Manx SPCA Chronicle: The Fascinating History of Manx Cats
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about Manx cats in these articles, and so to restore balance, the next two will be dedicated to this iconic breed.
This week will focus on his story and next week will update us with the Manx cat today.
Cats are not native to the Isle of Man.
No one knows when they were first introduced, but the Vikings probably played a big role in increasing the island’s cat population.
The Vikings loved cats and gave them as gifts and, according to Norse legends, Freyja (the goddess of love) rode in a chariot pulled by two wild cats.
The breed that was probably most familiar to the Vikings was the ‘Norsk Skogkatt’, or Norwegian Forest Cat, which had hind legs longer than the front legs, much like Manx cats.
Both breeds also have a double coat (a soft undercoat of thick, short hair covered with coarser, longer hair), share a taste for water, and tend not to be very vocal.
The first references to tailless Manx cats occurred in the early 18th century.
‘Cat’ in Manx is ‘kayt’ and all cats on the island seemed to have been referred to as such until around 1750 when a new word ‘stubbin’ crept into Manx from English ‘ stubby”.
“Stubbin” in Manx is a cat with no tail or only a short stump, and so it seems likely that tailless cats became common enough around this time that people needed a word to distinguish them from their cousins. tailed.
Tail shortening in Manx cats appears to have arisen spontaneously and to be the result of what is known in genetics as the “founder effect”, where distinctive differences arise from a limited gene pool.
If there is little variation in the gene pool, the differences may set in, and as the gene pool of cats on the Isle of Man was relatively small, short tails (or no tails) became much more common in due to inbreeding.
Inbreeding was of course part and parcel of being on an island.
The Manx cat was considered a welcome addition to most farms due to its excellence as a hunter, and it was often kept as a working animal and used as rodent control.
Before the days of neutering, colonies of feral Manx cats flourished, such as that of the Douglas Horse Tramway Stables which became established in the 1950s.
Cats in this colony have been observed regularly preying on herring gulls, aided by their longer hind legs which allow them to jump up to catch their prey.
The Manx cat wasn’t just a popular choice for farmers – it was only fitting that town businesses, both on and off the island, had their own felines. For example, Dumbell’s Bank in Castle Rushen, the English House of Lords and the Home Office in Whitehall.
Besides their hunting ability, Manx cats were particularly popular ship’s cats because a common naval belief was that a cat could cause a storm using the magic stored in its tail.
And if you don’t have a tail, you can’t start a storm! In 1963, a tabby Manx cat was presented to the Queen Mother during her visit to Castletown, and this cat later became the ship’s cat on the Royal Yacht Britannia. His name was ‘Schickrys’, which means Manx for ‘certain’.
Manx cats had another purpose. In the 19th and 20th centuries the government of Manx used them to promote the island.
They were given as gifts to famous people such as John Wayne, Walt Disney and Edward VIII, and tourists were encouraged to take one home.
To maintain a supply of Manx cats, the Isle of Man government set up a cattery at Knockaloe Farm in 1961, but the farm was difficult for tourists to visit and so in 1964 the cattery moved to Noble’s Park, where she remained for the next 30 years. .
The cattery closed in 1992 due to soaring costs and concerns over cat welfare, but Manx cats are still prevalent on the island.
The SPCA Manx sometimes has a Manx cat for adoption – the overweight Stubbin, for example, came to us last year and found a loving new family who put him on a strict diet!