Tetrapod Zoology

Weirdest cat ever. Seriously.

It’s very funny how things sometimes work out. I had absolutely no plans whatsoever to cover cats at Tet Zoo this week. Then, on Friday, I watched the documentary that featured the pogeyan* and, obviously, decided that it was worth covering. And, during the County Museum visit on Saturday, my encounter with the Hayling Island Jungle cat was totally fortuitous: I’d forgotten that it was there, and probably would have missed it were it not for the fact that Chris Palmer got it out of its cabinet. Yesterday, I received some very interesting photos from Ryan Norris at the University of Vermont. As you can see, these photos feature a cat. A very, very weird cat. So, for the third time this week, here’s yet another mystery cat… Maybe I should go the whole hog and make this ‘mystery cat’ week…

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* For those who missed it, note that Sandesh Kadur himself visited Tet Zoo the other day and left a comment.

Apparently this animal was photographed in south-eastern Yemen where it was frequenting a building site. The photos were taken by Jim Larsen. He reported that the cat wasn’t just hanging around the site, it was also chewing on cables; so much so that they had to take measures to stop the cables getting damaged further. That sounds pretty unlikely to me. In fact, it has that urban-myth quality about it, but what the hell.

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I don’t think there’s any doubt that the animal in the photos is for real. Though no obvious scale is evident, it looks larger than a domestic cat. It appears quite tall at the hips in the photo above, but this is an optical illusion caused by the sloping angle of the shot (I just measured hip height vs shoulder height, and they’re the same). Its short, bobbed tail is evident. And its wide, rounded jowls give the back of its head a strangely broad, spherical look. Its strange, tatty little ears look damaged or pathological.

What is this animal? Of the cat species that occur at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, it lacks the striping characteristic of the African wild cat Felis lybica, and of course looks nothing at all like a Sand cat F. margarita. Apparently there’s been some suggestion that it might be a Caracal Caracal caracal, but it doesn’t look much like one at all. In fact, if its fat, rounded face and bob-tail are natural features it doesn’t match any known species.

But are they natural features? The battered, asymmetrical ears and scars – combined with the fact that the animal regularly visits a building site and seems relatively unafraid of people – indicate that it’s a feral domestic cat, and presumably a battered, and perhaps diseased, male. What do you think?

Comments

  1. #1 Allen Hazen
    January 22, 2009

    “Wide, rounded jowls” and “it was also chewing on cables”: really bad toothache or abscess or something, chewing on something hard to counteract the pain?

    Something about the tail (blunt end, downward angle) looks to me (but I don’t think I know enough to be entitled to an opinion) as if it has been chopped off: not naturally short.

  2. #2 anthropopotame
    January 22, 2009

    It seems like an ex laboratory cat to me…

  3. #3 Dartian
    January 22, 2009

    What the…? That’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in a looong time. It almost looks like a naked mole rat in the first picture!

    As for what it is, all this is conjecture, but:

    -The cat definitely has a certain ‘big cat’ look, particularly in the second picture. Still, I think it has to be a fairly small animal, not much bigger than a regular domestic/feral cat. If it was, say, caracal-sized or larger, I’d imagine it to seriously freak out the local people (even more so than it presumably does now). They would surely have killed it on sight, rather than let it walk around building sites in broad daylight.

    -The misshapen head suggests tumour or some other pathological condition to me. Also, is there something wrong with the cat’s left hind foot?

    My suggestion: it’s a domestic cat that has gone through some seriously bad shit during its lifetime.

    PS. Anthropopotame could be on to something.

  4. #4 Carlos
    January 22, 2009

    I think its just an ugly domestic cat

  5. #5 David Marjanović
    January 22, 2009

    The head looks like it got into way too hot water, I’d say.

    That said, this wouldn’t have made the snout any shorter than it already was, and the swollen-looking head is in fact almost symmetric in the second photo.

  6. #6 Jerzy
    January 22, 2009

    I knew! Short tail! White fur to blend with Ice Age winter! Enlarged muzzle with skin to cover the scimitars! They are back!
    http://darrennaish.blogspot.com/2006/03/late-survival-of-homotherium-confirmed.html

    If you fail, my friend is a vet, she can tell what is wrong with face of this tabby.

  7. #7 Abindarraez
    January 22, 2009

    I´d also say that its just an average, albeit very thin, male domestic cat with a history of violence and accidents. I had cats with similarly broad heads so even that can be normal, and in this case it´s bossible that the strangeness due to the missing ears.

  8. #8 Turdus
    January 22, 2009

    I am a little suspicious that there is some submandibular lymphadenopathy in this cat, or perhaps an abcess. Those ears look like ears that have suffered from untreated hematomas – blood blisters that result from trauma to the ears. As the blood and fluid in the hematoma is resorbed and consolidated within the pinna, the hematoma will heal through contraction and fibrosis, causing the ears to take on that distorted and shriveled appearance.

  9. #9 Barn Owl
    January 22, 2009

    Looks like a severely battle-scarred domestic cat to me. Perhaps, as others have mentioned, it suffers from unresolved abscesses and inflammation; in particular, it looks as if the parotid glands might be enlarged. I think an animal with abscesses and infections around the ears and face might develop chronic parotiditis, and subsequent enlargement of lymph nodes draining that region. Alternatively, it could have some sort of blockage of the parotid ducts.

    Poor kitty!

  10. #10 Rosel
    January 22, 2009

    Feral Domestic cats are very common in the UAE and Oman, the border between Omand and Yemen is in the south east of Yemen So the possibility of it being a very manky domestic cat is quite high.
    His body looks pretty fit for a feral cat, but god(or a vet) know’s what happened to his head.

  11. #11 Diego
    January 22, 2009

    I’m going with really old and mangled domestic cat too.

  12. #12 Christophe Thill
    January 22, 2009

    Ouch… that’s really painful to see. What I find strange is the eyes. They seem very pale, as if the animal was blind. Or perhaps they’re just over-sensitive to light, and it’s squinting in the bright sunshine of Yemen. Perhaps it’s semi-albino, if there’s such a thing? Also, the tail is strange. Its shape and color (the tip is slightly darker) seem to suggest that it wasn’t cut by accident, that the animal was born with it.

  13. #13 DVMKurmes
    January 22, 2009

    I have to agree with the idea that this is a beat up domestic tomcat. Some Toms develop very thick skin over the parotid area, and then develop scarring and often chronic infections due to fighting. He may also have some type of external parasite (ear mites, ear ticks, etc) that is causing scratching at his ears which could further exacerbate fight scars and infections. He actually does not look that much worse than some other intact male cat I have seen.

  14. #14 Parmesan
    January 22, 2009

    Yes, that is one very odd cat, indeed. Its ears rather remind me of an old cat of mine, long since dead, who had a nasty ear abscess as a kitten. This resulted in him having one very floppy right ear, much like our feline friend above.

  15. #15 Tabitca
    January 22, 2009

    My domestic 13 year old very well fed tabby cat has always chewed electric wires. Phone wires, speaker wires ,headphone wire from ipods,you name it he will have a chew.There appears to be no reason for it, just a natural cat thing to catch string and chew it or perhaps he senses the electricity in the wires.We have had to replace quite a lot over the years.

    It is not unknown for cats to lose their tails after being trapped in doors etc.This poor old chap in the photo is just a neglected old Tom,scarred by many fights and infections.

  16. #16 johannes
    January 22, 2009

    > They would surely have killed it on sight, rather
    > than let it walk around building sites in broad
    > daylight.

    Especially in Yemen, were every man, and every boy older than 14, owns an AK 47. On the other hand, the Yemen Monitor was discovered to western science (such a large and conspiciuous lizard must have been ethno-known before) when Wolfgang Böhme was watching a documentary on Yemen on TV, so anything might be possible in Yemen.

  17. #17 Arikia
    January 22, 2009

    It’s the Montauk monster!!!

  18. #18 Neil
    January 22, 2009

    That IS a weird cat. I reckon itcould be a selectively (in)bred captive varity. Some people find this sort of animal attractive, I mean look at pugs…

  19. #19 Ryan W Norris
    January 22, 2009

    I wasn’t sure you’d make it a post, but I was sure you’d be interested. The message came across the Mammal-list from American Society of Mammalogists.

    I’m not saying it translates to animals with a whole outside environment to chew on, but I have definitely run across many cable chewing cats and dogs.

    Present address: Penn State.

  20. #20 Jenny Islander
    January 22, 2009

    Poor old thing. Are there no small-animal vets in the area? When I was much too young to make the old scumbag do anything about it, I was hired to look after a weird old collector’s colony and there was a tom whose front end looked just about as bad.

    My mother had a cat that got out between our feet during what was supposed to have been her last heat cycle before spaying. She was a Siamese cross with a peculiar knob on the end of her tail. We have no idea who Papa was, but all of her kittens had weird tail shapes: corkscrew, hairpin, meatball. The color was crammed together too, so the natural darker tip of a Siamese tail was present, just an inch away from the body where the tail naturally ended. This old fellow looks like that to me.

    If the cat is still hanging around, somebody should catch it in a box trap. Handle VERY carefully, preferably with heavy gloves, because it probably can’t bear to have its jowls touched. Personally I would fix up its ears, teeth, and/or eyes, clear up any parasite issues, neuter it, and turn it loose. People in the U.S. have reported success with neutering and medicating whole colonies of feral cats and letting them remain in their territory: they defend it against other cats that may be fertile, meanwhile producing no kittens themselves. Also the yowling and battle injuries decrease dramatically.

  21. #21 Tony
    January 22, 2009

    whatever it is it looks to be albino as it appears you can see the pinkish eyes in teh front and definate pink nose. The top of the skull also looks deformed to me for some reason, and the very wide jowls – i dont know, this one is peculiar.

    Tony Lucas

  22. #22 Raymond Minton
    January 22, 2009

    Darren, this mystery cat gives the adjective “weird” a whole new meaning; it looks like it was hit on the head by a frying pan! Surely natural selection couldn’t produce such a monstrosity, though products of selective breeding come close. Your hunch of a battered, diseased individual makes the most sense, since it’s not just the head but the ears that are distorted. I thought I’d seen it all, but this is a new one on me, and the answer probably won’t be known until the animal is captured.

  23. #23 Zach Miller
    January 22, 2009

    I’m going with battered, potentially diseased feral cat. It looks repugnant.

  24. #24 Brodie
    January 22, 2009

    Just stumbled across this but felt the need to point out that I find it suspicious that in both photos (purportedly taken by the same person and at obviously different times), this cat appears to be standing in identical positions, right down to the slightly raised back-leg.

    I could be being overly skeptical, of course. It’s hard to gauge. It could just be coincidence, but it doesn’t even seem to have raised its head from the first shot to the second to regard the photographer.

  25. #25 William Robertson
    January 22, 2009

    That cat looks like I looked after I got my wisdom teeth removed when I was seventeen.

  26. #26 Andrew Everett
    January 22, 2009

    Looks almost like it’s got botfly larvae. A bunch of squirrels on the University of Florida campus had botfly larva “infections”, sometimes on their heads, and looked a bit like this.

  27. #27 shiva
    January 22, 2009

    Over at Cryptomundo, several people have suggested that the swollen head could be due to a venomous snake bite.

    It sort of looks like a Manx cat to me – particularly with the position of its hind legs and apparently elevated rump. There are several different “grades” of Manx cat, with tails ranging from none at all to a stump like this one to an only slightly shorter than normal tail.

    I think the “big cat” impression might be partly due to its extremely short fur (it looked hairless to me at first, but from the second photo it looks like it has an even but *very* short coat), making it look proportionately large as compared to a similar sized cat with normal length fur (if you see what i mean – like a short-clipped lawn looking like a bigger area of land than the same plot with longer grass on).

    So… odd mixed breed domestic with some Manx and maybe one of the hairless/sparsely-furred breeds in the mix, with a messed up head due to snakebite or some other pathology?

    Brodie – it looks like the cat has moved between the two photos, relative to the background at least. Are you suggesting it could be a model or a dead, mounted specimen posed to look like a live animal? If so… why?

    It could be blind (either temporarily due to whatever swelled up its head, or permanently), hence its not moving its head to look at the camera. Also the pose of the back legs being the same in both photos could be explained by it having an injured left hind foot, which it’s holding off the ground in a fixed position…

    I think it’s a weird domestic cat rather than a wild cat, anyway. Arguably an interesting parallel/comparison with the Scottish “rabbit-headed cat”…

  28. #28 jj
    January 22, 2009

    To me, the mouth of the cat makes it look like something other than a domestic cat, and gives it a big cat look. Looks too broad to be a domestic cat, but that could be due to the same reason of the swollen (looking) head.

  29. #29 jck
    January 22, 2009

    Whatever it is, I bet it’s got some stories to tell. Make me think of George Thorogood’s version of “Bad to the Bone.”

  30. #30 William Miller
    January 22, 2009

    I’m not saying the head size isn’t a deformity or illness, but if it is, why is it so symmetrical?

  31. #31 j
    January 22, 2009

    i agree with jenny islander. someone should try to help the poor cat, and see if it is in need of medical attention. it does look like it may be suffering quite a bit.

  32. #32 Cory Trego-Erdner aka Moai
    January 22, 2009

    I’d say it’s the result of the mating of a Manx and an American Bulldog.
    In seriousness, I also agree with the assessment that it’s just a grizzled domestic cat. I also heartily agree that, if it’s still around, it should be caught and taken to a vet. Poor thing.

  33. #33 Cory Trego-Erdner
    January 22, 2009

    Also, the head really isn’t symmetrical. Look at its right cheek. It protrudes quite a bit out beyond the ear, whereas its left cheek is about the same width as the ear.

  34. #34 Katkinkate
    January 23, 2009

    I’d go with the feral domestic, possibly albino, eyes and jaw look diseased or possibly the head is naturally broad but the left side is swollen, ears look like scottish fold rather than shredded, they look more obvious ’cause of the short hair. Could there be some devon rex in the genetics?

  35. #35 Rosel
    January 23, 2009

    @ Jenny Islander and J
    Unfortunately there are unlikely to be small animal vets. Most SAV here in the UAE are generally run by (western) expats for expats, Yemen does really have any kind of Western Expat community, so probably not many SAVs.

    In the UAE there is a trap and release scheme for the feral cats. Again this is run by expats.

  36. #36 Em
    January 23, 2009

    The stockiness of the forelegs does not suggest ‘domestic breed’ to me. I agree that it may be an albino. Perhaps the very short coat is b/c it is just growing back in after a bout of mange or other skin disease.

  37. #37 Rosel
    January 23, 2009

    Earless Albino Caracal?

    this one has the same squint and chubby face.

  38. #38 Rosel
    January 23, 2009
  39. #39 chris gnaedinger
    January 23, 2009

    There’s nothing to scale to get accurate size.

    Albino cat?

    Definitely a bad-assed feline.

  40. #40 Pterorhynchus
    January 23, 2009

    Fools! It’s obviously a ropen!

    Disguised as a house cat with some manner of disease.

  41. #41 DunkTheBiscuit
    January 23, 2009

    It’s almost certainly a feral tom, but that cat has incredibly thickset forlegs and paws. He does look like he’s got something seriously wrong with his face though, poor beast.

    However, for a truly weird mutant domestic, have you seen Pyewacket? He is one cat I never want to wake up to find on my chest asking for breakfast…

    You need to scroll about halfway down this page
    http://www.messybeast.com/curly-cats-bald.htm

  42. #42 Donna Brown
    January 23, 2009

    poor cat,it looks like it has had a few scraps.But there could be a number of reason`s why this cat looks deformed,meeting the end of someones foot,or could have infections somewhere?but….the more i look at it the more i think its not a living animal,its stuffed?am going with a stuffed cat..

  43. #43 Marian E.
    January 25, 2009

    It definitely looks as if he has abcessed teeth and his jaws are severely swollen because of them. That would also explain the chewing as that action would help release the pus in the pockets. Poor old guy has been through a lot. His tail was cut off, whether by accident or purpose, and the ears have been chewed off. Very sad really, especially that no one is trying to catch him to help.

  44. #44 Monado in Toronto
    January 25, 2009

    I’d like to know the size. The nose leather looks a little broad for a domestic cat. As for the rest, I’d agree with a beat-up, abscessed, feral cat with hair loss from mange. It looks almost too clean, though, and unpigmented. It’s squinting — infections or light sensitivity? A beat-up, abscessed, feral albino cat?

  45. #45 Sheila C.
    January 26, 2009

    Looks like a feral manx tom. Had a manx, mine was black, full jowls, funky ears and a born with bobbed tail. Also hindquarters just a bit taller.

  46. #46 Net Ekke
    January 28, 2009

    Looks like a half-cat half-dog mutant of some sort.

    Or is the building site maybe located next to a uranium mine????

  47. #47 DDeden
    January 30, 2009

    pit kit

    (looks like some pit bulls I’ve seen on the streets)

  48. #48 dr.hypercube
    January 31, 2009

    I’m surprised no one has brought up the obvious – it’s an example of the only eusocial mammalian predator – the naked mole cat (Felis poorbastardi).

  49. #49 dr.hypercube
    January 31, 2009

    Whoops, sorry Dartian, missed your reference…

  50. #50 Gwen
    February 9, 2009

    Poor sweetie. He’s definitely very diseased-looking. Whatever happened to his head is obviously pathological (as everyone seems to agree)… nothing about it looks natural, in fact from the way things look I wouldn’t be surprised if his jaw were misaligned. I agree that the cable-chewing sounds like a reaction to pain from whatever happened to his head.

    The bobbed tail is also almost definitely an injury rather than being naturally short. I say this because I used to have a cat whose tail had to be amputated after he was hit by a car, and once the fur grew back around the tip, it looked exactly like that.

  51. #51 Jon H
    February 15, 2009

    The front paws definitely lend it the appearance of being a largish cat. They look a bit massive for a small domestic cat.

  52. #52 kristen esbensen
    June 1, 2009

    Oh, such a sad looking cat. it looks just tragic.

  53. #53 Rosel
    June 3, 2009

    Saw a chunky black cat yesterday evening with the same jowl thing, and he was both larger than the usual feral cat and looking mangy.
    This was in Al Ain UAE.

  54. #54 Mem
    November 3, 2009

    I am only wondering about one thing: how come that the one who did shoot the picture did not take care of the cat?
    Making pictures is always easy! Helping is apparently seen as too difficult apparently! It costs NOTHING to help really…no?!!

    And people who torture animals should be beaten themselves, so they would feel for once what they inflict on the other creatures!

  55. #55 Daniella Perea
    November 3, 2009

    Mem: have you ever tried to catch a feral cat? And since when does veterinary care cost “NOTHING”???

  56. #56 Whatever
    August 12, 2010

    Has anyone else been shocked by the poor things head? I mean seriously, what’s wrong with it?!

  57. #57 ceki
    September 5, 2010

    Cat ears dog shar pei, bulldog tail, the body of a wild, lion, cats in relation to size, although it does not seem quite so great, but certainly larger than a domestic cat. Also, the color of her hair is unusual, almost white, as well as albino, blue eyes, pink skin, are also characteristics of albino animals. I think the problem with her skin disease, or fleas, I see that her hair fell in places and last leg of the two photographs appears to be injured, you may now, perhaps an old injury that is not treated in time and adequately. This menu is just like a cat. Is not stated anywhere in any city has, and what’s new related to it, maybe some new photos … If anyone has any information let me tell cekiceki@gmail.com

  58. #58 D
    September 28, 2010

    “daniella”, you have no idea that it’s feral. if it is hanging around people so boldly, it may not be.

  59. #59 Anonymous
    April 24, 2011

    This is what I think: This cat obviously looks like an abused cat to me. It’s ears chewed up, cut off tail, and as you can see his back left foot is injured. But I have no idea if it may be sick or not. It may be an abused cat that caught a sickness, but if it HAS been abused then why is it hanging around other people? Shouldn’t it been scared since he was abused so much?

  60. #60 Rhia444
    August 17, 2011

    This is a cat that has suffered, and recovered from a burn, perhaps while still a kitten/cub. I agree it has a big feel. The front view seems very panther like, but could be because the ears where burnt off?

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