times in her pedigree): “The coat is too stern!” But this is a fact… So, is it really worth our time to try to divide Siberians by color?

So, let’s presume that we all change our opinion and support the initiators of this move. A few years will pass… And suffering breeders will bring up the topic of some other necessary division or even about the change of standard – because Siberian cat of a weaker type, with bad coat can’t win a title from the standard cat, even if it has a strange color that the expert doesn’t favor. 5 points will never outweigh 95…

Seriously, though, all we need for normal breeding of the Siberian cats was said in the statement of the seminar, that took place in “Felis” – we must get rid of the cats of all colors that have signs of cross-breeding. If the practice of giving tittles to whomever can’t be overcome, at least try to keep Siberians with cotton-like fur or without undercoat, or with straight profile, or with round orange eyes, or with long narrow head and oval paws away from BESTs, regardless of their exceptional color…Position of experts, after all, is key to the future of the breed. And we, breeders, will accept the fact that our own cat lost to the more typical one. And will be happy for the winner’s success. And (God help us!) will learn to trade our animals with each other. And, maybe, there’ll be the time when every lover of Siberian cats will at a glimpse recognize Siberian in any color, including the color point. Isn’t this what we all strive for?