Sokoke cat breed: the African tabby cat that once lived in trees and hunted only insects

László Enikő

2023. January 20 - Source: Photos by Getty Images Hungary

It is not a typical pet that needs to be petted, but he is very affectionate and needs company. It is a very rare cat, and breeders still bring specimens from its native habitat to avoid inbreeding.


The Sokoke or Sokoke forest cat is named after a forest in Kenya. The Arabuko Sokoke forest area is the ancestral home of the breed, as it was here that the unique African tabby cat was first discovered. They are described as cats that do not hunt birds, only bugs, and live in trees. Some enthusiastic fans of the breed have started to breed them, but despite this, it is very rare to see a sokoke cat.

For the breed, companionship is very important.


The Sokoke (or in long form Sokoke forest cat, formerly African shorthair, possibly African tabby) is a natural breed of domestic cat, developed and standardised from the late 1970s from the wild Khadzonzo breed of eastern coastal Kenya. It takes its name from the Arabuko Sokoke forest, the area from which the base stock was obtained for breeding. Because of its distinctive appearance, it is thought by many to be a cat of ancient origin, but so far this claim has not been proven. Nor that the Sokoke is a hybrid between a domestic cat and a wild cat. Although it is indeed very wild and authentic in appearance, genetic tests have not confirmed this hypothesis. The native population is closely related to an island group, the Lamu cat, which is found further north.

The history of the breed began around the 1970s. Jeni and David Slater lived near to the Sokoke forest. One day, the family gardener found a litter of kittens in the garden and their mother was nowhere to be found. Jeni adopted two of them and they have slowly grown into healthy adults. She observed that neither the female nor the male cat hunted birds,only insects. And when the vet visited them, he told them that he often sees similar cats in the forest area, but he has not yet managed to catch any. He also said that these cats live mainly in trees. Jeni became even more interested in these special cats and started breeding them. He got more kittens to make the programme a success, and he also gave two kittens to his friend Gloria Moldrup, who took them to Denmark with her and started breeding them. Over time, a few others joined in.

In 2001 Jeannie Knocker started researching for a documentary she was making. When the film’s funding collapsed, Knocker shared the information he had gathered about the Sokokes in Kenya with European and American breeders, who then used these “new lines” to strengthen their breeding programme. The Sokoke is still not a widespread breed, but there are enthusiastic fans in North America and Europe.

To this day, breeders include Kenyan kittens in their programmes to avoid inbreeding. Breeding them is also a challenge because many kittens are infertile, making them very difficult to breed. The breed was first exhibited at a show in Copenhagen in 1984, and was officially registered by FIFe in 1992 and TICA in 2004. Formerly known as the African short-haired cat, it is now known as Sokoke.

Breed standard

The Sokoke is a medium sized breed of cat with a slender, well muscled and strong bone structure. The chest is well developed. Its limbs are long, slender and well muscled. The hind legs are longer than the thoraxes. Its paws are oval. Tail medium long, thicker at the base, tapering towards the end. The coat is very short, close to the body and shiny but not silky, with or without a little undercoat. The colour can be any shade of black tabby. The basic colour of the sokoke tabby is a shade of brown, broadly similar
to Bengali
and the Ocicat. The pattern is always black, the hairs are not solid black all the way through, thanks to the agouti gene, but are splattered (“hollow” in the middle of the hair), giving the coat a special look. This combination has been dubbed the “African tabby” or “African pattern”, which can extend all the way to the tip of the tail. In this respect, it differs from previously known spotted tabby specimens found in other varieties, but is otherwise genetically identical, with all normal tabby characteristics.

The shape of the head is slightly wedge-shaped and appears small in relation to the body. Nose of medium length, straight. The ears are moderately large, wider than the ear, with rounded tips. Large, spaced eyes slightly slanted towards the nose; slightly almond-shaped. It has a lively, expressive look, with eye colour ranging from amber to light green. It weighs about 3-5 kg. Expected lifetime 9-15 years.


Not the typical cat who would just rest on her owner’s lap all day. Despite this, he is extremely loyal and affectionate and needs company. Sometimes its character is compared to a dog, because he is clever and likes to learn tricks or play intelligence games. A lively, explorative nature, aware of its own greatness. In fact, he even likes water, which is typical of very few cats.

Ideal environment

He is also comfortable in a large family, as it is important for him to have company at all times. He gets on well with other cats and dogs. She is curious and active, but she has a little difficulty in being confined. As their ancestors spent most of their days in the trees, it is important to provide a wide range of climbing opportunities for the Sokoke.


Its coat doesn’t need much care, it can be brushed once a week or two, but the Sokoke can keep itself clean and tidy. If he gets really messy, he can be bathed, which shouldn’t be a huge problem as he loves the water. Keep his eyes and ears clean, and cut his claws shorter if they grow too long.

Common health problems

Sokoke is a healthy breed, there are no disease specific to the breed. However, common feline diseases can occur in cats, so he should get all the vaccination recommended by a veterinarian, as well as a visit once a year to make sure he stays healthy. He gets cold easily, so he needs extra attention in winter.

cat breeds short-haired cat sokoke species description

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