Are Maine Coons America's native cat breed?

Scientifically speaking, and strictly speaking, Maine Coons are not native to America. They are a non-native species of animal. To put it another way they are an invasive species because all domestic cats in America are an invasive species. Some cat breeders and cat associations say that the Maine Coon is America's native cat. What they mean is that this is America's cat breed and I get that. But they are not native to America.

Classic Maine Coon with a barn cat appearance from the Maine Coon Barn Cat Facebook page
Classic Maine Coon with a barn cat appearance from the Maine Coon Barn Cat Facebook page.

The Maine Coon and its predecessor has been around for about 400 years although for the vast majority of those years the cat was not described as a Maine Coon but as a barn cat. They were random bred cats until they were picked up by breeders and refined and renamed Maine Coons. That's how you make purebred cats.

The Maine Coon is not indigenous to North America. In order for the Maine Coon to be a native species of animal it would have to be a domesticated North American wildcat. And this simply isn't the case. There would have to be no human intervention and that isn't the case either.

We know with some certainty that the Maine Coon started in America with European settlers bringing over medium-longhaired or longhaired or even shorthaired companion cats or ships' cats. In short, they were imported from Europe from the early settlers onwards. So we are going back to the early 1600s. These were not purebred cats as we know them today but moggies.

And once they disembarked from the ships with their human companions they would have mated with each other because they were not spayed or neutered. And then over the intervening 400 or 300 years, living in the state of Maine and down the East Coast of America they would have evolved into medium-longhaired, hardy barn cats on farms.

But the key element in the story is that the Maine Coon is in the US because of human intervention i.e. the arrival of the European settlers on the continent. That automatically precludes, under strict scientific rules governing non-native species, the Maine Coon being native.

There is a wider discussion, however, which states that the concept of non-native species and native species should be dropped. An alternative word for non-native is 'invasive'. And there are so many invasive species in the world that have become fully embedded into the ecosystems of these places where they did not originate that I think it is time to drop the concept.

Sometimes invasive species do good things and improve ecosystems. Other times there is uproar about their presence and the authorities want to eradicate them. This is the case, for example, with the Australians and their relationship with feral cats. These, too, are invasive species brought to the continent by settlers. 

And the Australian government does not like them. It's because they kill their true, native species primarily small marsupials and mammals. These are very precious to the Australians. Of course, the biggest threat to the small, often charming animal species are humans themselves.

And of course humans are an invasive species in many parts of the world. To me, it kind of muddies up the water.

In the UK, the British shorthair is also an invasive species. Its origins are in the domestic cats brought by Romans to Britain in around 100-200 A.D. So they were imported into the country and did not originate in the wild cat that was in the country at that time. They could have been domesticated European wildcats but they are not. Or, more precisely, that is what we currently believe. 

I have to say that it is plausible to believe that some European wildcats were domesticated. And it is conceivable that wildcats in Britain at the time of the Romans were domesticated. It's a point worth making namely that we don't know everything about the domestication of the wildcat and the origins of the domestic cat. We just believe that it happened about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East.

It is believed that all domestic cats come from domesticated North African or Far Eastern wildcats living in the area which is now referred to as Syria. It is an area that is referred to as the Fertile Crescent because it's a place where, in the story of the origins of the domestic cat, there were farmers and the farmers came to a mutual understanding with wildcats which led to their domestication.

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