27 April 2013

Cambodia's Cats

I am a cat person and I miss not having cats in my life. It’s one of the very few negatives of an itinerant lifestyle.

On the positive side, there are lots of cats here in Cambodia so, although I don’t have one of my own, I do get to talk to them and pat them and photograph them.

Apparently, there are no breeds of cat peculiar to Cambodia, though many of the cats here have no tails, short tails, or kinked broken tails. At first I thought either the cats here were very accident-prone or the subject of cruel acts.

I consulted Professor Google for an answer, which produced some bizarre results. One writer mentioned the people of Indonesia breaking the tails of cats so the cats wouldn’t be allowed into heaven when they died, thus leaving more places available for humans. Another reported a legend in which a cat did something to annoy a god and was punished with a broken tail. One more sensible explanation was that a calcium deficiency in the mother cat caused a malformed tail in its kittens – but why only in the tail?

The truth, in this case, is indeed stranger than fiction, as the misshapen tails are the result of a very odd genetic mutation, common throughout Asia, and they were, in fact, noted by that famous evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. There’s a good factual report of various cat tail mutations here

Apart from this oddity, the cats here are really no different to any other cats around the world, except perhaps for being a little skinnier. In a poverty-stricken country, there’s not always enough food for pets.

So, here’s a pictorial tribute to some of the cats I’ve met and a few of my favourite cat quotes.

Charles Dickens: What greater gift than the love of a cat.

Robert Byrne: To err is human, to purr is feline.

Robert Heinlein: If you would know a man, observe how he treats a cat.

Sigmund Freud: Time spent with cats is never wasted.

Robert Southey: A kitten is in the animal world what a rosebud is in the garden.

Ernest Hemingway: A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.

Jules Renard: The idea of calm exists in a sitting cat.

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