The world’s rarest kitten – a Lykoi or Werewolf Cat – has been rescued from The Company’s Garden in Cape Town by TEARS Animal Rescue Feral Cat Project staff and volunteers, the agency said on Tuesday.
The cat, found under a bush, is the only natural-born Lykoi on record in South Africa and one of just 35 in the world, making this one of the most exciting discoveries in the SA animal world in recent years.
Part of a litter of six kittens taken to TEARS for sterilisation in March after the disappearance of their mother – a short-haired domestic tabby – the only strange-looking kitten in the litter has since been confirmed as an incredibly rare Lykoi.
United States veterinarian and world Lykoi specialist, Dr Johnny Gobble, says, “The little Lykoi at TEARS is the first natural mutation in South Africa reported to me. The Lykoi breeder in SA started with Lykoi cats from another breeder that we began with our lines so those cats were bred and did not occur naturally.”
Gobble, fascinated by rare breeds and genetics, was the first breeder of Lykoi in the world from naturally occurring Lykoi. He says that about 20 years ago, these oddball cats were thought to have the Sphynx or Devon gene but have since been found to be a completely new, natural mutation of cat. He is not surprised that the only natural SA Lykoi was found living wild under a bush.
“All of the Lykoi that started the breed were found in very similar situations. We have some from shelters, some from feral cat colony trap and release programmes, and some that were found on the streets. This is why we call the Lykoi a second chance breed. All of the cats in the starting programme were rescues. They have great personality overall, and we have found no genetic health problems so far. Since they come from the feral colonies, I think they have great immune systems.”
Since monitoring of the breed began in 2011, there have been 34 reported natural mutations from around the world. “The TEARS’ Lykoi is the 35th,” Gobble says.
The kitten’s strange appearance – like a human, half-transformed into a mythical creature – prompted TEARS’ veterinarian Dr Tracy Dicks to take skin scrapings to test for various skin diseases. All returned negative findings and with the help of TEARS’ Operations and Feline Programme Manager, Mandy Store, the search to uncover the mystery of this strange cat began in earnest.
Store says, “We even tested to see if the kitten was a Devon Rex but results also came back negative. The mother and five other kittens in the litter – all short haired domestic tabbies – gave us no clues about our new arrival so we widened our research. We were absolutely stunned to discover that we’d brought into our shelter the rarest kitten in South Africa – the weird, wonderful and legendary Werewolf Cat.”
The discovery made sense of the kitten’s unusual behaviour – staff had observed that he did not play as a typical cat would, and displayed qualities that were more dog-like. Initially it was assumed that he maintained his aloof and stoic demeanor because he was a shy feral, but it is now clear that this is the typical behaviour of a Lykoi.
TEARS has named the rare treasure, Eyona. This is a Xhosa name that means “The One.” It is believed that those carrying the name are attracted to mysteries and exhibit fierce independence. They are described as individuals who crave affection and understanding, but rarely find it as others do not understand them and may see them as cool and aloof. It is also said that most people will fail to realise the true depth of an Eyona’s nature.
The Werewolf Cat found against the odds by TEARS’ Feral Cat team truly lives up to his name. Nobody on an unremarkable morning in March when he was brought into the shelter could have imagined his true value and uniqueness.
Eyona is currently in the safe care of TEARS Animal Rescue and will not be rehomed. He has been given a happy and quiet place in which to develop as a normal kitten would despite being one-of-a-kind.
But the image of Eyona is set to become a familiar one, as the organisation launches a three-month TEARS Quest for Hidden Treasure campaign with the Lykoi as the face of all that is unique and precious, but sometimes hidden from view, in the world around us.