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'Werewolf' Cat Discovered in South Africa

cat breed

Story at-a-glance -

  • A stray tabby in South Africa gave birth to a litter of six kittens. One of the kittens was definitely not like the others
  • Lykoi cats grow patches of spiky fur in seemingly odd places, often longer on their backs, cheeks and top of their heads, while the rest is often practically hairless
  • This Lykoi, named Eyona, is extremely rare, and 1 of only 35 known natural occurrences in the world.

By Dr. Becker

Rather than being a werewolf of London, a kitten with distinctly werewolf-like characteristics was found in South Africa, the lone aberrant among his five typical kitty siblings, all the offspring of a standard Short Haired Domestic tabby.

The cat was discovered under a bush in a park by members of TEARS Animal Rescue in Cape Town. First they found the six kittens. Then they found that one was definitely not like the others.

You’ve heard of cats who behave like dogs, playful past kitten-hood, fetching things you throw to bring it back to you or display dog-like devotion to their designated humans instead of playing hard to get like some cats are said to do.

This newly identified and quite rare cat breed possesses those dog-like attributes and more. Much more.

TEARS operations manager Mandy Store told online animal site The Dodo that the peculiar feline has "'the look of a wolf, but the physique of a cat.' We thought he might be a Sphynx crossbreed, but he's got a lot of little physical differences from cats. He's quite incredible.”

TEARS staff named the kitten Eyona, which in the South African Xhosa language means, “The One.”

The Lykoi, AKA ‘Werewolf Cat:’ 1 of the World’s Rarest ‘Breeds’

Imagine the surprise of the TEARS’ staff to learn that Eyona wasn’t just “different;” he’s extremely rare, and 1 of only 35 known natural occurrences in the world. The rescue group brought in an expert American veterinarian to see if he could tell them what they had. The Dodo reported:

“The vet concluded that many of his qualities — including his spotty black and gray fur and his tendency to act more like a dog — made him fit the criteria to officially be considered a Lykoi.1

The Lykoi possess a rare genetic mutation that causes them to grow patches of spiky fur in odd places, often longer on their backs, cheeks and top of their heads, while their legs and chests are practically hairless.

Most Lykoi cats have an oddly monkey-like face and a somewhat forlorn expression. These and other characteristics give them a lycanthropic appearance meaning uncannily like a werewolf.

World-renowned veterinarian and Lykoi enthusiast Dr. Johnny Gobble said the kitten was the only natural Lykoi mutation he’d ever heard of in South Africa. Tests ranging from thyroid function exams to blood screenings netted nothing abnormal.

However, he cautioned, “It’s way too early. A lot of health problems won’t show up until a cat is 6 or 7 years old, and we don’t have any Lykois that old yet.”2

An expert in both genetics and rare cat breeds, Gobble was later the first in the world to breed the rare, naturally occurring felines. The International Cat Association (TICA) noted:

“To prove it was a gene, Johnny Gobble bred two of the unrelated cats to produce the first intentionally bred Lykoi. Since the mother to one litter was a black domestic, extensive outcrossing with shorthair black domestic cats began. With time, it was determined that the gene was recessive.”3

According to The Dodo:

“Since 2010, after the mutation was first identified, Lykoi cats have been bred to produce more Lykoi kittens, but what makes Eyona so special is that it's apparently not something he inherited.”

In 2012, TICA accepted the Lykoi as a recognized cat breed.

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Not Something Lykoi Inherit, but a Mutation

Two decades ago, when they first appeared, people assumed Lykoi cats had the Sphynx or Devon Rex gene. Now, they’re known to be a completely new, natural cat mutation. As explained:

“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 (a) 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.”4

Looks Like a Wolf; Acts Like a Cat

Eyona’s patchy fur is black flecked with grey, but tests showed he had no skin diseases to cause his hair’s odd growth pattern and other traits. He has tall, pointed ears with a wide base, and a small, heart-shaped face.

Once you start comparing the characteristics, you’ll find several likenesses between the Lykoi and artistic depictions of the imaginary werewolf. The cat has an eerily piercing, deer-in-the-headlights look, accentuated by wide-spaced eyes.

A Lykoi cat’s fur and coloring is unique, as well. They can have all-white or all-black hair or any combination, with the white more of a silver hue, known in other animals as “roan,” but unique to cats. The patchy coat molts at least once in their lives, and they have no hair on their face or backs of their ears.

Their ears and nose feel like leather. In an absence of sunlight, Lykoi skin turns pink, but is otherwise black. Their bodies are lean, males “significantly” larger than the females. TICA says:

“Most people agree that they look like little wolf cats — hence the name Lykoi is a play off the word Greek word Lycos meaning wolf. Their strong prey drive is apparent when they play. Lykoi will stalk their toys, other pets and even people before they pounce.

The Lykoi are very loyal and tend to bond well with people. When new situations arise, the Lykoi are cautious at first to survey the situation. Then, they quickly warm up to new people and new pets.

When they look at you, their eyes seem to stare through you, almost like they are reading your mind. In the end, they are still sweet, loving cats that just want to warm your heart.”5

“Eyona,” Store said, “is very much like a dog. He's playful like a dog. He'll look you in the eyes with a sense of great attachment, unlike most feral cats. He'll even drag his blanket around with him. It's like he doesn't know how to be a kitty." As for the Lykoi’s supposed dog-like behavior, Gobble agreed: “They can be very in-your-face. They like to follow you around and see what you’re doing.”

While there would be a line halfway across the country of people wanting to buy Eyona, possibly for selfish, exploitation purposes, TEARS placed him in a loving home with an excellent foster mom for a normal cat’s life with other kitties.

Cat Breeds With Similar Features to the Lykoi

The spooky eyes are one of the features you may see (no pun intended) in a little-known cat breed called the Korat, cited in The Cat-Book of Poems (Smud Khoi of Cats), surfaced in Thailand in between 1350 and 1767, according to the Cat Fanciers Association.6

A Cornish Rex may have longer legs than the Lykoi, but a similar “hunch-backed” appearance when standing, similar to a Whippet, which further enhances its dog-like persona. In the Sphynx breed that many experts believed must be related in some way to the different-looking Lykoi, some of the health problems may be prevalent, as online and print science magazine Nautilus explained:

“The buildup can result in a vulnerability to ear infections and mite infestations if not monitored closely. The thin coats also make the animals susceptible to cold, explaining why the mutation that produces Lykoi cats is fairly rare in feral cat populations: Presumably, most naturally occurring specimens freeze to death in cold weather before they can pass it along. If Lykois are not housed inside, they’ll need access to a heater to survive cold winters.”7

Cat breeds with no hair include the Peterbald, a mix between a Sphynx and an Oriental Shorthair and the Sphynx himself. Hairless dog breeds include the Peruvian Inca Orchid (PIO) and the Chinese Crested. All of these are ancient breeds, and not mutations like the Lykoi, further adding to the mystery of this interesting feline.