The Sokoke is a breed of cat. The original name of the breed was Khadzonzos. This name was given to the cat by the local people, the Giriama people of Kenya, who had known of the cat for a considerable time. It is speculated that this breed of cat had been around for possibly centuries before the intervention of the West. "Khadzonzo" means "look like tree bark" in the language of the Giriama, and it is plain to see why. The coat of this cat is a modified tabby (a marbled appearance much like the marbled Bengal), which looks like tree bark.
The Khadzonzos cats were discovered in the Arabuko-Sokoke forest, on the Kenyan coast, by Jeni Slater in 1978. Gloria Moeldrop, a friend of Slater's, brought some of the cats home with her to Denmark to breed, because Jeni Slater feared for the survival of the cat in Kenya. In 1990, she imported more cats from Kenya to strengthen the breeding stock. The cats were first shown in Copenhagen in 1984. The breed was officially recognized by the Fédération Internationale Féline in 1993, under the name Sokoke, for the Sokoke forest. The Sokoke is also currently registered by The International Cat Association (TICA) the world's largest domestic cat registry, and is eligible to be shown in the Preliminary New Breed class at TICA-sanctioned shows.
There has been some speculation as to whether this is a domestic cat (i.e. a feral cat) or a descendant of a wild cat that has domesticated itself. With recently published data from the Cat Genome Project, based on DNA swabs, it has been concluded that the Sokoke is part of the Asian Group of domestic cats, and has Arabian wildcat genetic origins as well. As such it is a felid hybrid.
The Sokoke, the free-roaming streetcats of the Kenya coastal area, and the cats of Lamu Island have now been put into a small genetic branch of the Asian domestic Group with the Arabian Wildcat influence. These three types of cat share regional and genetic similarities but are very different in coloration and structure when looked at closely.
Sokokes have blotched tabby coats in shades of brown, with amber to light green eyes. The center of the patterns are hollow-looking due to the agouti gene producing a "salt and pepper" look. Their coats are short and coarse, with little to no undercoat. Recessive colors/traits are rare. Noted so far (and not accepted for showing) are Seal Lynx Point, Melanistic (Black), and Blue colors, with one long-haired kitten also known. Like all of the short-haired Asian Group cats, they do not thrive in extreme cold temperatures for extended periods of time. However, contrary to previous reports, they can be acclimated to colder climates and do not require special housing any more than similar short-haired Asian Group cats. A special pattern trait is agouti body-ticking that can extend all the way into the tailtip itself. Chaotic, chained, and clouded marble patterns have been seen recently, with deviation away from the typical modified classic tabby pattern. Their bodies are long and thin, with long legs. The back legs should be longer than the front legs, similar to a wildcat. They also have a unique tip-toe gait, in part due to a straighter stifle as well as the longer back legs.
Sokoke cats are very active and enjoy climbing and talking to their human and cat families. They bond deeply to each other, as well as their owners. This trait makes re-homing harder for them, with a longer adjustment period expected in adult cats and older, already bonded kittens. Once a Sokoke is comfortable and feels safe, their sweet-natured highly intelligent personalities come through.
The Sokoke does best in a controlled environment, due to their peace-loving nature, and also because of their limited resistance to common New World cat illnesses, found in multi-cat cattery settings. It is typical for the male to help raise the kittens, and if left together the mother will often wait months to wean her kittens, even though their development is fairly rapid once they leave the nestbox. One can expect one to two litters per year, per pair, and sometimes two close litters in a row, then have them go longer periods of time before producing again. Sexual maturity is usually around eight to ten months of age, and their expected lifespan is the same as any purebred domestic cat, with 15 years an average old age. The Sokoke is currently bred and/or shown in Europe and USA.