What makes ginger tom cats so adventurous?

Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England

What is it about ginger cats? One Essex-based cat behaviour expert explains why feline redheads appear more confident and friendlier that other cats. Could it be a lick of Viking blood?

The purring hospital helper. The railway station and supermarket regular. If there’s a cat hanging around a public space craving a stranger’s pat, the chances are it’s a ginger tom.

Owners often find themselves apologising to neighbours for feline acts of trespass or burglary.

Biologist and cat behaviour expert Roger Tabor, from Brightlingsea in Essex, says the “archetypal ‘big old ginger tom’ is the classic cat next door” and their behaviour could be down to the Vikings.

“The scientific consensus has been there are some breed temperament differences, such as lively Burmese or placid Persians, but not differences on colour,” he said.

“However, studies of owners’ perceptions tell a different story, with calico and grey cats being ‘aloof’ and the ginger cat being seen as ‘friendlier and more affectionate’.”

“To be a ginger cat, a female kitten has to inherit two copies of the ginger gene, but males only have to inherit one,” Mr Tabor explains.

“Measurements have also shown that generally male ginger toms are heavier than most cats of other colours. Male ginger cats tend to be both taller and broader than most other moggies – apart from the North American Maine Coon.”

So could their size and apparent fearlessness be the reasons behind this outgoing behaviour?

Fluffy ginger tom Henry has long been a favourite with staff and patients at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

Despite having loving owners nearby, he has chosen to wander the corridors and food hall, seemingly happy to be petted as long as his snooze is not interrupted.

He has been credited with calming staff and patients just by his presence – and over the years, hospital bosses have learned to tolerate the intrepid interloper.

Nala, the no-fuss stationmaster

Another ginger cat who seems to seek out human company – and in the busiest of places – is Nala, a cat who greets commuters daily at Stevenage railway station in Hertfordshire.

Named by his owner’s children after the lioness who befriended Simba in Disney classic, The Lion King, Nala is in fact, a tom.

Like Henry, Nala seems more than happy spending his days perched on top of ticket machines, seemingly unfazed as commuters stream past in a hurry.

Ernie, the artful burglar

Most owners have come to embrace their felines’ sense of fun, but one still getting to grips with it is Sydney Reid, owner of ginger puss Ernie, in Godmanchester in Cambridgeshire.

“Ernie is a total menace, we’ve had a pure white, a pure black, a tabby, a tuxedo – and Ernie – and he’s the only one to cause such problems within the neighbourhood – what is it about ginger cats?” she said.

Ms Reid said Ernie had become a bit of a chunky chap after “breaking and entering” other homes to steal food, for which she has apologised.

“We once had a neighbour knock on our door to let us know he’d taken an entire resting roast chicken off her kitchen side and out her kitchen window.”

The trolley tomcats

When it comes to getting food – and company – some cats know just the right places to go and many have been known to frequent supermarkets.

Mischievous moggy Pumpkin ignored staff who tried to “ban” him from his local Tesco branch near Norwich.

In Ely, Cambridgeshire, ginger puss Garfield became so popular with Sainsbury’s shoppers that after his death a eulogy was held at the city’s cathedral and a brass monument erected in his memory.

The busy bookworms

Three-legged ginger tom Jasper rose to fame in 2017 after his owner started taking him to work at the University of Cambridge’s Marshall Library of Economics.

Its “tea with Jasper” events proved incredibly popular with students who credited meeting the cat as helping reduce exam stress.

“Meet Jasper” events still take place at the library.

And not to be outdone, the University of East Anglia in Norwich has its own ginger bookworm, Sylvester.

Sylvester is often out and about in the campus grounds and buildings and this clever kitty regularly attends lectures or can be found asleep on the library information desk.

Like many of these sociable types, he also has his own Facebook group where students and staff proudly post photographs of their encounters with him.

A Viking disposition’

“The perception that ginger toms are friendlier and more confident with people may make them less fearful of wandering around pavements and roads,” cat expert Mr Tabor said.

That outgoing nature could be one of the reasons ginger cats were apparently so popular with Vikings, he said.

“This was proposed by Neil B Todd almost 50 years ago in Scientific American, where he mapped the strong presence of the feline ginger gene on places that had Viking settlement in Europe and the UK.

“He believed the Vikings carried ginger cats from Turkey and around the Black Sea to Scandinavia and their settlements in Britain.

“York, once a Viking stronghold, still has a higher population of ginger cats than London.”

He added: “Vikings may just have liked the distinctive fur, but I would suggest that the perceived friendly, less-fearful nature of the ginger cat could be why it boldly strolled onto their boats.

“Ginger cats themselves could be said to have a Viking disposition, friendly to people they get on with, but fierce with opponent tom cats.”

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