Van cats are an extraordinary breed. Famed for the unusual color of their eyes and fur, they’re a striking-looking creature with a unique history. Found in the Lake Van region of eastern Turkey, Van cats have achieved a cult following thanks to their chalky white coats, their blue and amber eyes, and their distinctive personalities. But despite their uniqueness, even the most committed cat fancier would be forgiven for being only vaguely aware of their existence. Over the past few decades, their numbers have diminished drastically – so much so, a dedicated breeding center, the Van Cat Research Centre (a.k.a. the Van Cat House), has been established at the Yüzüncü Yıl University to help save the breed from extinction.
Part of the reason for their low numbers is the fact that they’re only found in a very specific part of the world. Once a breed achieves popularity, it doesn’t usually take it long to spread its wings and fly to all four corners of the globe. The Van cat, on the other hand, is found almost exclusively in east Turkey, near Lake Van. We say ‘almost’. As of 2020, China can now claim its own Van cat thanks to one Chinese academic who fell so in love with the breed, he felt compelled to make the 7000-kilometer trip from his homeland to adopt one.
Meet Sun Ping
As reported by hurriyetdailynews, Sun Ping is a lecturer in the art history department of Beijing University. He also hosts his own show on social media. After stumbling on a story about Van cats, Sun decided the breed was worthy of its own show. As he began his research, he reached out to a man named Mehmet Yakuter on Facebook. Yakuter, or “Nuh Baba,” as he’s known, lives in the Kayseri region of Turkey and professes to be something of an expert on the different cat breeds found in his home country. Fortuitously enough, he also breeds Van cats. During the course of the conversation, Nuh Baba let it slip that he currently had a five-month-old Van cat looking for a new home. By that point, Sun had already fallen head over heels in love with the breed – it didn’t take him too long, then, to decide where that new home should be. “He told me about the Angora cat and other species in the country, but the genuine Van cat is a very rare breed. I made an extraordinary trip from faraway, looking for something of extraordinary value in the world and came to fruition,” Sun says.
The Long Journey
How far would you go to pick up a cat? 10 miles? 20? Maybe even a few hundred if it was a very special cat? But could you honestly say you’d be prepared to travel 7000 kilometers just for a kitten? Yet that was exactly how far Sun Ping traveled to meet, greet, and pick up his very own Van cat. After getting the necessary permissions (Van cats enjoy protected status in Turkey – anyone looking to take one out of the country needs to go through the laborious process of obtaining authorization for travel), Sun completed the long, long journey to Turkey. But clearly, it was worth it. According to Sun, his new kitten is smart, friendly, and emblematic of a far more profound relationship than she probably releases. “I think, due to its nature, it is also a symbol of the relationship between humans and nature,” Sun tells aa.com.
A Star is Born?
Safely back in China with his new Van cat kitty in tow, Sun has big plans for the future. Keen to spread the word on this fascinating breed, he’s hoping to record a series of videos for his social media channel that put the Van cat firmly in the spotlight. And who better to film the series with him than his new little Van cat? “In the program, I will talk about the history and culture of Van cat in Turkey,” he explains. All in all, Sun spent around $7,000-8,000 to adopt his new pal – a figure that might make the rest of us do a double-take, but which Sun clearly feels was money well spent. And who knows – if the series proves a success, his little kitten could soon be making enough money to pay her way.
A Beginners Guide to the Van Cat
If you’re intrigued enough by Sun Ping’s story to want to learn more about the breed, you’re not alone. The Van cat is something of an enigma. Almost unheard of outside their native Turkey, they’re one of the rarest and most elusive felines in the world. Not that they have the slightest idea, of course – playful, energetic, and a demon for cuddles, the Van cat is just like any other cat when it comes to personality. But when it comes to looks – well, to say they’re unusual would be an understatement. Their chalky white coats are offset by a ruddy coloration on their heads and hindquarters, while their eyes can vary from a startling blue to a light amber. Sometimes, they can even have one of both – heterochromia is remarkably common in the breed.
Another characteristic that makes the Van cat stand out from the crowd is its legendary love of water. While most cats will turn their nose up in disdain at the tiniest speck of rain, Van cats relish the prospect of spending as much time in the water as possible. Their habit of floating around Lake Van has even managed to earn them the nickname of “the swimming cat.” If you fancy bringing home your very own Van cat, spendonpet.com suggests you can expect to splash out around $400 to $1,100 for a kitten from a breeder. If you’d rather adopt, you could be asked to make a donation of anything between $75-$150. But be warned, Van cats outside of Turkey are almost unheard of. There are currently estimated to be just 100 Van cats in the US and a similar number in Europe. Of course, if your heart’s set on the idea, you could always follow in Sun Ping’s footsteps and get one from the source. Just be prepared for a long trip…