No one knows for sure when and where the first Somali appeared; some proponents think that the long coat was a spontaneous natural mutation in the Abyssinian. Genetic studies indicate, however, that the Somali probably originated around the turn of the century in England when breeders, low on breeding stock, used longhaired cats in their Abyssinian breeding programs. In the late 1910s and in the late 1940s, during the aftermath of World Wars I and II, when so many breeds had dwindled to near extinction, breeders were forced to mix other breeds into their Abyssinian bloodlines to keep the breed going.
Raby Chuffa of Selene, a male Abyssinian that came to the United States from Britain in 1953, and that appears on the pedigrees of many Abyssinians, is considered the father of the Somali breed on this continent; all Canadian and American Somalis can be traced back to this cat.
Some Abyssinian breeders wanted nothing to do with these longhaired nonconformists and did not want to encourage the tenuous connection that the name “Longhaired Abyssinian” would produce. Abyssinian breeder Evelyn Mague, one of the first U.S. breeders to work with the developing longhaired breed, came up with the name “Somali” because Somalia borders Ethiopia, the country formerly called Abyssinia for which the Abyssinian was named.
The Somali is a long-haired breed of cat. The breed appeared spontaneously in the 1950s from Abyssinian breeding programs when a number of Abyssinian kittens were born with bottle-brush tails and long fluffy coats. Abyssinians and Somalis share the same personality (active, intelligent, playful, curious) and appearance. The only difference between them is the fur length and therefore the amount of grooming required. Unlike most long-haired cats, Somalis shed very little excess hair. Their coat is generally shed en masse, or "blown", once or twice a year, rather than constantly shedding like a Persian or other long-haired cat.
A red SomaliSomalis have a striking, bushy tail, which, combined with their ruddy coat, has earned them the nickname of "fox cats" in some circles. Their coats are ticked, which is a variation on tabby markings, and some Somalis may show full tabby stripes on portions of their bodies, but this is seen as a flaw, and tabby Somalis are only sold as neutered pets. The only tabby marking on a show Somali is the traditional tabby 'M' on the middle of the forehead. Like Abyssinians, they have a dark rim around their eyes that makes them look like they are wearing kohl, and they have a small amount of white on their muzzles and chins/throats. White elsewhere on their bodies disqualifies them from show-status.
With all the virtues of the Abyssinian and adorned by a gorgeous semi-long coat, the Somali is a beautiful and lively addition to any household. Don’t get a Somali if you want a cat that can be taken for a furry doorstop, or if you want a cat that will do your bidding. Like the Abyssinian, the Somali is active, curious, and high-spirited, and loves to prance around the house, opening cupboards and generally getting into mischief. Their voices are soft, their minds active, and their food dishes are always empty. They also tend to be determined cats: Once they get an idea in their furry little heads, there’s no dissuading them. They’re not aggressive or unfriendly, just tenacious.
Somalis are affectionate, but are not lap cats. They don’t like to be cuddled and would rather be near than on you. They do, however, want to be involved in every aspect of your life. Open a drawer and your Somali will be there to peer in.