Turkey: coming soon, 'Feline Big Brother' for Van Cats

Rare cats, two colour eyes, stars of reality show

17 April, 18:14

The rare cat in Van The rare cat in Van

(by Rodolfo Calo') (ANSAmed) - ANKARA - Next month will see the launch of a kind of cat version of 'Big Brother' to celebrate this specially telegenic cat. The multimedia potential of the breed has been explained to ANSAmed by a leading expert in the field, Professor Fetih Gulyuz, director of the research centre dedicated to the Van at the 'Centenary University' on the banks of a very blue lake, that bears the same name as the cat, in eastern Turkey. As the professor said, ''as far as we know, there are no other'' breeds apart from the ''Van Cat'' having herterchromia of the eyes. The characteristic is apparently due to ''a genetic anomaly'' Prof.

Gulyuz notes, pointing out that ''Van kedisi'' has three kinds of pupil coloration: both yellow, both blue, and - most characteristic - ''one blue and one yellow''. This rare feature is in danger of disappearing. As the Professor told the Anadolu press agency, the Van research centre was created specifically to safeguard the Van kedisi from extinction. As you can see from the Wikipedia article on this cat, the completely white version has not yet received recognition in Europe as a breed apart from the more common versions whose heads and tails are of a different colour. Although the rare white exemplars are rare, we will soon be able to enjoy watching them on the internet. As Prof. Gulyuz announces: ''within the next two months'', a ''live transmission'' will start on a website currently under construction. According to the centre's deputy in charge, Mehmet Karaca, twelve TV cameras will be located in various parts of the kennels. Dating back to 1997, there are just over one hundred cat residents at the moment and cameras will concentrate on interaction between the ''mothers'' (there are around eighty of these) and their kits. A two-storey building set next to two roofed-over cage compounds, the breeding kennel did not suffer any damage in the two earthquakes of last October and November that led to nearly 650 deaths and left 60,000 local families without their homes in the province of Van, which lies on Turkey's border with Iran. As soon as four hours after the quakes, ''the cats were back to their normal behaviour'' the Professor says, and three of the four staff members ''continued to feed them as ever: there was no problem here''. Throughout the human ordeal, the cats were never neglected. This cat is the symbol of the region of Van: its face is to be seen in the luminous displays on the entrance to the city and there is a four-metre high statue of the cat in the main thoroughfare. So proud is Turkey of this cat that even Ankara chose its dual-coloured eyes as a logo for a recent tourism campaign. The myth of the Van cat is further fed by the belief that - unlike any other cat - these ones love water. There is a tradition that it learned to swim by jumping off Noah's Ark even before the Ark docked at its berth by Mount Ararat, and there are plenty of references to it on the Web as the ''swimming cat''. But the Prof. is sceptical: ''In my opinion, it's a myth.

It hasn't been proven by any scientific study'' that this cat loves water. There is, the Professor says, no substance to the story that its soft fur sheds water. Just like a dog, finding itself in water, it will do its best not to drown, ''but does that mean it enjoys swimming?''. Professor Gulyuz elaborates: Van cats ''are sensitive'': ''they love being treasured'' and they enjoy the domestic life: but they are also very fond of ''their freedom'' and so ''they have the need to wander,'' in the garden, for example. The breeding station attached to the university is the only official breeding kennel for this cat. There are bureaucratic obstacles to exporting Van cats and the centre sells just 10-15 kittens a year at between 85 and 210 euros apiece. Private citizens or pet shops in the area have them on offer for around 50-60 euros.