Photo by Elektra Hammond
Best of Breed
Best of Breed

General Description

The Sokoke is a lean, medium sized, ticked modified classic tabby, found as a naturally occurring native breed in the greater Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Preserve area in the coastal zone of Kenya, Africa. A peace-loving, keenly aware and intelligent shorthaired breed, the Sokoke is playful and family oriented, forming close bonds with both feline and human family members. The Sokoke is a rare breed and is unique in that it has a see-through ticked tabby pattern, with ticking in both the ground color and pattern itself, even including the tail tip. This camouflaged pattern can also include outlining over the shoulders and below the spine. They have a tip-toe gait in the rear that becomes more pronounced when they are excited. Leggy, with large upright ears and lithe, graceful movements, they are moderately active and easy to keep.


The Sokoke is a naturally occurring Native Breed, evolving on its own without human intervention, so a timeline is not available to pinpoint when it actually became a breed. We know the Giriama tribal elders in its native Kenya could describe the Sokoke in detail, using the term Khadzonzo meaning come pretty one. The Giriama were the first people to discover and live with this distinctive breed. In 1978, a British/Kenyan woman named Jeni Slater discovered wild kittens on her coconut plantation and was fascinated by their unusual looks. She chose to pen two of them that she later bred together. She introduced the Sokoke breed to her Danish friend, Gloria Moeldrup, who imported the first two Sokokes to Denmark in 1984. Three more cats were imported in 1991 and another was imported to Italy in 1992. Together, these cats created a foundation for the Sokokes known as the Old Line. In January 1994, FIFe recognized the Sokoke as a Championship breed.

Fast forward to 2000/2001...A British/Kenyan lady named Jeannie Knocker living on the Kenyan Coast near Watamu researched the Sokoke breed her neighbor Jeni Slater had discovered. With the help of her native gardener, Sammy, she obtained some more Sokokes. Sammy recognized the pictures she showed him and had local children in outlying villages bring cats to her as they found them in brushy pasture areas near the Arabuko-Sokoke Preserve. When the financing fell through for a film the cats were to star in, her son, Will, used the Internet to contact Sokoke breeders in Europe. Good news: there were now new cats with desperately needed new bloodlines available for import. These cats were known as the New Line: some went to Europe and were registered with FIFe in 2003 and seven were imported to the USA. In 2004, TICA accepted the Sokoke as a Registration-Only Breed. On May 1st, 2008 the Sokoke had met the criteria to advance to TICA's Preliminary New Breed status, eligible for show. With the combination of the Old Line and the New Line, the Sokoke has an exciting future as it continues its development in TICA.


The Sokoke is best described as a package: sensitive/interactive, intelligent/curious, intuitive/peace-loving, moderately active, and territorial. They are family-oriented, and very aware of hierarchy and placement, with both their feline counterparts and humans. The Sokoke pays close attention to its humans, and loves to sit on the back of the couch or drop to the feet of their favorite people as a greeting, or a simple request to "not take another step until you pet me!" It is common for Sokokes to perch near a window, where they watch and wait patiently for their people to arrive home-they also have an uncanny ability to "read" owners' emotions, communicate with soft, barely audible chattering noises and occasional louder, alarming calls if they sense danger coming. Sokokes often play in sudden spurts, even when older, and kittens can amuse themselves with a simple coin for hours, hide it, and then play with it another day. They are very entertaining companions that bond fiercely, requiring a full commitment from their humans to mirror their devotion.


The Sokoke stands apart from other domestic purebreds due to its unique color & pattern and interactive behavior. Recent DNA testing as part of the Cat Genome Project has placed it in a small, separate branch of the Asian Cat Breed Group with other felids that are descended from the Arabian wild cat. Close relatives are the Lamu Island cats and the Kenyan Coastal street cats. Like other Asian Group shorthairs, the Sokoke has a thin, slightly hard coat texture with very little undercoat. It is a short-haired breed, rather upright on its legs, with an elegant grace and beauty.

Now that DNA testing has placed the Sokoke in the Asian Group, it is not surprising that some of the Old Line cats have the oriental voice and extreme legginess of other members of the Asian Group or that they sometimes throw pointed kittens. It is unknown whether the colorpoint gene was introduced solely by an outcross black street cat used early on in Kenya. So far, the Genome Project has proven that genetic material is shared with the two other distinctly different looking street cats and Lamu Island cats. However, in the samples that were tested, English genetic material did not show up in large enough amounts to have enough influence to be noted. Of the three, the Sokoke is the only pedigreed breed that has a consistent set of traits.

The Sokoke is a medium sized cat, lithe and athletic with a surprisingly muscular body that belies its outward appearance. Especially in the Old Line, male tend to be very hard-bodied with a hard, thin, stiff-feeling tail. The body has a rigid feel when they are standing or crouching but are all muscle when picked up. However a relaxed Sokoke is amenable to carrying and holding. The New line does not exhibit the Old line's hard tail, and so breeders must work hard to ensure that combination breedings will not lose this unique trait. Females typically are slightly finer-boned and smaller than males, and not quite as hard-bodied and muscular. As youngsters, two types of Sokoke are seen: one with a slightly rounder face and a slightly thicker, deeper body; the other more oriental-looking in type with a slender, leggier body and a longer face. Either one can throw the other it seems, with differences often evening out as the cats mature. The TICA breed standard recognizes Brown (Black) modified classic tabby only; however some of the Old Line cats were known to carry for the pointed gene and so tabby points occasionally appear. And recently one pair of the New Line Kenyan imports produced melanistic (Black) kittens. Some of the combinations of the Old and New lines have produced pointed kittens and recently they also produced a blue kitten and a longhair.

The New line TICA imports tend to be quieter than many of the older, inbred Old Line cats and as a whole the breed does not seem to be extremely vocal as was previously reported. Sokokes have a consistent, elegant air about them that their owners cherish and draw quick admiration from people seeing them for the first time. Their unique ticked pattern and ground coloring combined, from a distance gives a "see-through" effect, and provides an eye-catching appeal.