Emma Roberts uncovers one of the greatest mysteries encountered by many on South East Asia journeys.
One of the first things many travelers in South East Asia wonder is why the local cats have either stubbed tails, kinked tails or simply no tails at all. Ok, perhaps I’m generalising too much; this is probably a question only pondered by cat-lovers like myself. However, it is nevertheless a question which I had long contemplated and thus a question I felt to be worthy of an answer. After years of imagining disgruntled housewives releasing their frustrations on the neighbourhood cat with their kitchen knives, I decided that it was time to find a resolution for my frantic mind.
While visiting Indonesia last year I made it my mission to get to the bottom of this vital matter. I was expecting the answer to this seemingly simple question to be a relatively straightforward one, and in many respects it was. However my journey of arriving at the answer was definitely far more convoluted than I might have anticipated.
The main obstacle I faced in my investigation was that Indonesian people generally don’t like to think about cats very much, and thus had never turned their minds to what I perceived to be an incredibly important concern. When I asked people about why the cats in their country are tailless many responded with something along the lines of “Are they supposed to have tails?”, however the most common response was definitely “Why does it matter?”.
I was determined not to allow other peoples’ lack of enthusiasm for this issue to hinder me from finding the answer. I decided to try a different tactic – Google – and then return to my Indonesian friends armed with the search engine’s eternal wisdom to hear their comments on what it suggested.
As was to be expected, Google yielded quite a few explanations for South East Asia’s tailless cats, some more believable than others. One expat claimed to have witnessed children in Thailand picking stray cats up by their tails and swinging them around in circles until their tails fell off. Another writer suggested that the consumption of sushi by Indonesia’s cats during the Japanese occupation could have led to malnutrition and thus a permanent tail-growth defect. Yet another person claimed that cat owners cut the tails off their beloved pets and buried them under the doormat to ensure they would not escape from home (however if you ask me, having my tail removed would probably give me a greater incentive to escape). Probably the most bizarre explanation I found was a Chinese folktale in which a princess went to bathe in her pool but needed to remove her ring before doing so and had nowhere else to safely place it except around her cat’s tail. Eventually the cat’s tail rotted and fell off, and every cat descended from that one has been born without a tail.
Needless to say, when I pitched these hypotheses to my Indonesian friends they didn’t lend much credibility to any of them (although quite a few laughs were had). After much consideration I also finally convinced myself that, although it would make a great story for any of the above to be true, I was yet to find the correct answer to my question. I had to keep searching.
Because some of the cats in South East Asia have little crooked or kinked tails instead of being entirely tailless, a part of me was still inclined to believe that the mostly likely explanation had something to do with tail severance by humans. However, whenever I suggested this possibility to my Indonesian friends most of them were quick to deny it – people would never cut cats’ tails, they said. Nevertheless there were a couple of people who considered that maybe tail severance isn’t completely out of the picture. They speculated that perhaps cat owners did it to show that their cat is homed and not stray, or simply for aesthetic purposes.
Based on these discussions I was beginning to believe that, in the absence of any more likely alternative, perhaps my original hypothesis of angry housewives cutting cats’ tails was not so far from the truth after all. This made me sad. I really love Indonesia and its people, but I also really like cats. I felt upset by the fact that my two passions did not interconnect well with one another.
However, I luckily did not need to be sad for too long because it was only a few days after coming to this conclusion that one of my dear friends (who I had somehow managed to overlook in my questioning) finally disproved the angry-housewife theory. She had heard about my investigations from some of our mutual friends and sent me a message inviting me to come and visit her. When I turned up at her house I was absolutely overwhelmed by cat-cuteness when I found not one but EIGHT tiny kittens, all with little stub-tails. After my friend swore to me that she definitely had not cut them (I was still feeling slightly skeptical), I finally came to the realisation that South East Asian cats are tailless for no reason more exciting than that they are born that way.
After finally forcing myself away from the gorgeous kittens I decided to consult Google once again to find out more. Armed with the new search term of “short tail genetic defect in cats” I managed to find much more credible results. It seems that the short-tail gene carried by Japanese Bobtail cats and Siamese cats (who interestingly have naturally short, kinked tails which have been bred out in Western countries for aesthetic reasons) has gradually spread all over Asia to the extent that it has become the norm in many countries. Although the short-tail gene is recessive, in-breeding between stray cats has encouraged its prominence.
I could barely believe that, after all of the crazy internet theories, the answer to my question was so simple and obvious. Somehow the idea of cats being born with short or no tails had not even been within the scope of my imagination. My investigation has reiterated to me that only staying in your home country really does restrict your life experience – after all, if I had never ventured outside of Australia I never would have learnt about the existence of tailless cats!
Well, I know that was a very lengthy discussion about a matter which, if you are like most of my Indonesian friends, you probably feel was entirely pointless. But to all my fellow cat-lovers out there, I know you will appreciate the significance of my investigation and the peace of mind it has provided you with. As long as my dear friend was indeed telling the truth about not having cut her cats’ tails, I can assure you that those gorgeous tailless kitties you’ll meet on your next trip to South East Asia have not had to endure anything as brutal as an angry housewive’s kitchen knife.