The Bronze Egyptian Mau: past, present and future.
There is nothing new about the bronze Egyptian Mau. A bronze male Mau, Fatima Jo-jo (also known as Giorgio), was amongst the foundation cats imported into the USA by Princess Nathalie Troubetskoy in the 1950s, and as a consequence, bronze was one of the two original colours in which the breed was recognized (the other being the genetically dominant and consequently more common silver). However, until the past decade the bronze Maus took a back seat to the more popular silvers, and were generally only produced as a by-product of breeding programmes aimed at producing silvers. Indeed, in his 1972 CFA Yearbook article on the Egyptian Mau CFA judge Wain Harding remarked, “The bronze Mau is the rarer of the two colors and is somewhat less perfected.” Harding went on to add that, “Until recently it has been impractical to do the bronze to bronze breeding that is necessary to improve the bronze color.” As an Abyssinian breeder Harding was clearly aware of the colour breeding necessary to produce the warm colour already well developed in breeds such as the ruddy Abyssinian, but as yet not seen in the bronze Mau. In fact is was not until the 1990s that some breeders began to specialize in bronze Maus and practice the bronze to bronze colour breeding advocated by Harding in the 70s. The results were dramatic, and by the mid 90s Sharon Partington of Sharbees cattery was producing bronze Egyptian Maus of exceptional warm rufous colour, most notably, CFA Grand Champion, Breed Winner and National Winner Sharbees Scarlet O’Hairy of Matiki (aka Rebbi), a bronze female of exceptional Mau type and of a colour previously unseen by most Mau breeders. There is no doubt that Rebbi was responsible for resetting the standard for bronze Maus (I understand that her nickname was a contraction of Rebel). She fitted the literal standard of points perfectly in being a “warm coppery brown”, however she was like nothing seen before, and this led to controversy. Some breeders felt that her colour was incorrect because it was new, others claimed that it indicated illicit use of Bengal cats in Mau breeding programmes. My own perspective, and also clearly that of the many CFA judges who ranked Rebbi so highly, is that she was indicative of the future of the bronze Maus, and a fine example of what could be achieved by careful colour breeding. My aim in this article is to defend this point of view, and to try to dispel some of the myths surrounding the modern bronze Maus.
The bronze Mau is genetically a brown (or more correctly, black) tabby, designated in cat colour genetics as BB. The genetic color equivalents in other breeds are the ebony tabby Oriental, the tawny (not chocolate) Ocicat, the brown tabby American shorthair, the brown Bengal and the ruddy (usual in GCCF) Abyssinian. These cats range from cool greyish brown all the way to hot rufous brown, and the same range of variation is seen within the bronze Maus today. The cooler coloured bronze Maus more usually come from predominantly silver breeding programmes, whereas the hot rufous bronzes almost invariably come from generations of bronze colour breeding. The warmth of a brown tabby is controlled by what are known as the “rufous polygenes”. As their name suggests there are more than one of these genes, and they appear to work somewhat additively to produce warmth of color seen in the golden and rufous colored bronzes; the more rufous polygenes, the warmer the color. The aim of colour breeding is to build up the rufous polygenes by selecting for the warmest cats generation after generation. The ruddy Abyssinian is undoubtedly the breed where development of highly rufous brown tabbies is most advanced, and this has been achieved by generations of color breeding–selectively breeding only the most rufous individuals from each generation. Some Bengal cats also show a similarly highly developed rufous colouration.
To the novice Mau breeder the variation in colour of the bronzes can be extremely confusing-I remember my own reaction at my first ever CFA show on seeing examples of extremely cold and extremely warm bronze Maus: how could these cats possibly be genetically the same colour? However, despite the differences it has to be understood that the variation in the colour of bronzes is continuous, and although the ends of the spectrum are very different, all intermediates are possible, and it does not make sense to draw a line at any point and call the cats different colours.
As an important aside, Roy Robinson’s book, Genetics for Cat Breeders has contributed to this confusion by apparently referring to two types of bronze Mau, dark brown chocolates (bb) and paler brown cinnamons (bl bl). However, he is actually referring not to Egyptian Maus but to Oriental Spotted tabbies, which do occur in chocolate and cinnamon. Confusingly, the latter breed was known as Egyptian Maus in the UK in the 1970s and the error in Robinson’s book has never been corrected. As far as I am aware the chocolate (b) and cinnamon (bl) genes do not exist in the gene pool of the true Egyptian Mau, and all bronze Maus are genetically homozygous brown (i.e. black, BB tabbies).
The current CFA standard describes the Mau as “a colorful cat”. The color description of the bronze specifies “brown-black markings” on a “warm brown ground color” (the word “coppery” was removed from the CFA standard in 1998). It also specifies that the undercoat should be a “warm brown”. The interpretation of this description is certainly somewhat individual, but we should bear in mind that Webster’s American Dictionary defines bronze as “a reddish-brown color”. A total of 15 points are given to coat colour alone which does not include contrast (an additional 25 points are given to pattern and contrast). The TICA standard distributes the points in the same way as the CFA standard, however the description of bronze reads, “Warm bronze ground color ticked with dark brown with gray undercoat close to skin”. Interestingly, the TICA standard requires the witholding of all awards for a bronze WITHOUT a gray undercoat. The GCCF standard retains the “warm coppery brown” of the former CFA standard, and withholds awards on bronzes with “cold grey ground colour”.
The rise of the warm bronzes
Aside from the colour breeding already mentioned, another extremely important factor in the change in colour of the bronze Maus was the introduction of the so-called Indian lines.
The increase in the incidence of warm rufous colour in the bronze Maus followed the introduction of the Indian lines in the 1980s. The Indian Maus were two brown domestic cats of Egyptian Mau type discovered in Delhi by Jean Mill. These cats were eventually accepted by CFA as Egyptian Maus, were extensively used in both Egyptian Mau and Bengal breeding programs, and are behind many present-day Maus and Bengals (look for the Millwood prefix in your pedigrees; Toby and Tashi are the original Indian imports). The significant difference in the Indian Maus is that they were both very rufous bronze cats, and their incorporation into Mau breeding programs rapidly led to more rufous coloration in bronze Maus (and more tarnish in the silvers). Toby also carried the glitter gene which is also seen in some Maus. Toby (known as Tory in TICA Bengal pedigrees) was used extensively by Jean Mill in producing the first Bengals, and he is widely acknowledged among Bengal breeders as being the original and only source of both the rufous colour and glitter seen in the Bengal breed.
The pedigrees the highly rufous bronze Maus reveal three factors that I believe have been vital in the creation of their color: first they have a high percentage of Millwood blood, second they are extensively line-bred (or even inbred), and third the cats currently on the show bench result from up to five generations of bronze to bronze color breeding. Many of these bronze Maus have done exceedingly well in recent years at CFA and GCCF shows, and according to my interpretation of the current CFA and GCCF standards these cats deserve their success because they meet the standards better than their cooler counterparts. They are more colorful, their color is warmer and more coppery and they have the warm brown undercoat specifically mentioned in the CFA standard that the majority of cooler bronzes completely lack. In my opinion, the warm bronzes are so striking that they have raised the status of the bronze maus to being equal to that of the silvers.
The Bengal Controversy
Following the success of GC, NW Sharbees Scarlet O’hairy of Matiki a few individuals made public accusations that this cat had been produced by the introduction of Bengal cats into Egyptian Mau breeding programs. As far as I am aware, the reasons for this accusation were first, that brown Bengals have the same rufous color, second, that the warm bronze Maus had other Bengal characteristics such as coat texture, spot size, head type etc., and third that no bronze Maus like this cat had been seen before. I want to take some time to counter these accusations first, because I do not believe there is any evidence to support them, second, because I know that the breeders involved have been hurt by them and third, because I believe that the breed as a whole is losing credibility because of them. Just to give an example of my last point, a Mau breeder recently asked whether my silver Maus were the pure ones or the ones crossed with Bengals. She clearly believed that many of the top American breeders are using Bengals in their breeding programs on a regular basis, and she wanted to know which lines she had to avoid.
I’m not going to be naive enough to argue that no Bengals have ever been used in Mau breeding programs; many dubious things have happened in the past with our breed, and it is probably the case that Bengals not to mention many other breeds have crept in at some point, although there is no documentary evidence to support this. Every breed has skeletons in its cupboard, and as long as mistakes of the past are not being perpetuated the best thing one can do is to forget about them and concentrate on the future. What I do want to argue is that the warm bronze Maus owe no more to Bengal blood than any other Maus winning on the show bench today, whether they be bronze, silver or smoke.
First I’ll consider the argument that because some Bengals also show rufous color therefore they are behind the warm bronze Maus. I was extremely amused by a recent conversation that I had with Frances Peace, the Secretary of the GCCF. She happens to be a Bengal breeder, and she was fascinated to see that the same Millwood Maus that appear on the pedigrees of some of my cats also appear on the pedigrees of her Bengals. She made the observation that it is well known amongst Bengal breeders that the Millwood Maus were the source of the rufous color in Bengals! So Bengal breeders are attributing the color of their cats to the Millwood Maus which were legitimately used in their breeding programs as a domestic cross for the Asian Leopard cat. This fits very well with the fact that the warm bronze Maus have extensive Millwood blood behind them. It is also important to note that Asian Leopard cats are not rufous cats; all the pictures I have seen show rather pale sandy colored cats that look nothing like rufous bronze Maus in color. Thus, it seems most parsimonious to argue that the Bengals got their rufous color from the Millwood Maus, not vice versa.
Second, I’ll address the accusation that the warm bronze Maus have other Bengal characteristics in addition to their color. One of the most often mentioned similarities is coat texture. It is certainly the case that some (but by no means all) of the warm bronze Maus also have a very fine silky, flat-lying coat with a high gloss to it. Some people have argued that this bears a resemblance to the Bengal “pelt” which is of course nothing more than a very dense, fine, soft coat. I’ve looked at a lot of Bengals recently, and I don’t see much resemblance between the Bengal coats and the Mau coats: the Bengal coat is much softer in texture, and lacks the resilience mentioned in the Mau standard. Incidentally, the coat that we are seeing in some bronze Maus is also seen in many silvers where it has been completely uncontroversial. What we are seeing is the development of Mau coats in both bronzes and silvers that while still meeting the standard of a coat that is “medium in length with a lustrous sheen”, “dense and resilient in texture” with “two or more bands of ticking”, shows off the color pattern and contrast more effectively than some of the older style coats which are longer, and woolier. A second similarity mentioned between some of the warm bronzes and the Bengals is spot size, since both tend to have rather large exotic spots. We should remember that the Mau standard allows for any size of spots, and that there are many large spotted silvers around as well as bronzes. In my experience, spot size is very variable in Maus and responds very fast to selection. There therefore seems no basis for using similarity of spot size as a basis for linking the warm bronzes and the Bengals. The final claim that there are similarities in type between the warm bronze Maus and Bengals I find frankly incomprehensible. You only have to read the respective standards for these two breeds to see that show quality examples of the two breeds should bear no resemblance to one another. Bengals are much larger and heavier than Maus, they have small ears and large square muzzles. If there are any resemblances between Bengals and Maus it is because Maus are frequently and legitimately used in Bengal breeding programs, not vice versa.
Finally, I’ll deal with the point that no bronze Maus like the warm bronzes had ever been seen before. It is certainly the case that nothing quite like GC, NW Sharbees Scarlet O’hairy of Matiki had ever been seen previously. This is probably why she got a national win in CFA. She combined exceptional color, beautiful coat texture and near perfect pattern and contrast with exquisite Mau type, however none of these components were new to the Maus. Previous experiments with color breeding of bronzes had produced some very warm rufous cats, but this had not been previously combined with the other features necessary to make a top winning Mau. I firmly believe that the warm bronzes are merely the product of careful selection of lines combined with intense color breeding and of course a healthy dose of good luck. After all, the ruddy Abyssinians are some of the best examples of rufous brown tabbies we have, and no one is accusing them of using Bengals in their breeding programs! The Abyssinian breeders have had better success at producing good rufous color than most Mau breeders simply because they have been at it for longer, and they have not been distracted as the Mau breeders have by also trying to breed clean silvers. Incidentally, in the UK where Abyssinians are accepted in both ruddy (i.e. usual) and silver colours and a certain amount of interbreeding takes place, the ruddies are not as warm as in the USA and the silvers are generally rather tarnished.
The future of the bronze maus
The development of the warm bronzes does not come without some valid concerns about the effects that they will have on the future of the breed. The need for color breeding of warm bronzes presents some problems: if warm bronzes are mixed with cold bronzes the color is lost or at least diluted, and if they are mixed with silvers the result will in all probability be tarnished silvers. Therefore carefully planned breeding programs and education of breeders will be necessary if we are not to see the color of both our bronzes and silvers suffer. Interestingly, the CFA Abyssinian breed council regarded these concerns as worrying enough not to allow the acceptance of silver Abyssinians.
As readers will probably determine from the tone of this article, I’m an ardent supporter of the warm bronze Maus. This is not only because I personally think that they are very beautiful cats, but also for more pragmatic reasons. First and foremost, I think that the warm bronzes meet the current CFA standard better than the cooler bronzes, as I explained above. Breeding purebred cats is about a search for perfection; the standard represents an ideal for which we should aim. I think it is hard to deny that the warm bronzes are not closer to this ideal as it is currently defined. For example, the color of the undercoat is clearly stated in the standard as warm brown, yet if you part the coat of most bronzes around the neck and shoulders you will see that the hairs have a gray base to them. At the last CFA breed council meeting the issue of bronze color was discussed and several breeders argued for a more pluralistic interpretation of the standard that would give equal credit to bronzes of all colors. I agree that the standard should provide room for individual interpretation, but I think that it already does. Warm bronzes can vary in color from paler warm golden brown to darker reddish brown, and both should be acceptable. However, I am not in favour of giving equal credit to cool bronzes with no warm color because they should not get any of the 15 points given for color. This is not to say that a cool bronze should not do reasonably well in the show ring if it scores highly in all the other categories, but it should never be a top winning cat. A second reason for supporting the warm bronzes is that I think that they have given the bronze Maus a status similar to the silvers. Until recently, the Maus were dominated by silvers with the bronzes and smokes being regarded as minority colors, but the warm bronzes have changed this with the effect that judges are giving awards to bronze Maus more often, and pet buyers are actively seeking them out. I think that we are seeing the natural development of our breed at the moment, and I predict that in ten years time there will be Mau catteries dedicated to breeding show quality warm bronzes, and the cool bronzes of today will all but have disappeared from the show ring.
With premisson and thanks to Melissa Bateson