By Claire Elliot
A RARE breed of cat with webbed paws has been born in the UK for the first time.
The litter of Delmun kittens arrived 12 weeks ago in Aberdeenshire - more than 3,000 miles from its native Bahrain.
Over the centuries the webbed front paws have evolved to help the breed survive in the desert.
It is the only cat in the world to have the unusual feature, which enables it to climb sand dunes and hunt lizards in the wild.
Debbie Verkuil, 46, whose two-year-old cats Elvis and Amira, produced the UK’s first litter at her home near Banchory, however, said the ancient breed makes an excellent pet.
And, as their DNA is different from other cats, they can tolerate the sun’s UV rays and do not suffer from the heat or get skin cancers.
Scientists also believe that the domestication of cats could have occurred in the Middle East, as many Delmun DNA samples represent a possible new subgroup of ancient domestic cat.
“They are lovely cats and they are so pretty,” said Mrs Verkuil.
“They are full of energy and when they are playing and put their paws out that’s when you see that they are webbed.
“They are not a lap cat. But they are very loyal and will follow you around everywhere.
“They are very trusting and if you touch their neck they just turn to mush. It’s their instinct because that’s what their mother would do in the wild."
Apart from its webbed feet, the Delmun cat is recognisable from its slender build and tall body.
It can grow up to 13 inches at the shoulders and has a long pointed face.
The breed comes in various colours, including black, white and spotted tabby.
Mrs Verkuil was first introduced to the breed while living out in the Middle East, where her husband Harry, 52, a drilling manager, was based.
On their return to the UK last year, they brought their two pet Delmuns, which are registered with the cat governing society in Bahrain, with them.
Mrs Verkuil admitted it was an accident that Amira fell pregnant.
But like the Scottish wild cat, the Delmun’s survival is under threat as a result of cross-breeding.
Mrs Verkuil now hopes her cats’ litter of four boys and one girl will go a little way to helping the survival of the breed.
She said: “We are losing the breed because it is being bred with all the other cats so the ones with the webbed feet are disappearing.”
She is considering keeping one of the kittens, but is looking for homes for the rest.