Colour: Brown; Blue; Chocolate; Lilac; Red; Cream; Brown Tortie; Blue Tortie; Chocolate Tortie; Lilac Tortie.
Burmese cats are affectionate, alert, active, agile, sociable, inquisitive, athletic, ingenious, intelligent, curious, zestful, adaptable, lively, energetic, smart, playful, devoted, vocal, highly-strung, rumbustious, boisterous, bold, bossy, stubborn and demanding. In general, its character is felt to be close to that of the Siamese.
Domestic Breed: A short-haired breed named after the country of origin of the founder cat. In reality, its ancestors may have been found over a wider range of the Far East, including Thailand (where it is known locally as 'The Copper'). Because of recent breeding variations, some owners refer to their cats as 'Traditional Burmese'. In Germany the breed is known as the Burma; in Holland as the Burmee. Among English-speaking breeders it is usually nicknamed 'The Burm'.
Appearance: A muscular, athletic, compact, short-haired cat with a glossy, rich, dark brown coat. The underparts are slightly lighter in colour than the rest of the body, but the change from light areas to dark is gradual. The rounded, domed head, with ears set wide apart, has a short face with golden-yellow eyes.
History: It is claimed that this breed is mentioned as the Su-pa-lak, or Thong Daeng, in one of the poems of the ancient Thai Cat Book, written during the Ayudhya Period, which stretched from 1350 to 1767. It is recorded there as a courageous, protective cat and described in the following words:
Of magnificent appearance with shape the best/ Coloured like copper, this cat is beautiful:/ The light of her eyes is as a shining ray.
According to local folklore, these beautiful brown, golden-eyed cats - presumably the ancestors of what we now know as the Burmese Cat - were kept as sacred animals in the temples, monasteries and palaces of Burma. Pampered by the rich and holy, these revered felines were provided with personal servants in the form of student-priests. These servants acted as guardians to ensure the safety of their charges and were severely punished if they failed in their duties. The purity of the breed was maintained by the strict control over the movements of the cats that prevented them from mating with the highly varied felines that roamed the rest of the country. Occasionally, a single cat was presented as a special gift to a visiting dignitary, but apart from that they seldom left their Burmese strongholds.
The story goes that a certain Major Finch, stationed in the East during World War II, and who made good use of his spare time there by visiting Buddhist temples, saw many beautiful examples of these sacred brown cats. He called them 'Rajah Cats', but it is clear from his description that what he was calling Rajah Cats and what we today know as Burmese Cats were one and the same. He claimed that they were the true 'Royal Cats' and were held in high esteem in the Royal courts long before the pale-bodied Siamese Cats put in an appearance. In fact, in his opinion, the Rajah Cat was the parent form of the Siamese Cat, which in ancient times was viewed merely as a poorly coloured, semi-albino version of this sacred, rich brown cat.
Whether this is all true, or merely a romantic legend, by the 1930s a key event occurred in the history of the breed. It was then that the 'founding female' of the modern Burmese Cat arrived in the United States and was used as the starting point for a carefully developed breeding programme. Even at this more recent date, however, there is some confusion as to precisely how she came to be on American soil. There are four contradictory versions as to how she arrived there:
(1) She was brought from Rangoon to the United States in 1933, where she was sold as a 'Brown Siamese'.
(2) She was brought from India to the United States in the early 1930s.
(3) A sailor brought her to New Orleans in 1934, where he sold her to a local pet shop, saying he had obtained her in Burma and that she was a 'Burmese Cat'. She was eventually purchased by a retired ship's doctor (ex-US Navy) by the name of Joseph C. Thompson.
(4) She was purchased from a native carnival in Rangoon by the famous wild animal dealer Frank ('Bring 'Em Back Alive') Buck, who sold her, in Burma, to Dr. Joseph Thompson, who then took her back with him to his home in San Francisco in the year 1930.
We may never be certain which of these four 'arrival' stories is the true one, but we do know for sure that, one way or another, a remarkable brown female cat did come into Dr Thompson's possession in the early 1930s. It is instructive to read Dr Thompson's own words, from an article he wrote with three of his colleagues in 1943 (the year of his death) on The Genetics of the Burmese Cat:
'The First 'Burmese' cat was a female imported into the United States from Burma by the senior author [Dr Thompson himself] in the year 1930.'
This statement firmly fixes the date, but is ambiguous concerning the mode of acquisition of the cat. 'Importing a cat from Burma' leaves open the question of whether Dr Thompson himself brought the animal in, or whether it was brought into the country for him. The original source of the animal therefore remains something of a mystery.
Once Dr Thompson had acquired the cat, however, the picture becomes much clearer. A brown female cat, she was named Wong Mau. At the time of her arrival, Dr Thompson was working as a psychiatrist in San Francisco and was employing a rather unusual type of treatment. His enlightened form of therapy consisted of giving each of his rich patients a pregnant Siamese Cat to look after. The problems these patients faced - and the rewards they gained - from raising a litter of kittens was so successful in taking them out of themselves, that they soon forgot their neuroses, started to look outward instead of inward, and rapidly regained their mental balance.
Thompson had been fascinated by the Far East for many years, at one time becoming a monk in a Tibetan Monastery, and became especially attached to this new arrival from Burma. Wong Mau was allowed to sit at his side during his consultations, and soon became the most important cat in the doctor's feline collection. At first, she was looked upon as simply a brown Siamese, but careful breeding experiments revealed that she was in fact a cross between a Siamese and a dark-coated breed that was new to the West. Enlisting the aid of some geneticist friends, Dr Thompson was able to segregate this brown breed, which was given the name of Burmese Cat. By crossing Wong Mau with a Siamese male (the first mating took place in 1932 with a Siamese stud called Tai Mau) and then back-crossing the male offspring with her, it was possible to create three types of kittens: those that had Siamese markings, those that were brown but with darker points (like Wong Mau herself) and those with all-over brown colouring. This last type became the foundation stock for the Burmese Cat breed.
These first true Burmese Cats were used in further breeding programmes in a deliberate attempt to establish a new pedigree cat. In the early 1940s, three more individuals were imported into America from Burma, to strengthen the stock. These were a male and two females. They left Rangoon in 1941 on the S.S. Chart and had to endure a wartime sea voyage lasting five months, during which they had to survive attacks by bombers. At last, they arrived in New York in 1942 and became the property of Guy Fisher. Only one of the three, a female called Tangyi of Forbidden City, appears on any of the pedigree lists of the period, but she was able to provide a valuable addition of new blood to the breeding programmes. Unfortunately, once again we do not appear to have any information about Tangyi's original source in Burma. The arrival of these three additional cats from Rangoon does, however, suggest that the brown Burmese Cat was a true breed in its original homeland, and that Wong Mau was not an isolated oddity, as has been suggested by some critics.
After some initial set-backs, the success of the breeding programme was recognized in the United States when the CFA officially accepted the Burmese breed. In the late 1940s three Burmese Cats (a male and two females) were imported from America into Britain by breeders Sydney and Lillian France of Derby, and in 1952 the breed was also recognized there by the GCCF. In 1955, the Burmese Cat Club was formed in Britain and now has 1,500 members.
Finally, although it is generally accepted today that Wong Mau was the founding cat of the modern breed it has been pointed out that, back in the nineteenth century, dark brown 'Siamese' cats were being exhibited at cat shows in Britain, and that these were probably of the same type. Writing in 1889, Harrison Weir explains that there are two types of 'Royal Cat of Siam', one pale-bodied and one dark:
'...light rich dun is the preferable colour, but a light fawn, light silver-grey or light orange is permissible; deeper and richer browns, almost chocolate, are admissible....the last merely a variety of much beauty and excellence; but the dun and light tints take precedence.' He also refers to an exhibitor who 'possesses a chocolate variety of this Royal Siamese cat...Although this peculiar colour is very beautiful and scarce, I am of the opinion that the light grey or fawn colour with black and well-marked muzzle, ears, and legs is the typical variety...I take that to be the correct form and colour, and the darker colour to be an accidental deviation.'
The owner of the 'Chocolate Siamese' is then quoted as saying that 'The dun invariable beats the chocolate at shows.' This situation obviously led to a favouring of the pale-bodied Siamese with dark extremities, and the rapid disappearance of the overall dark-bodied form. As far as can be told, the chocolate specimens were never specially bred from or developed and soon vanished without trace. However, their brief appearance at these early shows indicates that a Burmese-type of cat has been around for a very long time and supports the view that Wong Mau had an ancient eastern lineage.
Personality: Terms that have been used to describe this breed include the following: affectionate, alert, active, agile, sociable, inquisitive, athletic, ingenious, intelligent, curious, zestful, adaptable, lively, energetic, smart, playful, devoted, vocal, highly-strung, rumbustious, boisterous, bold, bossy, stubborn and demanding. In general, its character is felt to be close to that of the Siamese.
Colour forms: Note: In some countries many different colour forms are recognized (see below); elsewhere, only a few colour forms are accepted, the others being given different breed names, such as Malayan.
The traditional colour for this breed is Brown. Other colours were added later: Blue in 1955; Cream in 1971; Chocolate, Lilac and Red in 1972; Brown Tortie, Chocolate Tortie, Lilac Tortie, Blue Tortie in 1973.
GCCF: Brown; Blue; Chocolate; Lilac; Red; Cream; Brown Tortie; Blue Tortie; Chocolate Tortie; Lilac Tortie.
CFA: Sable (= Brown); Champagne (= Chocolate); Blue; Platinum (= Lilac).
The CFA also lists 'European Burmese' Colours, as follows: Brown; Blue; Chocolate; Lilac; Red; Cream; Seal Tortie; Blue Tortie; Chocolate Tortie; Lilac Tortie.
1943. Thompson, J.C., Cobb, V.C., Keeler, C.E. & Dmytryk, M. Genetics of the Burmese Cat. in: Journal of Heredity. Vol. 34, No. 4, April 1943.
1966. Smyth, J. Ming. London. (Anecdotal)
1976. Burgess, G. Burmese Cats. Price Milburn, Wellington, New Zealand.
1979. Pocock, R. et al. The Burmese Cat. Batsford, London.
1983. Swift, M.K. Burmese Cats. Batsford, London.
1989. Swift, M.K. et al. Burmese Cats in Camera. Panther Photographic, Norfolk.
1991. Pocock, R. (Editor) The Burmese Cat. The Burmese Cat Club.
Kelsey-Wood, D. The Proper Care of Burmese Cats. TFH, New Jersey.
Burmese Breeders Society. Address: 11 Hawksworth Avenue, Guiseley, Leeds, LS20 8EJ, England.
Burmese Cat Club (with a membership of 1250) issues a quarterly magazine: The Burmese Cat Club News. Address: Southview, Landmere Lane, Edwalton, Nottingham NG12 4DG, England.
Burmese Cat Society. Address: 11 Hawksworth Avenue, Guiseley, Leeds, LS20 8EJ, England.
Burmese Limited. Address: 168 Delavan Avenue, Newark, New Jersey 04104, USA.
Burmese Please. Address: 2184 Oneida Crescent, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
National Alliance of Burmese Breeders. Address: 11057 Saffold Way, Reston, VA 22090, USA.
National Burmese Cat Club. Address: Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, New Jersey 07960, USA.
Top Burmese Academe. Address: Route 1, Box 344A, Florence, South Carolina 29051, USA.
United Burmese Cat Fanciers. Address: 2395 N.E.185th Street, North Miami Beach, Florida 33180, USA. (Originally there were two pioneer Burmese clubs in the United States, The Burmese Cat Society and Burmese Breeders of America, but they amalgamated in 1960 to form the United Burmese Cat Fanciers.)
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